Archive for the ‘Ulrich Family’ Category
Home Sweet Home
The house is a little ranch in a quiet neighborhood. Aaron and Jack each have their own room which is decorated with their favorite things. We remodeled the back half of the garage into a room where the staff could sleep and maintain an office. Aaron and Jack need a staff person with them at all times. I’ll talk more about the staff in another post.
The guys have a HUD rent subsidy so they only have to pay one third of their income in rent. The house is owned by a non-profit agency that does the maintenance. Thanks to Aaron’s Uncle Steve, we learned about HUD and were the first people in Ohio to access this source of funds. Some day I’ll tell you all the details about the craziness of applying, it involved five people using speed-dial and having to call between 10:00 AM and 10:30 on a specific day to secure the limited vouchers. It was a group effort, and when we got the application we felt like we had won the lottery. It takes parents and other caregivers a lot of effort to keep all the funding balls in the air, but with some creativity it can work.
Aaron and Jack have lived together for over 11 years. Jack has Down syndrome and is in his 50s and Aaron is 35 and has the label of autism. They get along great. They just seem to know what the other person wants or needs. Jack will pick up stuff if Aaron drops it, and Aaron just seems to know when Jack wants to be alone with his videos. It is pretty remarkable that even without verbal language, they just seem to have an understanding, their own system of communication. They don’t go in each other’s rooms–even if the door is open. They know their own chair and place at the kitchen table and they each have a job around the house. Jack loves to choose and pass out different seasonal placemats (this week’s have watermelons). Aaron’s job is to clear the coffee table in the living room and water the plants.
Aaron’s makes choices
Aaron’s favorite things to do are to listen to music, go swimming, go anywhere–he likes cars, buses, trains, planes… if it moves, Aaron likes it. We bring Aaron to our house every weekend so we can be a part of his life, and to give the staff a break.
When Aaron and Jack were first moving into the house, there was a huge lawsuit and neighbors across town were claiming that having people with disabilities would lower property values. Fortunately, Aaron and Jack’s neighbors have been wonderful. We planned a picnic last year for all of the people in Aaron’s day program and the family next door not only came to the party, they brought the potato salad and joined in the games. They have helped clear snow and would help in any emergency. We’ve watched the kids next door grow up and feel blessed to have them in our lives.
In November it will be two years ago since Aaron moved into a new home so he could live closer to my husband and myself. Aaron got a new residential company and new staff.
Jack stayed and got a new roommate though he did come to visit. When the residential company went bankrupt, his loving staff stayed with him for a while, but then moved on. The company that owned the house decided to sell it. So, Jack lost Aaron, his staff, his house and his security. Is it any surprise Jack’s health has suffered.
Next week, Aaron is going to try and visit Jack. There will always be a place for Jack in our hearts. He is a quiet, gentle man. There is no doubt, he and Aaron shared an important part of their lives. There is no doubt they loved each other and looked out for each other–just like a family.
Currently we are looking for a new roommate for Aaron. Jack lives in another county now, so he can’t join us. We meet a new man next week. Will he be someone who will be friends with Aaron. Can this new person be like Jack.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
Balancing my life vs. my child’s: Until my dying breath…
This is going to be a tough post. I might chicken out and not even publish it. I don’t want it to be a pity party: “You parents go through so much. You are Saints.” God Forbid!
I am hoping this message will give other families a chance to take a breath and allow themselves a little slack. For those of you who are professionals, I hope it gives some insight into the choices families make–usually at a cost.
Families make hard choices all the time
All parents of young children, and adults who are caring for their elderly parents experience these same dilemmas. The sandwich generation is a well known problem in our culture and effects most families.
What is different for parents whose children are adults with disabilities? This intense care is usually not discussed or understood. It is not a time-limited situation where your child grows up or your parent dies.
Aaron is 39 years old and as I get older this is a growing issue. We are talking about–well, until my dying breath.
First Sign of Growing Old
I’ve been having lumbar back pain and had to begin a series of injections and other stuff. This is the first major medical issue I’ve ever had, so I have no right to complain. Plus my philosophy is that anytime a Doctor can actually “fix” a situation, I consider it a temporary problem and a medical victory.
BUT the bottom line was that for the first time ever I had to cancel Aaron’s doctor appointment.
I consciously chose my needs over my child’s.
I’ve had pain before, sure. But that has never stopped me, so why was this time different?
What was I thinking?
