I'm not sure where this question belongs, but my wife, my 8 year old son who has Down Syndrome, and I will be moving to our 12 acre property in a year and a half. We have 6 acres cleared, 6 wooded, and a 3/4 acre, spring fed pond. We want to establish a homestead, and I love what I have learned about permaculture so far. One of the many aspects I like is the fact that it can, over time, simplify the amount of time and effort that goes into maintaining your homestead. That's really appealing when you have a son with special needs.
So my question is this:
If you had a child with special needs who can learn to do simple tasks and chores, and you wanted him to "be a part" of a creative and productive homestead, what elements would you include with his participation in mind?
First off, I'd just like to say that most kids can do a lot more than people think they can do so long as you "scaffold" the training - small steps that they can master first, then gradually add steps.
Secondly, Safety First! I taught my kids to use sharp knives at a younger age than most of my friends, but I started with a kitchen knife on a wooden cutting board and something easy to cut such as cucumber. They had to be good at that before I'd let them near a carrot - much harder! And since I'd be busy making other parts of the meal, I was close at hand to supervise.
Beyond that, some more info would be helpful.
What is your son interested in?
What are his strengths?
Does he tend to rise to your expectations? Does he listen? Does he have a sense about danger?
Working with his strengths can make a huge difference - if he likes to dig holes, plant a food forest for example! If he likes to help in the kitchen, help him grow things that he likes to cook with to get him into gardening.
I have visited numerous homesteads with family members with Downs Syndrome. Much depends upon the level of functioning. In all cases they were active, productive members of the homestead. Yes, they were pecked, knocked down, and bit from time to time. They also learned to get up, brush themselves off, and continue with their work. Some assisted family members without disabilities. Others had their own job assignments they carried out with pride. Organization is important. Color coding can help.
Years ago I job placed a person with Down’s syndrome on a small Dairy farm. The old farmer and the younger person were a good match. The only problem was that the individual with Downs Syndrome had spent his life being told to go to the bathroom to urinate. Of course, no self respecting farmer ever did such a thing.
Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions. Mark Twain
My daughter turned out to have a cataract that eliminated depth perception. One thing I wish I hadn't done was dig holes all over the darn place. I pretty much guaranteed she'd spend her life falling down. So, while the kraters and swales are great for water, they aren't great for my kid, I wish I hadn't done them.
long way of saying really analyze the limitations of your son and design around them. Shorter fruittrees, perhaps. Easy to open gates. Don't dig holes like a mole person.
I adopted my special needs son when he was 6. He is tough and strong and always wanted to please so I put him right to work. Feeding animals was first. You should see them glow when they hold a chick. Planting seeds was next. He ate everything I put in front of him so I let him choose what to grow. He was nonverbal until he was about 9 I think. The second year he was in charge of the strawberry bed. He also helped pick grapes. His attention span was about 5 minutes. Mine is too sometimes. He got to where he would help clean stalls and helped my daughter with her 4H swine. The third year he got his own pigs. It was amazing. He couldn't speak but could be trained. There is a big big difference between learning and training. He did not learn really, until he graduated from high school and started to be aware... he has fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, and is clinically mentally retarded. Yet he is 24 years old now, has his own apartment and a great job at a grocery store.
He was not a nice kid when I got him. I was his 4th and final mom. He would hurt animals as a lashing out, so it was a lot of work but he was so frustrated because he couldn't communicate. It was a constant learning process for us both but animals literally run to him. I found him sitting backwards on the back of a 16 hand roping quarter horse in the middle of a pasture when he was 7. Its a real ride raising special needs kids. I adopted 2.
Have your child shadow you every day. Hold tools, feed, praise praise praise. Let them know what you're thinking by thinking out loud. Dads need to do that way more. "I don't feel like fixing that wheelbarrow but I better do it anyway because we need it to mulch the garden tomorrow," kind of stuff. It is just like reading to them. ALWAYS tell them what the schedule is. Every day. When you get a routine, run through it verbally while you are doing it. "After breakfast, we will brush our teeth and then go out and feed the chickens." Then do it together. Then check it off the list that maybe you carry in your pocket. Mine was on the fridge but I only had 5 acres at the time and zone one was only half an acre. I had lists and lists everywhere. He still can't read well but a simple to-do list works wonders. I would tell my kids what the lists said long before they could read. Just like their favorite book, they can tell you what the next page says without knowing how to read it to you, just because you read it to them a million times. The cool thing about autism is they memorize fast, so I had that advantage. Then one day I got the flu and was too sick to leave the house. The kids asked what to do. I started the list out loud and they ran out to the barn and took over. They were 8 and 14. My ex was out doing something else so the kids got it handled. They even watered the gardens and told me how many of my sort of beloved bull snakes they saw working the garden areas. That few days totally empowered them and gave me ammo for the days they said they didn't know what to do. I would say, "well you knew what to do when I was sick, so get to it". LOL
Use all of our experience and feel free to call, text email. You will have a blast and your own story to tell!
"Dare mighty things" - T. Roosevelt
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