We all fall down

December 4, 2021

Sometimes we fail, we fall down… and we get back up, dust ourselves off, and try again. Falling down is a significant way to learn and find meaning in our lives. So why don’t you let your loved one with a developmental disability fall down?


Your loved one might have vulnerabilities, and you do your best to protect them from harm’s way. BUT, the protection you provide might be leading to more harm than the natural consequences that you’re saving your loved one from experiencing.

In this video, you’ll learn the value of allowing your loved one with a disability to fall down and experience the natural consequences.

Written Article:

You need to let your loved one with a developmental disability fall down. Okay, now I don’t necessarily mean physically fall down to the ground, more so in a metaphorical sense. And so often, we are saving our loved one from falling down or catching them as they fall, not letting them fall down.

So let me tell you a story that will maybe help get at what I’m trying to share here with you. So, in 2018, my sister moved out of my parent’s house and in with me, and she lived with me for two years; she now has a home of her own. But I want to go back to that period when my sister and I lived together. And you know, in the first couple of months, my sister’s laundry would pile up. And what I noticed is that, you know, my mom would stop by, and she would say something like, Sarah, like, you don’t have any clean clothes right now is starting to become a more frequent conversation. And what would happen? My mom would take her laundry basket home. And by the end of the day, a hamper full of freshly cleaned and folded laundry would show up, and it would magically be put away in my sister’s closet. So what does this have to do with letting our loved one fall down? So my sister had learned that she didn’t need to be concerned about her laundry, right? So if she had dirty laundry, it would just pile up. And she learned that my mom would come in save her from not having any clean clothes. So it was starting to take away the opportunity for my sister to learn how to do her laundry because my mom was taking that opportunity away. And my sister wasn’t feeling the consequence, the falling down, or the scraping of her knee, right, metaphorically here, to prompt her to motivate her to learn to do her own laundry, right.

So, this is a story that I’m sharing with you that can be applied to many different things. It could be, you know, around many things at home in terms of maybe making meals or cleaning up or you know, keeping your room making your bed. And you know, it can trickle into things in the community or around employment. If we’re not letting our loved one fall down and scrape their knee, then we’re taking away some consequence that will provide a learning opportunity and maybe some motivation for our loved one to take action the next time around or to take action. So that consequence of in this example, not doing the laundry, means that I don’t have any clean clothes; what’s the action that I’m going to take now as a result of the decision of putting off doing laundry or not wanting to learn how to do laundry, right? So that stepping in, that saving, we tend to want to save or protect our loved one. And that’s resulting in learned helplessness. It’s manifesting on maybe what shows up as a lack of motivation. So the natural consequences are significant for us to feel from our decision because that helps us with decision making, that allows us to make a different decision, or maybe we continue to make the same decision.

I’ll give you another family example where my sister was upset with one of our supporters and would cancel her support. And then my mom would say, well, you can’t not have support. So my mom would come in and provide that support. Right. So my mom saved my sister from what she felt was a bad decision. But there was never any consequence of that. So my sister could just avoid working through any conflicts or challenges with supporters because my mom would just step in. So further enhancing, learned helplessness, and preventing that consequence of my sister falling down and scraping your knee.

Now, I will say that sometimes we want to catch our loved ones as they’re falling down. We want to soften that blow. The idea here is that we want to keep playing the game. We don’t want our loved one to fall down and not be able to get back up. So when you’re thinking about how to apply this idea of letting your loved one fall down and scrape their knee so that they can feel consequences, you want to think about the risk. What is the risk? And you want to manage that risk. Okay, so I will leave that to your discretion as you think about this.

Allowing the person to feel those natural consequences has positively impacted my family, sister, mom, and many of the other families I’ve worked with. So I hope this idea is helpful for you. I would love it if you scrolled down and left a comment or a message below. Let me know how this idea resonates with you or how you’re going to try it out how you have tried it out. Together, let’s take a small step forward this week.