* There was the 50 mile round-trip drive to Aaron’s Doctor, the only one I trust who takes a medical card…
* Aaron goes every three months and didn’t have any major issues…
* We bring Aaron home with us every Saturday night. Whenever we take Aaron to the Doctor, we keep him both Saturday and Sunday nights and try to schedule on Monday morning…
* Monday mornings are the busiest day for the Doctor so there is always a long wait in a room full of sick people… Aaron is not a good “waiter”…
* I feel bad about the last minute cancellation to Aaron’s doctor, we try to be respectful of his time. If we have to pay the $30. charge, so be it.
* I always bring flowers to the receptionist in the Doctor’s office. She takes a special interest in Aaron and always gives him hugs and makes him smile. (I know, I know, amazing that I would spend energy on flowers for the receptionist–but she is one of the few people who get excited to see Aaron so that makes me happy too)…
* Going to the doctor takes a full morning…
* After the doctor visit we take Aaron out to lunch and then drop him off at his day program….
* Monday is the “community outing” day at the day program–so when they actually do what they say they are going to do (we won’t go there)…that means the group may or may not be in the building when we want to drop Aaron off…
* If the day program group is not there then we have to leave Aaron with the director who just puts Aaron with a book in a separate room and ignores him, a safety worry…
* The day program has Aaron’s noon medication, so the good thing is he will get his noon meds on time…
* The bad thing is I will have to be face-to-face with the director, who is a good person just has no resources. This means I will ask, “How is Aaron doing?” and the director will tell me they strongly think Aaron should be in diapers and have his meds increased… which will lead to… (let’s just say) be stressful for both of us and reinforce my reputation as “EVIL Parent and Day Program Public Enemy Number 1″….
I wrote this all out in stream of consciousness because this site is about climbing every mountain and mountains always have streams– did you like that analogy? But, like most people, I think our conscious run streams of pros and cons with every decision we make.
Second and Third Thoughts:
I accept it, but I am not proud I made the decision to think of myself first. When we took Aaron back to his house on Sunday night and I was hardly able to walk on Monday morning I knew I did the right thing. There is no way I would have been physically able to give Aaron his bath, breakfast, and go through all the steps outlined above.
So Aaron will live, I’ll get better. But how soon will it be that either myself or my husband will have some serious condition where we require medical care and can’t take care of Aaron?
I look at Aaron’s housemate’s parents. They are in their 90s. They have done an admirable job, but age has now made them just as vulnerable as their son. Soon it will be my turn.
Damn! Why is this so hard? Why do I feel Aaron’s quality of life is ONLY in the hands of his family?
We are fortunate to have some good professional people in Aaron’s life. But why do the thousands of dollars being given to the agencies–who are supposed to be providing Aaron care–don’t care?
There is a huge difference between providing “care” and “caring”.
Okay, getting old is tough for everyone, share what you are thinking. Do you think it is more intense for a family with a child with a disability? Is it harder as the child grows into an adult?
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
http://climbingeverymountain.com/inclusion-for-moms-sisters-of-the-heart/ BTW: Lori Foster 2013 register now.
Hi Everyone. Getting ready for summer vacations? Thought you might like to read about our family trip out West that changed our lives.
Oh Beautiful for spacious skies…
From the moment I was pregnant, my husband Tom dreamed of the day he could retrace his childhood trip out west. He glowed in the memories of mom, dad and kids studying the maps on the kitchen table, packing the lunch meat sandwiches in the cooler, and repeating the rest-stop conspiracy of Dad throwing the baseball high over his boys’ heads so they would chase the ball and use up some of that stored energy. The year our son Aaron was ten and his brother Tommy turned nine, faithful to Ulrich family tradition, we headed west. The main difference between my husband’s family, and ours, was that Aaron has autism.
Preparing for the trip
Aaron didn’t start walking until he was five, and even at ten was not completely independent in the bathroom. So how were we going to follow his needed routines for toileting, understand Aaron’s wants without the use of words or signs, watch his balance issues, and especially, cope with unpredictable behaviors? How were we going to manage twenty-one days of camping, sleeping, eating, and interacting with strangers in strange places? How were we going to survive–much less enjoy–visiting eleven National Parks and Monuments, twelve states, Mexico, and traveling five thousand miles?
Certainly, we were not the first family to attempt a western vacation with a child with complex needs, but we also knew we were not going to be “typical” tourists. Tom and I briefly considered leaving Aaron with a friend or in summer camp, but we decided this dream vacation included our “whole family.” We would make it work.
