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Creating an Individual Character Plan

  • Cathy Steere
  • Published Sep 29, 2003
Creating an Individual Character Plan

I patted the spot next to me on the couch and beckoned, "Come here, sweetie." Our family cat, Mia, sauntered into the room and stopped when she heard  me call. She remained standing where she was on the floor in the middle of the room and simply gave me a long, slow blink. She showed no sign of budging, even though she knew perfectly well what I wanted from her. In fact, just to rub it in, she lowered her rump to the floor, curled her tail around her front paws, and tossing me another blink, her face said, "You've got to be kidding."

How different from Mia was our family pet when I was growing up. We had a Saint Bernard dog named Babe. I could be standing yards away from her outside, shout a quick, happy, "Come here, Babe!" and within seconds I had a 150 pound body of carpet bounding towards me, all paws, ears and flapping lips. She longed to be called, longed to please, and longed to "come."

So what in the world was wrong with our cat? Not a thing. She was acting exactly as a cat was supposed to act. Actually, it would be ludicrous to expect her to act like anything else. If she had responded to me the way Babe used to, I would definitely think something was very wrong! For our cat to behave like our dog would simply not be her cat nature.
When Adam fell and sin entered the world, the very nature of man changed forever. No longer was man perfect and sinless. From then on Adam and all his posterity have hearts made of stone, hearts which hate God and love self. This biblical truth must be kept in our minds as we parent our children, both our neurotypical children and our special needs children. We mustn't be surprised when our children behave as though they have anything but a sinful nature. It is our job, however, to point our children to Christ and their need of a Savior. And unlike the animals, God has designed a way for our hearts to be born from above, changed from stone to flesh.

Character Plans

We homeschoolers face a new school year and are brought to consider what our greatest priorities are for our children as we create our own Individual Education Plans (IEP) for them. I submit that, even above our child's IEP, we seek first to create their ICP. What is that you ask? An ICP is an Individualized Character Plan. And as with IEP's, each child is at a different place in every area. That which one child seems to have mastered, is that which another endlessly struggles. This is why it must be individualized and tailored to where each of our children are so that we are not expecting more from them, or less from them, than they can give.

Part of pointing our children to Christ is teaching them the standards of God's moral law and instilling godly character qualities and habits, traits which reflect their Creator. Just as we cannot expect our children to learn the 3 R's, or tying their shoes, or how to hold a pencil correctly, without being taught, neither can they learn to behave in a manner which pleases God without being taught, because it isn't common to their nature.

My 9-year-old son, Drew, has autism. Recently he was having a day, which we refer to as a "funk day." His attitude was sour, he was slow to obey, and he was just plain unpleasant to be around. When he gets like that, I'm forced into this horrid place of doubting myself and my abilities as a mom and homeschool teacher. I hate when I get like that!

We've been working on some specific table manners with Drew and we have this "system" all mapped out. If Drew does "such and such" then part of his dessert is cut away and he has to leave the table and gain composure on his bed before he can return to the table. He has been doing quite well for a long time, but, well, then there was his day of funk. Drew erred, the stated consequences were meted, and although God helped me to stay calm and objective, Drew got really upset. He knew perfectly well what was expected of him and what the consequences would be because we had been through this many times before. I was so disappointed in how he responded. I prayed and asked God to please show me how to deal with him----I felt so completely inept!

Hours later after the incident had passed, I was now in a funk. While Drew busied himself with some table work in the kitchen, I started for the other room, but as I was about to leave he stopped me and said, "Umm, Mommy, will you please forgive me for getting mad, earlier?" Well, I can't adequately describe how I felt in that instant, but I threw out my arms to him and he ran to me. We hugged and cried and I told him I forgave him and told him it was all over and that everything was okay. I was crying. He was crying. We had reconciled and the feeling we both had in that moment was worth more than gold.

Character Training is a Process

What God blessed me with on that day was the reminder that Drew, despite his autism, does, indeed, have a conscience--and thanks be to Him, it is becoming tender. Character training is hard, tiresome work. It is a long PROCESS, and one which needs to be well thought out with an actual plan and with specific goals in mind. Sometimes I fear it is too easy to be more organized, goal-oriented, and proactive when putting together an IEP than with issues of character, and the hearts of our children, hence, the need for an Individualized Character Plan.

Have you sat down and made one for your child for this year? More than all of the academics and all of the therapy you do with your children, try and remind yourselves that pointing your child's heart towards Christ is truly your ultimate "work." Character training requires just as much, if not more, of your consideration, thoughts, efforts and planning, than does any IEP.

It had only been two weeks prior to "funk day" that we had Drew tested for his annual testing required in our state for homeschoolers. His overall score showed he had made great progress over the past year. As wonderful as that news is for a mom who homeschools, Drew asking forgiveness for a wrongdoing, is a score, to me, that can't even be measured.

After a few more attempts of trying to woo the cat over to where I was sitting, I finally gave up and rose to just go and get her. What choice did I have? She was a cat, she will always be a cat, and I knew there was no hope of change. I'm thankful this isn't the case with our children.

We serve a God who is full of grace and mercy. There IS hope!

Cathy Steere and her husband, David, live in the beautiful Pacific northwest and homeschool their two sons, Drew and Elliot. David and Cathy met at Providence Reformed Baptist Church where they have been members for over 16 years. For the past seven years the Steeres have implemented an individualized neurodevelopmental home program with their oldest son, who has autism.  Their story, in the book Too Wise to be Mistaken, Too Good to be Unkind: Christian Parents Contend With Autism, is one of hope and encouragement for all Christian parents seeking to teach their special needs children at home.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the NATHHAN News, a publication for Christian families homeschooling special needs children. Reprinted with permission from Home School Enrichment Magazine. Click here for information on how to subscribe.