Posts Tagged ‘adults with disabilities’
Dedicated to Marine Sgt. John P. Huling of West Chester, OH who was killed in Afganistan just days before his 26th birthday. His mother, Debbie, works with my husband Tom. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetary Memorial Day Weekend, 2012.
Ever wonder who puts all those flags on the graves of veterans?
MEMORIAL DAY Parades
Memorial Day is a celebration across communities in America which helps us remember our basic values and the soldiers who fought and died for them. Usually, it also includes a parade, one of my favorite parts of the holiday.
Several years ago my family sat in lawn chairs in our local cemetary watching the parade of Little League teams, high school marching bands, veterans in uniforms of many wars, and politicians in their red, white and blue ties.
The cemetery was beautiful. The lawns were like carpet. American flags marked each tombstone. The flowers colored the grounds with reds, pinks, purples and whites. Everyone was feeling damn patriotic.
Everyone except my uncle John. He turned to me and said, “I wasn’t always handicapped.”
I raised my eyebrows and wondered where this came from. Uncle John was never a happy person, but since he had a stroke, he’d become a weary soul. We’d hoped this celebration would lift his spirits.
After all, who doesn’t like a parade?
Uncle John explained. “You know, I was an electrician. I was important, I contributed, I worked in a great hotel for 30 years. Now I just sit here and watch life go by. I’m handicapped and useless.”
Not exactly cheerful parade conversation.
I couldn’t resist. “Uncle John, having a handicap isn’t the end of the world. Can you enjoy the parade? Look at those little kids jumping up and down on their decorated wagons.”
“You just don’t understand,” he said. “I’m not like him.”
And he pointed to my son Aaron, his nephew who has the label of autism.
Some Battles Can’t be Won
I felt I needed to say something, but I couldn’t find any words. So in silence, Uncle John, me and Aaron sat side-by-side, almost touching, yet thousands of miles away from each other.
What Attitudes and Freedoms do we Celebrate?
Some of the veterans in the parade were old with worn faces and bodies. Did our society value them?
Some soldiers were younger than Aaron… and their youth was shattered in the deserts and mountains of strange lands.
Some veterans carried labels of “handicapped and disability.”
And as the crowd cheered and waved, I wondered if these brave men and women would ever be truly accepted into our society.
Would others like uncle John say they were “useless”? Would they only see the handicap?
Would they consider these wounded warriors better than people born disabled, because the soldiers were once whole and then “damaged” fighting for our country?
During the ceremony, a soldier in a wheelchair got some sort of award, and the crowd clapped. I wondered if the community would further support him as he integrated back into society, or was his token wall plaque on Memorial Day the end?
Would people segregate, discriminate and ignore him the rest of the year?
Would he get the support he needed to live, work and become part of the community?
Disabled and Yet-to-be Disabled
I often wonder if everyone understand there are only two groups of people in this world–the disabled, and the yet-to-be-disabled? If we live long enough, each of us will have a disability.
It’s something to think about.
I asked uncle John if he noticed how the cemetery grounds looked. I told him Aaron worked at this cemetery. He and the landscaping crew had disabilities.
And with support, they weren’t handicapped and “useless.”
In fact, they were the ones who made the grounds look so beautiful.
Uncle John died a couple of months later–old, bitter and handicapped. He never understood that people with disabilities could do all sorts of things.
He saw only what they couldn’t do. He focused only of what he couldn’t do.
And he’d missed the joy, pride and purpose of the Memorial Day celebration – just like he missed the joy of Aaron and the joys in his own life.
This Memorial Day, I think Aaron and I will wave a couple of flags in celebration of America… both of us competent, contributing members of our community.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Comments: Come on, I know you want to share some memory of your own Memorial Day Parade, family reunion, attitudes about disabilities and “Handicapped.” You all have lots of ideas, let us know what you are thinking.
April is Autism Awareness Month. For those who are new to our community, I thought I would reprint this post because it talks about important issues. I hope you will feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Can I love Aaron and hate autism?
If I say, “I love my child, but hate cancer or heart disease…” many people would say that is okay.
If I say, “I love my son, Aaron. I hate autism.” some people say that is NOT okay.
So, call me a villain, ignorant, hypocrite, politically incorrect, or whatever–but I refuse to celebrate autism–I refuse to give autism that power.
