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What is Charity and Love?

I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up
Creative Commons License photo credit: djwhelan

Every day we read about good people planning charity events for people with disabilities.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Wait! You are wondering how I can be an advocate for people with disabilities and not just jump up and down when two caring people are trying to raise funds for people with disabilities?

Let’s just say, “It’s complicated.”

My first fundraiser was when Tommy was an infant, Aaron was 20 months old and still not sleeping through the night. Two hours a day, I would drive them across town to Stepping Stones Center for the Handicapped. Perfect time for me to volunteer to lead the fundraiser, eh?

What pushed me into action was there were about 30 babies in the Stepping Stones program and no teacher. Sure there were amazing volunteers. But these children, who needed so much help, did not have a qualified teacher. I found that unacceptable. I could sleep in a couple years.

Community Fundraisers

The local shopping center was having their annual charity craft show. At the organizational meeting, I gave my impassioned speech, we were chosen the “designated charity” and then for the next month all the parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors of the “Tiny Tots Program” spent our free time making items for our booth. We raised about $3,000 which was then matched by the organization and an official “teacher” was hired.

Special Fundraisers

After that there were the fundraisers for The Mother’s of Special Children and the Arc (formerly known as the Association for Retarded Children), and TASH (formerly known as The Association for People with Severe Handicaps) and on and on.

I met other mothers (mostly) and we had many good times, but I started asking why we had to have charity drives to fund important services other children in the community took for granted.

Regular Inclusive Fundraisers

After our court case and Aaron was finally allowed to go to public school, I got involved in the regular school PTO fundraisers. There were spaghetti dinners, White Elephant sales, Dances, Raffles, Magic Shows, Motorcycle Rides, Bake Sales, Races for… and saving boxtops, cans… It goes on and on.

I learned about inclusion (click here) and realized we didn’t need a “special track team” we only needed an extra support person to help Aaron to participate in the track team events.

“Disability World” Fundraisers

This led to more committees, grant writing, working for levy’s for the County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities as well as the regular local school district.

Other parents got to have jobs and earn money to help their families. I got to be the only non-paid person at numerous committee meetings.

Now, we did some great things that wouldn’t have happened without the volunteer parents. We began an after-school club and a summer school program so our children would have something to do and not lose all the skills they gained during the school year. We started four non-profit groups and incorporated. Yes, indeedy, sleep would have to wait.

But it never ends.

It is my feeling many of these organizations spend their energy insuring their own jobs and pay and giving lip service to the support of people they are supposed to be serving.

Autism Speaks, March of Dimes… are currently under fire because one of their main reasons for existence is to raise money to wipe out people with autism and developmental disabilities. They want a cure and spend much of their funds on sending Medical Doctors to conferences and conducting research.

But what about the people who are here now? These professionals, who make good salaries, have their way paid to conferences. Parents, who volunteer, not only pay our own way–we are supposed to donate to send the doctors? Plus, their executive directors make big big bucks. When I learned what some of the executives of these charities were making–that was it.

When it is all about charity, then it is all about the person who is giving the money. When it is about a person’s life and rights, it is about the person with the disabilities.

There are some large organizations who understand this, but most don’t. Here’s a post on my experience outside my grocery store (click here).

Everyone wants to help babies and young children

I know Aaron’s life was more interesting because of my leadership and volunteer work. But now he is an adult, and there are even fewer opportunities. Babies are cute and helpless and of course we want to help. But the majority of our lives we are adults. That’s 20 years as a young person and maybe 50-60 years as an adult.

So, I don’t do much volunteering for charitable organizations any more.

I spend every moment of my life working directly with the people with disabilities or the caregivers on the front lines. The ones who make little more than minimum wage. The people who take Aaron to the bathroom and clean up his messes. The people who celebrate Aaron’s diversity and think he’s a pretty neat guy. There is no tax write-off, no non-profits. Just people who care and need resources.

Segregated Charity–charity gone wrong

I don’t believe in onetime events like, “People with Disabilities Come to Church Sunday” where the church rents a ramp for the weekend (I couldn’t make this up). I don’t believe in Special Olympic Golf Fundraisers, when they won’t let Aaron even ride in the golf cart (“Oh, honey we just raise money for these poor children, we don’t actually want them on the course.”–couldn’t make that up either.) I don’t want Girl Scouts showing up at my door saying they want to play with my child because it is Lent and they have to do penance (some day I’ll share the details on that one.)

Rights–not Pity

As Joe Shapiro wrote in his classic book, “NO PITY.” People with disabilities don’t want to be the object of other’s charity. People with disabilities have needs, but they are citizens with rights. They don’t want the handicapped parking place because you are having pity on them. They want the handicapped parking place because as a citizen and consumer, they need the extra wide space so they can get out of their car. And, as an American, I’m proud our country recognizes that right to equal access.

