As the number of adults with autism and developmental disabilities rise, many professionals and parents ask me what I am looking for? Will I ever be satisfied? Is it just a pipedream or can we really build an inclusive community around a person with severe disabilities? Can there be a combination of natural supports and paid supports? Does the family have to do it all? Can an adult with autism have a decent quality of life and be happy?
They tell me it doesn’t really make any difference to Aaron, my son with severe disabilities and autism. Their logic says that since Aaron can’t talk, and therefore can’t complain, it is only the mother (me) who has these high standards and expectations and Aaron is just fine and the mother is well, you know, ….
Many times, they tell me how lucky we are… Aaron has a Medicaid Home and Community Based (HCBS) Waiver when there are thousands of people on the waiting lists; Aaron lives in a nice house close to his parents–not in an institution in another city….
The media is full of stories about desperate families of adults with autism and intellectual disabilities: abandon your child to get services — To the parents and professionals who want to give up or “re-institutionalize,” Can we prove inclusion in the community can work?
Many nights these tapes play in my head over-and-over keeping me awake. I ask myself what else I can do to make Aaron’s life more inclusive. I count my blessings.
We are lucky. We’ve worked hard to be where we are, but there is still much to do.
But last Sunday, I went to bed and smiled: “Today Aaron had a good day!”
We usually bring Aaron home with us on Sundays. Here is what this inclusive day looked like:
Aaron’s dad picked him up at 9:30 AM from his house. He talked with Kevin, Aaron’s long-time caregiver. Kevin knew when Aaron had had his last BM. Kevin had given Aaron his breakfast and he was dressed in his Sunday clothes—hair combed, shaved and teeth brushed. He looked like a typical 38 year old.
Aaron came to our house and immediately got his favorite books from the closet. His dad and I sat on couches near him in the living room. Aaron put his books on the coffee table where he turned the pages in two books at one time. When he wanted more books, he went to the closet, chose his books, and carried them to the table. (I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal but because of Aaron’s severe motor and balance issues, this is something we have worked on for years and years.) He also went to the fridge and when I ask if he wanted the pitcher of ice tea or the juice, he pointed to the ice tea.
When he got tired of the books, he went into the kitchen, sat at the kitchen table and we ate our spaghetti lunch together. Aaron put his dishes in the sink.
At approximately noon, Tommy and Isabella (Aaron’s brother and niece) came over. We all changed to our swimsuits, lathered up with sunscreen and walked to the pool at our condo.
Dad started with Aaron in the deep end and Tommy stayed close to Isabella with her floaties. Sometimes we were apart, sometimes we all played ball together and Isabella would swim between Uncle Aaron and Grandpa.
The other families each did their own thing, but we all crossed paths in a friendly community sort of way. There were about 8 other neighborhood kids and their parents in and out of the pool. They all said hello and though we didn’t really know any of these neighbors (it’s a big complex) they were friendly to Aaron and interacted as anyone would. I introduced myself, Tom, Aaron, Tommy and Isabella and hope we will see them again next week.
After about an hour or so, we headed back home, changed clothes and everyone had a drink and ate cheese and crackers.
Isabella wanted to play Hide and Seek in the house (her favorite place is under my desk) and Aaron and I would count to ten and then go and find her. Isabella loves to hide, but then she giggles so much it is easy to find her. Aaron enjoyed the game the first couple times, but then Isabella wanted more and more and so he just sat back on the couch with his books and watched.
About 4 o’clock, Tommy and Isabella left to meet Ana, her mom, who was getting off work; Tom, Aaron and I took a ride to the post office and grocery.
At 5:30 we took Aaron back to his house and Kevin and his wife were waiting for Aaron to take him to King’s Island, an amusement park. We took him to the bathroom, washed his face and hands, checked his shirt and hair and again exchanged some details about how Aaron likes the Octopus and train ride and …
Aaron got in their car and they were off for the evening. Tom and I went back home.
Too much to ask?
Now, I ask you… is this really so difficult to visualize?
If it was only paid staff, Aaron’s parents are dead or out-of-town, could the staff figure out how to fill up a weekend afternoon with some friendly faces and meaningful activities in the community?
Would Aaron be groomed and the staff person double-check his toileting schedule so he is comfortable? Would Aaron be in status-enhancing clothes that were clean and age-appropriate so he could blend into the community?
I know Kevin can do it, because he and his family have known Aaron for years. But I can’t understand why other staff don’t get it.
Aaron is currently between roommates, so right this minute, he has 1-1 staff. This is the best opportunity of his life for getting out into the community, when he gets a roommate it will be 1-2 people and much harder to take them out.
Focus on the positive
Today I have a reason to feel good about Aaron’s life. We all shared a pleasant summer day. Aaron and our family did what many other families were doing all over the city. Aaron was surrounded by people who love him and care about him. We celebrated his self-determination to make choices and do the activities he likes. Aaron used the skills he learned in his 22 years in school and therapy. Aaron had staff who were willing to try and give him a good time. Aaron was healthy and happy. I only saw him bite his hand one time all day. The activities were in his home community. There are future opportunities for building a network of long term support and acceptance.