Adaptations and Accommodations
Using our teaching and parenting skills, we designed adaptations and accommodations for the trip. In previous years we camped in state parks and all shared a big tent. Aaron had a terrible time sleeping on the ground in such close quarters and often our sleeping bags got soaked in rain storms, so for this adventure we decided to buy a pop-up camper. Our pediatrician recommended some medication to help Aaron relax and sleep at night. We planned to follow Aaron’s schedule for meals, breaks, and sleep. We would only visit restaurants at non-peak hours, choose corner tables, avoid long waits, and skip most museums. We installed a child-proof lock on the car door and had a suitcase of games, music and snacks. Tommy and Aaron’s jobs on the trip were to crank up the camper each night and help carry the water buckets–jobs that were successful in our previous trips.
Oh Beautiful for pilgrim feet…
Like the pioneers of old, and Tom’s family a generation earlier, at dawn our family set out from Cincinnati with Tommy’s version of a “Colorado or Bust” sign taped to the windshield, driving not oxen-pulling-a-Prairie-Schooner, but a brown-station-wagon-pulling-a-pop-up-camper. We were confident we could handle any of the challenges we knew would come. We would enjoy our family-time and see the beauty of America. And fortunately, instead of mud and rock trails, we had interstate roads and could travel sixty MPH.
We Americans like to brag about being the melting pot and/or salad bowl of the world, a nation that values brotherhood and diversity.
Even with our best preparation, instead of a three-week vacation, this became a three-week teaching excursion. It seems the human America was not quite ready for us.
At home we were surrounded by people who know us; they saw the beauty in Aaron and our family. With the strangers we met on our journey, we had both negative and positive interactions.
Transformational Experiences, day after day
As if we had a disease, one family packed up their tent and moved it to a site on the other side of the campground, and a pregnant woman crossed the street so she wouldn’t have to pass us.
One evening Aaron was enjoying the loud echoes that he could make in the campground bathhouse, and a young boy ran out screaming, “The Hulk, the Hulk’s in there!”
An elderly man said, “We have one of ‘those’ in our family but he doesn’t travel, he lives in a home.”
“Mom, what’s wrong with that boy? Does he act that way on purpose?” The mother whispered, “SHHH, he’s retarded,” and like we were dangerous, yanked the child’s arm and dragged him away.
“Have you tried the Feingold or gluten-free diet?” or, “I know an allergist in Illinois who can get kids like that to talk.” It seems many people think they have the right to offer advice. I am sure they think they are helping, but do they really think we were so desperate we needed a consultation standing in line at the grocery? We struggle with the question: Can Aaron ever be accepted just the way he is, or does he only have value if he is “fixed” or “cured”?
In Arizona, we were asked to leave a family-style restaurant because, as the manager said, “We don’t serve people like him.” Tom and I were shocked because Aaron was happily eating his pancakes. If he had been noisy, we would have understood, but he was acting as normal as anyone. Sobbing, I hurried Aaron to the car wondering what we were going to do a thousand miles from home. I realized this was the lowest point of the trip and saw a glimpse of the discrimination that has followed individuals of other ethnic and racial groups. The stigma of being asked to leave a restaurant because some anonymous person didn’t like the way my son “looked,” and the management’s open prejudice presented an uncomfortable dark side of America I will never forget.
Oh Beautiful for heroes proved…
Our trip would have been devastating if only bad things happened, but we actually had some very positive experiences.
People would ask with smiles, “Where are you from?”, “Where did he get that red hair?” or “How old is he?” Just ordinary questions, but kind gestures and communication starters.
A parent of a child with Down syndrome commented, “I hope the programs in Ohio are better than in Missouri.”
One young girl smiled at us, “We have special kids in our school. My best friend’s name is Brian, he reminds me of him.”
Several children sought out seats next to Aaron and Tommy on a park swing, maybe just for a closer look, but they made eye contact and tried to make Aaron smile. Several gently pushed Aaron on the playground swings, merry-go-round, and gave him a turn kicking the soccer ball.
Aaron pinched me when we were rocking violently on a small plane sight-seeing ride over the Grand Canyon, the pilot said: “Don’t worry, I’ve had grown men reach over and hold my arm.”
At one roadside park all the visitors collectively held their breath as Aaron climbed the steps up a steep slide. Tommy guided him to the top where after much arm-flapping and nervous hand-biting, Aaron finally let go. As the wind struck his face and he barreled down the slide, Aaron’s expression was one of absolute joy. Everyone in the park clapped and cheered. This was not just a glorious moment for Aaron; this was a glorious moment for every person in the park.