If we really want to help people with disabilities–don’t give them your dimes. Instead make room in your lives and give your love..and your friendship. That is the best gift and, I believe, closer to the Biblical definition of “charity.”

Like I said, this is complicated.

Thoughts?

What are your experiences with charity models? With helping people with disabilities? What does it feel like when you are the giver? When you are the receiver? When do you feel pity? Charitable?

The Power of ONE

one is the loneliest number
Creative Commons License photo credit: horizontal.integration

Today is Jan. 1

Could this be the year of the Power of One?

We can celebrate with fireworks, silly hats, black-eyed peas and sauerkraut. We can dress in yellow (for prosperity) or white (for peace) while throwing pomegranate seeds on the roof and making wishes. But, this new year will race forward–with or without us. In 365 days, it will become the next year, and then the next …. The cosmic universe doesn’t care about individual civilizations who make their own calendars. It doesn’t care about individual people.

Actually, that is a comfort. I don’t want to be Atlas holding the world on my shoulders. I don’t want the responsibility of saving the world, that’s too much.

Systems Theory–Circles of Life

Bronfenbrenner’s systems theory states that what affects one part of the system affects all the parts of the systems. In previous posts on the circle of life and family reunions I’ve talked about his embedded systems (like Russian Dolls). The individual is in the center circle, surrounded by the family, surrounded by the community and “systems.”

Inner Circle: Aaron

When Aaron, my son with the labels of autism and developmental disabilities was growing up, I made specific dream plans and goals to include him in an inclusive community.

They were audacious plans. But we had IDEA and ADA and hope. And Aaron was young and had lots of years ahead of him. I thought the values of ALL people living and working in an inclusive community would keep evolving into a more accepting world. I thought I could count on the professionals, the local, state, national agencies and organizations to help.

But those systems don’t exist for adults with disabilities and/or their families.

Aaron is 42 years old. For adults there is no mandate or law saying he can get services. So we have watched as his behavior and communication have deteriorated. And, frankly, I have even had trouble envisioning a new dream plan.

This past year has been a painful experience watching the residential and vocational companies NOT want Aaron–but want his Medicaid Waiver funds.

The opportunity of a new year is to dream again. It’s time to use the Power of One.

The Power of One: For Aaron

Aaron recently started a day program with Goodwill/Easter Seals five days a week and they are providing him with a one-on-one staff person three days a week. That is the brightest hope we have had for years. So YEA!

Aaron still has a great roommate and one loving caregiver who has been with them for over 7 years. YEA YEA!

And Tommy (Aaron’s brother) and his family are now living near us, so our family can get together more often. YEA YEA YEA!

That is three wins. As this year ends, those are the blessings I see and celebrate.

Dream plan for Aaron:

Aaron will be happy. He will have people around him who love him. He will have choices and do interesting things. Have friends. He will be able to communicate when he wants/doesn’t want something. He will be safe.

Pretty basic. Nothing specific. But again, these are audacious goals.

So, maybe everything you and I do this year will not make much of a difference in the cosmic scheme of things. But using the Power of One, I can do something to make a difference in my son’s life.

In the example of Goodwill/ES, it was the Power of One times 4. Aaron’s Dad, me, our Support Coordinator, and the leadership of Goodwill/ES. We kept at it, and it happened.

The Power of One: For Community

Using the Power of One, I will continue my blog,ClimbingEveryMountain.com.
I will try to entertain, encourage and give information to grow a community that cares about adults with disabilities.

Thank you for being with me on this journey. It has been an amazing first six months for Climbing Every Mountain. Together we can build a better world and community–one person at a time.

Virtual Circles

Old Bronfenbrenner wouldn’t recognize his embedded systems, but today we are using the social media tools (blog, Twitter, Facebook) and reinventing his circles of love and support that will ripple out to touch the future. The people in the circles are not our next door neighbors, they might live on the other side of the world.

Is social media and technology the solution?

Chris Brogan (ChrisBrogan.com) is a social media guru who suggests the future is going to include websites, blogs, forums, videos and online communities which help us connect with like-minded folks to get the information and emotional support we need.

His new company, 501 Mission Place, is helping non-profits use social media and become more effective. Perhaps you know of a non-profit that could use some social media help.

But I wonder if it is too late for many traditional organizations.

Virtual communities are already replacing many of the antiquated national organizations which have huge overhead and an inability to help individuals.

Virtual training is replacing the large conferences, meetings and university classes. Webinars and online courses like Partners in Policymaking are the new “best practice.”

Do you use the traditional phone and agencies in your community, or do you search for people and information in the virtual world of Cable TV, iPods, www, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and …?

