Functional Curriculum: use it or lose it

To celebrate the new school year here are some of my favorite posts:

Article 1: Why Do We Go to School?

Article 2: Back to School| A New Year of Learning

Article 3: Back to School| What is Inclusion?

Aaron learning money skills

Aaron learning money skills to use in store

Functional Curriculum

When my son Aaron was in school, shopping was part of his curriculum. From the time he was ten years old he went to the bank and grocery one day a week as part of his special education school program.

This was best practice and came from the work of Drs. Lou Brown, Alison Ford, Sharon Freagon and many others. The idea of a functional curriculum for people with autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities is:

* it takes longer to learn skills, so let’s make sure we teach important skills and not waste their time on dumb stuff

* it takes lots of practice, so let’s give the student lots of opportunities and trials

* use it or lose it, so let’s make sure the skill is something the student will need their whole life

* transition from school to adult life will be smoother

* we only teach skills that if the person didn’t do it, someone else would have to do it for them

* the ability to purchase items would give the person more dignity, self-esteem, self-determination skills and choices in their life

The way it worked was each week, Mom sent in a check for $10.00 and a shopping list. The class went to the same grocery store (because each store is different). Each student cashed their check at the bank and then bought items from the list to take home.

In addition, students also planned a lunch to be made in the classroom the following day. Each would purchase a couple items for that group lunch. These items were purchased with the classroom credit card.

This functional curriculum was based on the philosophy that Aaron would go to the grocery the rest of his life. Before the school year started the IEP team decided this was a high priority skill because he would need to buy food and other items when he was an adult. If he didn’t learn to purchase these items, someone else would have to buy them for him. If Aaron could purchase the items he would have more choices and say in his life and therefore a better quality of life. (Who wants someone else deciding you can only have Cheerios for breakfast all your life.)

Related Service Staff

The curriculum was designed by the IEP team including specialists and the parents. After all, who would be taking the student to the grocery on the weekends, summer, and after school. And who knew what the student liked better than their parents?

I was in the school a lot and went on many of the community training trips with Aaron and his class.

It takes a Village

The speech and language therapist helped Aaron build picture sequences of “shopping at Krogers,” check-off lists with pictures for grocery lists, and learn to interact with the cashier “Thank You” and give a High 5 to the bagger….

The occupational therapist helped Aaron figure out which coin purse/wallet worked best, learn to pay with the next highest bill, learn how to take the money out of his wallet (hold wallet in left hand and take out bills with right) and after many failures of getting the change back in the wallet–it was decided Aaron should just put the change in his pocket….

The physical therapist helped Aaron figure out how to climb up and down the steps on the bus (hold on the rail with his right hand and count the steps), how to maneuver the parking lot (and yes we had an IEP goal that said with 50% accuracy), how to enter the right door–even if there are two “in” doors,
how to reach the items on the bottom shelves (hold on to the grocery cart with his left hand and reach with his right)….

Depending on the therapists schedules, they might only be involved in periodic assessments, or they could go with the class every week. This was an excellent way for the therapist got to really see Aaron in this environment and practice REAL life skills.

The teacher and assistant teachers went every week with the 6-8 students in the multi-handicapped class. She/he helped Aaron match his pictures to the actual items in the store, find his favorite items and put them in the cart, learning appropriate social skills….

After High School

Unfortunately now that Aaron is out of school, he has lost most of those skills because adult service staff refuse to take him to the store or don’t have the knowledge or support they need. Here is a story about Aaron’s home (click here). It is not the fault of the staff. Some of them are very loving and do a great job.

So I take him every weekend when he is home with us. Here is a story of a recent shopping trip (click here).

Aaron and I are a team and we have worked out our own system. We only shop for about 10 items and Aaron puts the items in the cart. Sometimes Aaron will grab something off the shelf and if it is anywhere close to something he might want, I’ll let him buy it. ie. if it is a bag of cookies or cereal –he can keep it. If it is a box of denture tablets probably I’ll tell him what it is and put it back.

Choices: Quality of Life and “If Only”

If I had the opportunity to change things in Aaron’s life, it would be that adult services used a functional curriculum and adult residential services gave Aaron and others with autism and severe disabilities the opportunities to practice their skills. There is no question Aaron would not currently be LOSING these skills. There is no question these skills would enhance Aaron’s self-esteem and quality of life.

The reason I could insist on these skills being taught and used when Aaron was school age was because of the federal mandate in IDEA. The Individual with Disabilities Education Act said that parents were part of the IEP team and the parents had due process if they disagreed with the school personel. There is no such mandate for Adult Services, no due process for parents and/or guardians. Plus, in Adult Services the staff does not have to be trained or have any teaching license.