In a swimming pool in Arizona, a life guard got in the water during her break and showed Aaron how to swim on his back.
On a train ride in Silverton, CO a little girl moved into the seat next to Aaron and taught him an adapted version of the game Connect Four.
A waiter in Mexico brought Aaron an extra pack of crackers while we waited for our meal and tried to entertain him by singing Old McDonald in broken English. He even helped cut up Aaron’s food. His empathy and understanding crossed national and language barriers.
Universal Design and Inclusion
In the National Parks we found many examples of universal design: accessible water fountains, paved paths, and self-guided tours enabled us to partially participate in the park activities. Several of the campground managers gave us campsites close to the restrooms. At Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico there were benches and a bypass for the steep climbs. A small work crew with disabilities in Grand Canyon National Park did yard work, and a waitress at Canyon De Chelly used sign language to take an order from a customer. These inclusive accommodations not only made it easier on us, they actually made us feel welcome.
Survival means Adapting to the Environment
We were ambitious. We flew above the Grand Canyon and went down in the caves of New Mexico. We had a lovely lunch at the Broadmore Hotel with water goblets and doilies, but were asked to leave a family style restaurant. We drove to the top of Pike’s Peak and the whole family climbed the ladders of Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace. We saw Native Americans adapt and survive their desert environment by seeing the value of every living plant and creature. We tasted jelly and saw sewing needles made from a cactus. We heard wolves howling, and we howled back singing every song we knew around the campfire. We took pictures and made memories that will last a lifetime. And perhaps like the Native Americans who live in the desert, we were learning how to adapt to our environment.
Lessons from the road
We were physically and emotionally exhausted. Many amazing things happened that brought our family closer together. At the same time, though, I feel Tom, Tommy, Aaron and I crossed the line.
We could no longer think of ourselves as a family with one member who happened to have a disability; we were truly a “disabled family.”
I am not trying to be shocking or dramatic. We just had to concede that most of the general public did not seem to have the motivation, information or skills to assimilate us into their version of a “typical family.”
We also learned we had no anonymity; we stood out even in the largest group. Five hundred people came to see the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns, but because of Aaron’s shout when the bats emerged; four hundred ninety-nine people were looking at us.
We learned that celebrating the diversity of the landscape of America includes seeing the beauty of the diversity of its people.
Our experiences reinforced our commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities to live, work, recreate, and go to school with their neighbors, brothers and sisters. We cherished the positive experiences; the children we met gave us so much hope for the next generation of Americans, and travelers. Like Johnny Appleseed on his trips out west, we tried to drop positive seeds that other pioneer families will nurture and see bear fruit. Perhaps a future Kodak moment for our country will include not only the beautiful American landscapes, but people like Aaron and our family.
Better than “The Buck Stops Here”
One last story: In Missouri, inside the Truman Memorial Museum with its high ceilings and big rooms, Aaron started, “vocalizing.” Oh, how it echoed. The guard came up to us and said either Aaron would have to be quiet or leave. Tom started to go, when another tourist came running from across the room. He looked the guard right in the eye and said, “How dare you speak to them like that. That young man is a citizen of this country and has a right to be here. Harry Truman was a strong supporter of the ordinary person. He, of all people would want them to be here.”
As we pulled the car into our driveway, Tom and I were wondering if it was worth it. Would we ever take another road-trip? But like always, our children showed us the way. As he was running into the house to be the first person in the bathroom, Tommy called over his shoulder, “Next year I want to go to Florida!”
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!
Add your voice:
Be sure to leave a comment and let me know about your travel adventures. Is it harder when you are away from home and your typical routine?
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All the best,
“Forgetting Spells” Inclusion and Happy Endings
Looking for the Village WiseWoman
When I get depressed, I like to pull out a Nora Robert’s book. Don’t laugh:)
For a couple hours, I let the queen of romance weave a tale about another world where, no matter how impossible the conflict, the heroes and heroines will overcome all odds and there will be a happy ending. If only real life was like that. Sigh.
In Nora’s book, “Once Upon A Rose” the village WiseWoman conjures up a “forgetting spell” which protects a baby girl by making her invisible except to those who will wish her “good will”.
Of course any time magic is used, there needs to be a sacrifice to restore balance to the universe–so in this story the mother dies so the baby can live. Of Course.