I gladly celebrate the diversity of individuals. This diversity makes our world stronger and a more interesting place to live.
I love individuals who have autism, just the way they are.
But–I will not celebrate autism like it is a good thing.
World Autism Awareness Day April 2, 2013
This is the 6th year the United Nations designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. April 2nd next year is already designated too.
Are you going to wear blue? Will blue lights in the Empire State Building, or on the Jesus statue in Rio, or the top of a pyramid in Egypt really mean anything?
Is this like a birthday party? Something we celebrate every year? Send up the blue balloons? Paint your face blue?
I found some of the World Awareness Day press curious: “In fact a world without Autism would be a lesser world.” New Zealand: United Nations declare day to celebrate autism
I think wearing black would send a better message. Autism Awareness should send a plea for action NOW. We need help and resources NOW.
So, the United Nations has established April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. Great! Let’s talk about autism.
What causes Autism?
Well, no one knows for sure. The “experts” have narrowed the cause down to: environmental, biological, sensory, abuse and neglect, genetic, chemical, neurological, food…and the ever popular–it’s the parent’s fault.
So the short answer is, who knows?
Yesterday someone told me our children have autism because they don’t get enough eggs. Just add that to the list. They might be right.
I recently read a study (2013) that blames the grandparents. They conceived the parents late in life.
Don’t you love scientists–probably funded with the autism awareness fundraising, eh?
Dr. Anne Donnellan spent her career working with families and people with autism. She often says, “The more theories, the more proof that we don’t know.” She also gives her version of circular logic in Disability World.
Parent: My child keeps flapping their hands.
Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.
Parent: How do you know?
Doctor: Because your child flaps their hands.
Is Autism the Greatest Gift?
Some advocates want you to think autism is the greatest thing ever. They talk about the special abilities of people on the autism spectrum and say it is only because of autism they have these talents.
Hummmm. Is that so?
Sure Temple Grandin, with a glance, can tell how many nails are needed to build a livestock yard–but is that only possible because of her autism?
Rainman could count the number of toothpicks on the floor. Is it possible there is someone else in the history of the world that could also do that?
Are we again caught in circular logic?
Parent: My child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.
Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.
Parent: How do you know?
Doctor: Because your child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.
There are some people with the label of autism who can tell you the day of the week for every calendar year in recorded time.
I can’t. Probably you can’t. But, is it possible there is at least one other human being without the label of autism who can?
The Guiness Record books are full of typical folks who can do all sorts of incredible tasks.
Hurry, quick. Do we now need to give those persons the label of autism?
There are some who are going back to past genius’ and claiming they must have been autistic…Mozart must have had autism. Disney perserverated on those mouse pictures–he must have had autism….
Couldn’t Temple Grandin and Donna Williams just talented people? Isn’t it demeaning to say, “No, the individual Temple Grandin has nothing to do with it, it is only because she has autism.”
Is it possible the statistical increases in the number of people with autism is partly due to our current scientific paradigm of labeling and sorting people? And some people promoting “autistic envy”? The new figures are 1-50. One child in every fifty–and all we are doing is having Autism Awareness Day at the Philadelphia Zoo?
What is normal?
Well, turns out we don’t really know that either. Plus, we could say “normal” changes every year in every culture.
Sure we have tests, but anyone who studies IQ or other quantitative or quantitative measures will point out the flaws.
Multiple Intelligences| Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner, studied people with autism who were labeled as autistic savants (actually “idiot savants” was the term used at the time). He was able to identify at least eight different kinds of “gifts or intelligences.” Now, in every school in the world (that uses best practice) his theory of multiple intelligences helps all children learn. Gardner says each of us has all these eight intelligences, some are just more developed than others.
This is one of the side benefits of autism. Without the diagnosis of autism, the scientific community might have had a harder time making this discovery. Science needs large groups.
Could it be we all have gifts and traits of genius, gifts and traits that could be labeled as autistic? Are we all a little autistic? Are none of us “autistic” in the pure definition of wanting to be apart.
So, what’s the deal about autism? Can’t we just celebrate individual diversity?
If we really believe autism is a tremendous gift, then it would be logical for each parent to wish their child would have autism. Right?