Summary: In this new year, we can use our individual power, the Power of One, to make a difference for our children with disabilities. We can do it by advocating directly for the people we love, and we can do it by becoming part of a virtual community like Climbing Every Mountain or other online communities.

In 2017–We’re Number One!

I hope you will sign up (top left) to get notices of new posts. I hope you will add your voice and stories to the comments. I hope you will use the social media of Twitter and Facebook to invite others to join us. The way we are going to build a better world for vulnerable people is to join together. And I hope you have an amazing 2017.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best for a fantastic year of ones,

Mary

Use Your Power: Comments Please

How can you use the Power of One? Do you think social media can help? Do you recommend other blogs and/or virtual communities?

I’d love to read your comments and know what you are planning this year.

NIght Before Christmas| Disability Version

For anyone who buys gifts for a person with autism or a disability, here is a fun twist on the classic poem which shares some of the reasons it is so difficult to find the perfect gift.

Cindy Waeltermann, is the founder of AutismLink and gives us permission to reprint her poem on behalf of her two children who are adults with autism.

Autism Night Before Christmas

by Cindy Waeltermann

Twas the Night Before Christmas
And all through the house
The creatures were stirring
Yes, even the mouse

We tried melatonin
And gave a hot bath
But the holiday jitters
They always distract

The children were finally
All nestled in bed
When nightmares of terror
Ran through my OWN head

Did I get the right gift
The right color
And style
Would there be a tantrum
Or even, maybe, a smile?

Our relatives come
But they don’t understand
The pleasure he gets
Just from flapping his hands.

“He needs discipline,” they say
“Just a well-needed smack,
You must learn to parent…”
And on goes the attack

We smile and nod
Because we know deep inside
The argument is moot
Let them all take a side

We know what it’s like
To live with the spectrum
The struggles and triumphs
Achievements, regressions…

But what they don’t know
And what they don’t see
Is the joy that we feel
Over simplicity

He said “hello”
He ate something green!
He told his first lie!
He did not cause a scene!

He peed on the potty
Who cares if he’s ten,
He stopped saying the same thing
Again and again!

Others don’t realize
Just how we can cope
How we bravely hang on
At the end of our rope

But what they don’t see
Is the joy we can’t hide
When our children with autism
Make the tiniest stride

We may look at others
Without the problems we face
With jealousy, hatred
Or even distaste,

But what they don’t know
Nor sometimes do we
Is that children with autism
Bring simplicity.

We don’t get excited
Over expensive things
We jump for joy
With the progress work brings

Children with autism
Try hard every day
That they make us proud
More than words can say.

They work even harder
Than you or I
To achieve something small
To reach a star in the sky

So to those who don’t get it
Or can’t get a clue
Take a walk in my shoes
And I’ll assure you

That even 10 minutes
Into the walk
You’ll look at me
With respect, even shock.

You will realize
What it is I go through
And the next time you judge
I can assure you

That you won’t say a thing
You’ll be quiet and learn,
Like the years that I did
When the tables were turned…….

Thanks to Trish Doerrler, a parent of a child with autism, for sharing this poem on her blog In so many words.

Hope you all have a fantastic Holiday, with lots of precious moments.

Aaron’s Favorite Gifts

This year we are getting Aaron a tape/CD player because Aaron thinks listening to music is an active sport. He loves putting the tapes (yes, tapes) in and out. We can find tapes in used book stores. They are usually pretty cheap, but that is great because then when they only last a couple days, they can be replaced. The hardest part will be to get the staff to understand the batteries are rechargable and should not be thrown out.

Aaron also likes to lick and flip baseball cards. He especially likes the ones with cheerleaders:)

I wish we had a longer list. He really isn’t impressed with new shirts and underwear.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.

All my best,

Mary

Comments:

Which gifts work for your child? especially adults with autism or other disabilities? Are the gifts age-appropriate?

“There’s No Santa Claus”|a Transformational experience

Twas the Night Before Christmas

“Toyland, toyland, magical girl and boy land. Once you cross its borders, you can never return again.” (Babes in Toyland)

There’s No Santa

Aaron and Tommy got off the school bus and our world changed.

Tommy walked in the front door, threw his backpack in the corner and announced “There’s no Santa Claus.” Apparently, Billy and Josh minced no words on the bus ride home. And, they were third graders who knew these things.

Aaron, my son with the label of autism, went straight to the refridge.

But what is a mother to do?

I got Aaron settled with a snack and his music and then sat next to Tommy on the couch. We both were facing the Christmas tree and feeling pretty glum when he crawled into my lap. That action alone choked me with tears. Tommy was seven years old and seldom let me hold him on my lap any more–yet another reminder my baby was growing up.

His happy world was just turned upside-down.