In my last post, I talked about Balancing my child’s needs and mine. (Click here)so I’ve been thinking about balance, sacrifice and love.
I’m hoping a WiseWoman will come along and cast a “forgetting spell” on me. I’m saying this because I think “forgetting” is the key to solving so many of our problems. What if we could cast a “forgetting spell” so that Aaron would only be seen by those who wish him well? He would be surrounded by people who care about him.
I always felt “Inclusion” and blending into the normal life of a neighborhood is Aaron’s greatest safety–just as animals are protected by camouflaging themselves into their environment.
Success Story 1
Last week early one morning, the van driver from Aaron’s day program and his residential caregiver were having words in the driveway of Aaron’s house. GEESH! After all the community building I try to do with the neighbors GEESH ALMIGHTY–the normal adults (the paid professionals who are caregivers) are practically coming to blows in the driveway. And who do they call to fix it? NOT the two different agencies who are making thousands of dollars on Aaron, no of course not–they call me.
So, I handled it! YEA ME! It took several phone calls and a couple hours work, but starting next week a new van service will be providing transportation. Hopefully it is a win-win situation. Most of all, Aaron won’t have to have an emotional stressful start to his day. And any neighbors who might have noticed the commotion will forget about it and Aaron will go back to being invisible. He will just be a normal guy being picked up. No one will notice or be concerned. If there is ever a situation where Aaron is in trouble, I’m hoping the “forgetting spell” will bring out those who wish Aaron “good will” and they will speak up and protect him.
Success Story 2
Because I was unhappy with some of the things in Aaron’s life and took action, the agency which supports Aaron in his day and residential program have been very upset with me. I was the Wicked Witch, the Mother from Hell, the woman who just kept making trouble, anything but the “WiseWoman.”
Well, about 8:30 this morning, I get a call from the supervisor who previously would hardly even talk to me. He called and said our loving staff person who has been with us for over 8 years had a family emergency. Could I possibly go to Aaron’s house?
In twenty minutes I relieved the staff person and held down the fort until the supervisor could get there. In that time, I took both the guys to the bathroom, plunged the stopped-up toilet, and threw a load of clothes into the dryer. I got the guy’s back-packs and lunch boxes ready and when the supervisor arrived was able to give him directions to Aaron’s program and help them into his car.
I felt really good I could help our staff person, Aaron, his housemate and the company. I also felt good that they called me. It was the “community” the “team” the “extended family” I was always talking about.
What struck me was how the attitude of the supervisor had changed. Of course I can’t speak for him, but I think this was a transformational moment in the way he looked at my role as a mother and as part of the larger ecological support system (see related post).
At one point I almost thought he was going to give me a hug. This was incredible because only a couple days ago, I would have put money on the fact he was purposely trying to “punish” me for challenging his agency and his authority, adding roadblocks to our already difficult and complicated life.
I wish I could craft a romance writer’s tool and create a nice story arc which would tie up this story in a nice circle. There was an opening conflict, it was resolved, and both parties were changed. But “happy ever afters” are just in fairy tales and romance novels.
And unfortunately Aaron’s story will have another opening conflict tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
And that is just normal life. It is true of every person’s life, not just people with disabilities and their families. The morning after… always opens a new chapter.
So just having a happy ending for one day is okay.
Our staff person’s family crisis worked out okay. She called and thanked me for being someone she could count on. Which is perfect, we need each other. But the big change is that I don’t think the supervisor will ever again see me as the “Wicked Witch” or “Mother from Hell”.
I’m sure we will have more disagreements. He is the representative of a company which has few resources and lots of responsibility and I am the mother of a 35 year old person with autism and severe disabilities who needs lots of resources and lots of responsible people to care for him.
But today we didn’t need bigger-than-life heroes and heroines who did heroic deeds, we just needed WiseWomen and WiseMen.
And maybe today, I’ve had my own transformational experience. Maybe when I am looking for the village WiseWoman to create magic, I’ve learned that WiseWoman must be me.
Today felt like it had a “satisfying ending” even Nora Roberts would approve. And maybe more days with just plain old “satisfying endings” will lead to that elusive “happy-ever-after” for Aaron and all people with disabilities.
Are you becoming a WiseWoman or WiseMan?
Tell us your story or experience with forgetting, and happy endings.
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Climbing a Mountain is a Team Effort, each person is important.
All the best,
Roberts, N. (2001) Once upon a rose: anthology. New York: Penguin Putnam.