  • Most parents of people with neurological disabilities are so scared of the potential failures and dangers of letting their kids test the waters that these adult-children are basically bubble-wrapped. While these fears are certainly understandable, the resulting straightjacketing is unhealthy and stunts any further development. Safety is important, but a safety-only approach is completely unnatural! Life (at least that which is worth living) is about risk and reward, and whatever’s safest, isn’t always what is best. Think about it, if humanity avoided all risks like the plague in the name of safety, we’d all still be in the Stone Age! In fact, we could have gone extinct if our ancestors had been too reluctant to take the odd risk or two! A certain level of risk taking is how we evolved

    The extreme shielding of the neurologically disabled from all possible risks is partly because of a mentality that some parents have whereby they want their children to remain babies forever. There’s also a kind of kink some parents of neurologically disabled people have of treating their adult-children like extremely fragile glass or china statues or other pricey and fragile prized possession. Part of it is, I suspect, due to the parental instinct most mammals (including humans) have to protect their precious offspring at all cost [ after all, mammals tend to have far fewer babies than most other kinds of animals, thus protecting the relative few each species mother has is vital for the continued survival of said species ].

  • Hi Eric

    This is very helpful❗️
    I thinking of Ryan’s laundry it is usually wet and must be maintained in an apartment so it is keep not easily done because the laundry room it downstairs..
    Fast forward to now the new move we are in a ranch hours the laundry room is on only floor main one!
    So we can do the laundry but not put it in his room so he can feel the consequences of no clothing !

    I should say Ryan is very capable that he really does fall down terrible seizures 3 times in this last 2 weeks in fact. So the risks are huge for him and I . After breaking his collarbone (clavicle bone July 31/21on my watch he is spending more time in a wheelchair)ps with the new place he has more room and has become more independent safely to move in the wheelchair. This is his third time needing one dislocated need fall pin ice getting out if supporters car2005
    Surgery was required
    Broken leg from from landing due to seizure 2007 ! Surgery was required.
    2021 collarbone no surgery required.

    We assist him all when ever he can/ wants to ! For exercise and body functioning .

    Our win is sometime EEG’s e to ask him to sit to get things done , go to washroom and it it too risky to leave him standing … he will comply even when he doesn’t want to or need too this is important win for us ..
    He must understand the give an take relationships and he feels his new freedom to move safely … he doesn’t remember the falls but he know the consequences sorebody , maybe head ache, injury bumps on head or broken bones or blood injuries.

    Not over the last ten years I have catch him many times , ir was able to mitigate the fall by assisting his body usually arms and head so he doesn’t hit something on way down. And workers have done the same. Some time the ox or so fast nothing can be done to stop him on his way down!

    • Great that there is a more accessible set up for Ryan now! I’m sorry to hear of the seizures and falls Ryan had. As I say in the video, we don’t want the fall to be so serious that our loved one can’t get back up, or in this case break a bone. I’m also talking about falling down here in a metaphor, not a physical fall causing injury.

  • Boy, did I need to hear this today, Eric! I’ve been feeling so bummed that this laundry thing is still something that I feel I have to oversee. You may remember that from a class I took with you, a while back, that I wanted to set my 22 year old son up to be successful and figured out a way for him to “pre-sort”, so all he had to do was bring the basket down to the washing machine and, basically, dump it in. We’ve been doing laundry “together” for many years and I was always the one to do the sorting. Anyway, his clothes end up all over the floor in front of the baskets in his closet! AND, I am still the driving force for him to do laundry. Your article this time resonated with me. If he doesn’t run out of clean, unwrinkled clothes to wear because I remind, remind, remind and, ultimately, insist… he will never do this on his own. I vow to start now. My question for you is, do I prepare him for this change and, if so, how? I don’t think it would be fair to just stop being involved… or is that how it works? I could use guidance on the “transition” from helping part. Thanks!! I can’t tell you how much I needed to see your article today!

    • Hi Jill, Laundry is a great example to use for not saving your loved one. Not doing the task for your loved one, but providing the right amount of support is a mindset that you already have! So, maybe you can have a conversation about what the consequences are of not doing the laundry, and letting those consequences play out. Does any of this resonate with you?

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