Like all parents, I knew this moment would come. And, I wanted to send coal to Billy and Josh for ruining the fun.

I knew this was one of those rite-of-passages, a transformational moment in his young life–but darn. It seemed just yesterday he was three and running down the steps on Christmas morning, diving into the presents from Santa–darn, darn.

For a long time, we watched the reflection of the lights on the tree ornaments and didn’t say anything.

It was a treasured moment but I was desperately trying to think of how to keep the magic. How could I patch up the hole of a Santa that no longer was real?

Sure we’ve had some close calls, i.e. St. Nick and the Batman socks. But this time, there was no going back.

Tommy finally started talking and asked some questions. He said he had suspicions because the whole Santa-goes-around-the-world-in-one-night is a little hard to believe. But, but, but.

There were the things he said: “So there’s no Easter Bunny, or Tooth Fairy…?” “Was God real?”

And the things he didn’t say: “Did all adults lie, trick kids and play games with them?” “Who could he now trust?”

I tried to put myself into his world and think of ways he might understand. My explanation that Santa was a make-believe superhero bombed. Later, I could talk about Jesus and the gifts of the Magi, but that seemed abstract for the current moment.

Changing Roles

I’m not sure what inspired me, but as Tommy sat in my arms with his chin on his chest, I suggested Santa was a tradition about giving.

“The Santa tradition” was a fun way for everyone to be an actor in a giant real life magic play. It didn’t matter your age, it was about finding someone who needed cheering up, or needed help and giving it to them.

I told him little kids didn’t understand this, but big kids like him, now got to be part of the fun by becoming a Secret Santa to others. This seemed to make sense to Tommy.

Okay, who could we surprise? Who needed some Christmas cheer?

Tommy’s grandparents had just separated after a long and unhappy marriage. Grandpa had moved into a basement apartment in a not-so-great neighborhood and told the family, “This year I’m keeping it simple and not putting up a Christmas tree.”

So that minute, Tommy started to plan a Christmas makeover for Grandpa’s apartment. Tommy decided to become a Secret Santa.

Secret Santa

For the next few days, Tommy spent every minute making decorations, planning how to sneak into Grandpa’s apartment, going shopping for supplies and a small tree….

He decided we needed cookies and put me and Aaron to work.

Age-Appropriate

Aaron was nine years old. If Tommy (two years younger) no longer believed in Santa, then it was no longer age-appropriate for Aaron to believe in Santa either. Tommy was always my measure of “normalization” for Aaron.

I know some parents who, when they are told their child has severe intellectual disabilities or Down syndrome or…console themselves, “Well, at least they will always believe in Santa Claus.”

I know parents, special needs charity groups, care providers and teachers who take adults with disabilities to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall. In groups. UGH!

I know some adults with disabilities who have flat-out refused to go saying it embarrassed them. I know others who do it just to please others. I know some adults with disabilities who just haven’t had the guidance to know better.

The RULE for age-appropriate and normalization is: “Would a person without a disability do this?” “Will this activity add or subtract to a person’s positive image in the community?”

In this case, an adult with a disability sitting on Santa’s lap in the mall makes them seem like an “eternal child” not an adult who will live and work as a contributing member to the community.

This is a difficult concept for a lot of people. But this was the right move for Aaron and our family.

Grandpa’s Surprise

On Christmas Eve Tommy, Aaron, Tom and I got the key to Grandpa’s apartment and put on our red Santa hats. In under an hour, we decorated the tree, put holiday towels in the bathroom and kitchen, added colorful plants and pillows to his living room and his favorite snacks in the fridge. Tommy posted his drawings all over the apartment with a note next to a plate of sugar cookies:

Dear Al,

I heard you were a good boy this year.

Happy Christmas.

Love,

Secret Santa

Babes in Toyland

Tommy glowed as he locked Grandpa’s door. As we got into the sleigh (er, car) we giggled, reviewed our Christmas caper, sang carols and drove out of sight.

When we stopped for burgers and fries (even Secret Santas have to eat) Tommy decided to continue wearing his Santa hat. Aaron–not so much. But my babes had transformed.

There was still Santa and giving and Christmas. But they were no longer the “Babes in Toyland.”

From now on, Mom’s IEP for the holidays would have to include our new roles as Secret Santas.

Over the next years, more innocence would be lost. There would be new lessons and transformations–but that is all part of growing and learning. It is all part of the magic of being a child. Being a parent. And, all part of the Santa Tradition.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best wishes. Ho-HO-HO. Have some fun this holiday and we’ll see you next year.

Mary

Share your Santa story:

How did you find out about Santa Claus? What are some of the ways you continue the tradition of giving? Any Secret Santa stories? Any thoughts on normalization and age-appropriate?