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Sophie's Choice


The insignificant, ordinary moments in life can be meaningful opportunities for growth. My Facebook friend, Kathy Reed, shared a simple story.

So yesterday Sophie looked all grown up. And today she looks like a pixie bubba again.

It's funny the little ways in which we might try to control our kids' choices without even thinking about it. Sophie had her hair cut yesterday. She has only had her hair cut at a hairdresser four times in her life. The hairdresser turned to me before starting to cut and asked how much to take off. I was about to say, "Just a couple of inches," when I caught myself and thought, "Why is she asking me? That should be Sophie's choice!". I asked her to ask Sophie. Sophie told her, "I quite like shoulder length hair" (a good five inches off). I bit my tongue, and Sophie is very pleased with her new look. She especially likes how easy it is to brush.

This, my ExtraOrdinary friends, is Dignity of Risk and Presuming Competence in action! Kathy could have decided on Sophie's hairstyle for another decade or more. Many parents of adult children with disabilities, especially if they retain guardianship, retain control of personal decisions, large and small. Indeed, many parents of adult children without disabilities wish they could control their children's hairstyles! But they can't and they shouldn't.

Nor should Kathy forever decide for Sophie. Kathy Presumes Competence that Sophie will have some level of autonomy as an adult. So Kathy starts building competence for that autonomy now by providing Sophie small opportunities to exercise choice and control in her own life. When Sophie was very young, she might have selected her snack from two healthy options. As she got older, she might have chosen from unlimited options. But always, the options were legitimate, and the choice was real.

As Sophie gets older, and the choices become more complex, Dignity of Risk comes into play. What if Sophie makes a choice that Kathy doesn't like? What if Sophie had requested a very short, pixie cut? What if a teen Sophie shows her unique personality with fashion that does not match Kathy's fashion sense? What if an adult Sophie decides to reject the healthy salad and go for the burger and fries?

By offering Sophie real options now with the opportunity to choose from unlimited possibilities, even those that Kathy would not have wished for her, Sophie is finding her voice, exploring her personal preferences, and gaining the expectation that her voice should be heard and honored. Hopefully, she'll even make a few choices she later regrets. And rather than an I-told-you-so and limitations on future options, Sophie can talk to trusted family and friends to learn from her regrets and make better choices in the future.

Today it's just a haircut. And hair grows back. But when Sophie is an adult in the big world, she will need a voice and an expectation that her voice is heard and honored. Not just for small things like haircuts. But for big things like turning down unwanted sexual advances, speaking up for her medical rights, and being in control of her adult future long after Kathy is gone.

What if you offered your child legitimate choices, Presumed Competence, and offered Dignity of Risk by allowing options that you would not have selected? What might be possible if your child knows her personal preferences, can speak up for herself and expects that her voice is heard and honored? What might be possible if she does not...

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