And this is inclusion. This is our vision for Aaron. This is the future we hope for our son. This is all we are asking for. Carpe Diem!
Come on, share what you are thinking. Am I being unreasonable to expect these kinds of days? Should I just accept “reality”? Do I just count my blessings? Do you have similar experiences? Should we go back- and re-institutionalize?
Don’t these chocolate covered strawberries look delicious?
For the Holidays, or any day, what about making chocolate covered treats or gifts for the people you love?
Chocolate Covered Fun for ALL AGES and Abilities
Parents, Special Education Teachers, Directors of Day Programs and Senior Centers: Everyone is looking for activities that are fun, age-appropriate, and allow people with all ability levels to participate.
Taking your favorite snack for a chocolate dip may be the answer.
The costs will vary according to the ingredients, but pretzels and marshmallows are cheap. Of course if you want to go gourmet, hey, yum.
“Partial Participation is Better than Exclusion from an Activity” *
Even if the recipe says, “Easy” that doesn’t mean every person can do every part of the activity.
For instance, Aaron, my son with the label of autism, wouldn’t be able to set the timer on the microwave–but he can certainly dip the pretzel in the chocolate sauce and choose the kind of sprinkles for the decoration.
Aaron can’t read the recipe with words, but he could follow the directions with pictures and though he can’t drive to the grocery, he can partially participate by picking out the pretzels and chocolate.
When Aaron was in school and had a speech therapist, one of his goals was identifying pictures of grocery items and finding the item in the grocery aisle. When he had a physical therapist, one of his IEP goals was pushing the grocery cart without hitting anyone in the grocery store. (Not a pretend grocery store in the classroom.) When he had an occupational therapist, one of his goals was to hand the grocery clerk the money to purchase the items and put the money back in his pocket. Aaron successfully learned these skills and practiced them every week in his functional community-based program and … every time our family went into the community grocery store.
There are lots of things Aaron can do to partially participate in every activity.
When Aaron is part of the group when he does purposeful, functional activities, he develops self-esteem, he is a doer. He is not just a passive observer. If he is treated as a baby, or as someone who cannot do anything but watch, then he loses his skills and his self-esteem. The people who think they are being nice and helpful to him, are not–they are actually causing him to lose skills/self-esteem.
This is a functional activity because if Aaron doesn’t go to the grocery to get the supplies someone else will have to do it.
If Aaron is actively involved in the shopping, the decorating, and gives the chocolate covered pretzels as a gift HE MADE–then this activity becomes much more than an easy activity to fill the day. It can become a learning and social enhancing experience. When he gives Grandma a package of pretzels he made, it is a joyful celebration for everyone. You should see his smile 🙂
*Dr. Lou Brown, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Be Creative: Lots of Ideas
Dip White or Dark Chocolate Ideas:
Dried Fruit (apricots, raisons…)
Fresh Fruit (strawberries, cherries with stems, apples (whole or slices)…)
Pretzel Rods of any size
Rice Krispie Treats
How to Make Chocolate Covered Pretzels:
Activity for All Ages and Abilities
Things You Might Need:
Microwave-safe glass or measuring cups
Bags white and dark chips (12 oz.)
Bag of pretzel rods (12 oz.) or other food
Small candies or sprinkles
You Tube Video Demonstration
Task Analysis or Recipe
Chocolate-Covered Pretzels with Sprinkles
Recipe courtesy Paula Deen for Food Network Magazine
Prep Time: 20 min, Inactive Prep Time: 24 hr 0 min
Cook Time: 2 min; Level: Easy
Serves: 24 pretzels
Place the milk chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and the white chocolate chips in another. Microwave one bowl on high for 1 minute. Remove and stir with a rubber spatula. (The chips should melt while you are stirring, but if they don’t, you can continue to microwave for 15 more seconds, and then stir again.) Wash and dry the spatula. Microwave the other bowl on high for 1 minute, and stir until the chocolate is melted.
Dip one pretzel rod into the milk chocolate; use a spoon or butter knife to spread the chocolate about halfway up the rod. Twist the rod to let the excess chocolate drip off. Hold the rod over a piece of wax paper and shake sprinkles on all sides. Place the pretzel on another piece of wax paper to dry. Coat another pretzel with white chocolate and sprinkles. Repeat until you’ve coated all the pretzels, half with milk chocolate, half with white chocolate, and let dry completely, about 24 hours. (Cover any remaining chocolate with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.)
Copyright 2011 Television Food Network G.P. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/chocolate-covered-pretzels-with-sprinkles-recipe2/index.html
All Rights Reserved
Gifts and Favors, Holiday Variations
President’s Day, Halloween, Easter, 4th of July, Christmas Variations
All American Holiday
Gifts and Favors
Paula Deen’s Christmas Pretzels
Halloween chocolate covered pretzels
Does it make sense that an activity as simple as making a chocolate covered pretzel can be a learning and self-esteem project? Can teachers, parents and directors of day programs make this more? Can they blow the opportunity?