I once went to a conference for people with Down syndrome. Everyone kept talking about how people with Down syndrome were the happiest people in the world–how glad they were to have their child in their family. They used examples like, “They will always believe in Santa.” “They are pleased when I fix them chocolate milk.”…
Using circular logic:
Parent: I want my child to be happy.
Doctor: Children with Down syndrome are happy.
Parent: Then I want my child to have Down syndrome.
So, if we want our children to be happy maybe we should try to figure out how to add an extra chromosome to every baby’s DNA.
If autism makes us gifted, maybe we should be researching how to make 100% of the population have autism–add autism magic to our babies’ lives.
This kind of thinking is just nuts, yet it is common in each area of disability. Stick around Disability World and you will hear people yearn to have the courage of people with cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, be sexy like people with cerebral palsy….
Okay, I understand some advocates are probably hyperventilating at this point. How dare I talk this way about people with autism and Down syndrome?
The person who gets joy in Santa, or in having chocolate milk is an individual. Each individual person–even if they have a label– is different.
We can love the individual–not the disability.
As family members, friends and as self-advocates, we can value the individual person’s talents, gifts, joys and sorrows. We can see them in the context of their environments–but, we don’t have to give all the power and credit to the label of disability. The individual should get the power and credit. They are the ones who are who they are.
I can love my Aaron–I don’t have to love autism.
I can see Aaron’s gifts and talents–I don’t have to think they are only because he has the label of autism.
Aaron is a loving person who makes kissing noises as I turn out the light. He smiles when I pull on the toes of his socks. He gives me hugs when I walk past him. He is patient as I try to figure out what he wants. He concentrates on his books and loves pictures. He gets excited when I come in a room. I love when he relaxes in his bath. I love when he initiates a song or going to the bathroom. I love when he figures out how to eat the cheese off my sandwich….
Aaron is unique. He adds his own version of diversity to the human family. He is a great son, brother, uncle, friend… just the way he is.
Autism sucks. Aaron doesn’t.
Autism affects each person differently.
In Aaron’s case, Autism means he can’t talk with words. It means he is 38 years old and can’t always tell when he needs to go to the bathroom. It means he has trouble making friends. It means he yells in public restaurants. It means he chews on his clothes and books and the car seats. It means he has motor difficulties and has trouble walking–crossing from the rug to a tile floor. It means he is always afraid of falling and losing his balance. It means he bites his hand to calm himself. It means it takes him a long time to learn things. It means he will forget them if he doesn’t practice them every day. It means he likes music, but not loud noises. It means he likes to be moving (in cars, buses, boats, planes…) It means he likes to swim, but not bend over. It means he can’t tie his shoes or dress himself independently…it means he cannot be left unsupervised even for a minute.
That all sucks.
I wish it was easier for him. I wish it were easier for me to help him.
But all those difficulties don’t mean I don’t love Aaron with every fiber of my being.
Each day for the last 38 years, I work to get Aaron the support he needs to live, work and recreate in his community. To allow him to be the best person he can be–For him to be able to make choices and have opportunities he wants.
There is a difference.
Dream Plans for Aaron Ulrich
I am adding our dream plan for Aaron. You can click on each of them and see I am NOT trying to cure Aaron. I am NOT trying to make him a different person. I love and respect him as the person he is.
I am NOT trying to make him the person I want him to be.
Every day Aaron teaches me about courage, love, and tolerance. But he knows he can count on me, my husband, and his brother. He knows Annie, his caregiver will do her best to look out for him. He wants a new housemate, like his former housemate Jack who will be there for him. He knows his grandma and extended family including Ana and his niece love him just the way he is.
And until our dying breaths, we will do our best to make his life happy.
No, I’m not going to inject Aaron with an extra chromosome to make sure he is happy. No, I’m not going to give this thing we call “autism” supernatural powers to dominate his life.
But I will give him opportunities to make choices about his life as best he can–in spite of “autism.”
Yes, I can Love Aaron and Hate Autism.
Autism Awareness Day Marching On
Celebrate each wonderful individual person you meet in this video.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.
All my best,
Are you sitting there thinking, “how can this mother be an advocate for people with autism?” Do these words make you upset? Do you agree? Do you think “Disability World” thinks different than “The World”? Can we separate the individual from the label?
Here is another article about Autism Awareness Day asking people to do more than just wear blue.
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.
“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.