Every day businesses and community groups try to influence us with logos and symbols.
Did you ever look close–really close–at some of these logos? Sometimes there are hidden messages.
How many times have you seen the Amazon logo?
Have you ever noticed the A-Z arrow? I didn’t.
Could this be a visual cue saying, “You can purchase everything from A to Z”? Not just books.
Business logos and commercials dominate the social media and we often take them for granted. But no doubt about it, they influence our attitudes.
See the 31 flavors?
What’s your first impression?
What’s your second impression?
Baskin Robbins’ logo reminds us they have 31 different flavors of ice cream—can’t you just taste the butter pecan and chocolate chip?
Are you surprised the number 31 is right there in front of you?
Did you notice?
See 2 people sharing a tostito?
Mexican flag colors, right.
But there is a whole scene right in the middle of the logo.
Do you see two people?
They are sharing chips and between them is a table with a cup of salsa.
Now that you are aware, will you notice the embedded image on every Tostito bag of chips?
Will you tell your friends?
Your actions are helping to socially construct the meaning of their logo, the meaning of Tostito’s brand–Friend to friend.
Tour de France
See the bike? Guy in yellow Tshirt?
The most famous bike race in the world, The Tour de France logo shows an action shot of a man on a bike.
See it? The R is a man bent over the yellow wheel of a bike.
What emotions do you feel?
Bet the marketing company spent hours researching the color of the t-shirt including study groups on whether the best color was blue, red or yellow.
Perhaps this ad was donated or created by a student…or a giant ad company on Fifth Avenue.
Wolf Wolfensburger spent years teaching us to be thoughtful about the images, logos and symbols we use when we market our agencies and companies that worked with people with disabilities.
He spoke of the social construction of knowledge–we are what others say we are:
“Impairment is a normal part of life. Disability is not. That is caused by our attitudes towards people who have impairments. It’s about time we accepted that wholeheartedly. Doing so is good for people who are disabled, for community and for the planet.”
Final Question: What do you see?
What do you see?
(Martha Perske, artist)
As parents and caregivers of adults with disabilities, every day we send out messages to the world.
Our neighbors, our relatives, our children and our community are watching and learning. They are socially constructing what they see based on their experiences.
Are we spreading the message that people with disabilities over 18 years old are adults—NOT children?
Are we marketing our services in unhuman images of angels, devils, elves, giants in our company names and logos?
Does a group of people with autism walking in a store blend in, or do they draw attention to themselves?
Are adults with disabilities seen as capable employees, volunteers, contributing citizens?
Or do community members see them as needy–asking for charity, or pity?
Are we promoting inclusion and normalization?
Are we teaching others what they see? how to understand?
If this was a business, what would our logo look like and what would be the embedded message?
How are we socially constructing our environment, our world?
Please share your ideas and thoughts. What message do we send on TV? in the community? What message in our personal life? What do you wish would happen?
Today, on Valentine’s Day, I am asking you to think about how you use words:
Do my words cause Heartaches?
Do my words cause Heartsongs?
What are you doing?
WHAT are you doing?
What ARE you doing?
What are YOU doing?
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!!!!
The same words can be said in anger or with gentle concern.
The speaker, the listener, the context of the communication, as well as the intent all make a difference.
Parents, Teachers, Coworkers, Friends, Enemies… We have all been misunderstood and misinterpreted. We have all wished we could swallow what came out of our mouths–take back our words. We have all been both aggressors and victims and have given heartaches as well as heartsongs.
HEARTACHES: “What’s that mess on your shirt?”
HEARTSONGS: “I see you have paint on your shirt.”
HEARTSONGS: “Let’s talk about this before you decide.”
HEARTACHES: “Get over here right now!”
HEARTSONGS: “I need you with me.”
HEARTACHES: “I told you so.”
HEARTSONGS: “That was harder than you thought.”
In the comment section, let’s share some ideas on how you could make each of the following examples into either a heartache, or a heartsong?
Scenarios: Heartaches or Heartsongs.
1. Sara is eating breakfast. The bus is coming in 5 minutes. She spills her juice while reaching for the cereal.
What could you say that would cause a heartache?
What could you say that would cause a heartsong?
2. Ken wants to help his friend wash the car. He accidentally squirts him with the hose.
What could you say that could cause a heartache?
What could you say that could cause a heartsong?
3. Emily comes home from work. When asked about her day, she begins to cry and says, “Jim doesn’t like me.”
What could you say that could cause a heartache?
What could you say that could cause a heartsong?
By speaking with your heart, you may be able to bring out the very best in people. Give them a chance to talk. Listen patiently.
And of course, there is always the quote: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” But we’ll save that for another post.
I’m wishing you a day filled with heartsongs. May you have many opportunities to give them and to receive them. Spread the love.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my love,
Do you have any examples of heartaches, heartsongs?
Heartaches turned into heartsongs?
Use the examples above, or share some from your own experiences.