As my friend Deb used to say, “When I am made Queen of the Universe” I will declare it. Until then, I’ll take Aaron every weekend and give him as many functional experiences I can.

And of course, I’ll dream of the day I am Queen of the Universe. *smile*

What ifs? Comments?

Any stories about your child’s school experiences preparing them for the future? Any luck with using those skills in their adult life?
Anyone else want to be “Queen of the Universe”?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary

Related Posts

Building Community| One grocery trip at a time

It’s a Jungle out there| Inclusion in the grocery store

Kill the Turkeys! Life Lessons for People with disabilities

Supported Employment| Mobile Work Crews

And they're off !
Creative Commons License photo credit: Bobasonic

In the last post, Memorial Day and People with Disabilities I talked about how Aaron, my son who has autism, worked at a cemetery after he graduated from high school.

To the best of my recollection, this is how it worked:

The Landscaping Mobile Work Crew

Definition: Supported Employment Model: Mobile Work Crew

A small crew of persons with disabilities (up to 6) works as a distinct unit and operates as a self-contained business that generates employment for their crew members by selling a service. The crew works at several locations within the community, under the supervision of a job coach. The type of work usually includes janitorial or groundskeeping. People with disabilities work with people who do not have disabilities in a variety of settings, such as offices and apartment buildings. Supported Employment

Sometimes Cemeteries are for the living.

JOB ANOUNCEMENT: The cemetery board posts the lawn maintenance jobs for bids in the local paper.

JOB DEVELOPER:

The County Board of Developmental Disabilities (CBDD) job developer bid the job. Because of the size of the cemetery, the administration of the cemetery awarded several contracts. (For the five years I was involved, the CBDD got one of the contracts each year.)

Paid

The CBDD paid the workers minimum wage from this contract. Each member of the Mobile Work Crew was already on Medicaid/Medicare and the seasonal wages were within the limits of their SSI and SSDI requirements.

The job developer negotiated the details of the contract as well as was the contact person for any problems between the cemetery administration and the board as well as members of the mobile work crew.

Natural Supports

The cemetery provided the equipment. There was a garage-type lounge for all the crews and workers with a table and restrooms. They could mingle with the other workers from other lawn companies (non-handicapped) in the lounge. There was some natural support from the other workers who were doing the same jobs and the same sweating.

SUPERVISOR OF MOBILE WORK CREW

There were six people with disabilities and a supervisor on the crew. The supervisor was a year long salaried employee of the county board of developmental disabilities. She had experience working with people with disabilities and had been trained as a special education teacher. She had total responsibility for keeping the workers safe, happy AND getting the job done. If she needed extra help, she would go to the job developer or her other CBDD staff.

Aaron’s job coach was under her supervision (because she was in charge of the whole job) but worked independently with Aaron.

TRANSPORTATION

All the adults with disabilities would be transported from their homes to the sheltered workshop. The supervisor would drive a small van, similar to the vans the other lawn service companies used, from the sheltered workshop to the cemetery and then back to the sheltered workshop for the trip home.

Inclement Weather

On days when it rained, the crew could stay home if they wanted, or hang out at the sheltered workshop. If there was work at the sheltered workshop (usually not) they were able to jump in. If there was no work they could hang out with their friends and play cornhole, bingo or whatever the activity.

JOB DESCRIPTION

Ongoing Support

Before the crew began work, the supervisor and job developer made task analyses of each of the jobs. The individuals with disabilities applied and interviewed with the supervisor. If there was a good match, the training, modifications and accommodations were added to the individual’s Individual Service Plan (ISP).

OVERVIEW:

Who knew there were mowers about a foot wide which fit easily between the older tombstones? There were four mowers in this mobile crew.

There were two weed-wackers or whatever they are called. (The cords swing around and cut the weeds which the mowers miss.)
There was a “task analysis” of each job.

They were trained on the job. (They didn’t practice cutting the concrete in the parking lot to get ready*smile*)

Because the job was repetitive, it was a perfect fit for many of the workers. They knew exactly what they were supposed to do, and after a short time, were independent in many parts of the job.

If any of the workers needed adaptations (shorter hours, more breaks, special gloves or boots…) these were included in their ISPs (Individual Service Plans). Therapists (Occupational Therapist, Speech/Language and Physical Therapist) were available for the initial evaluations/training, if necessary.

Establishing Routines

The supervisor would start the day with some conversation, some joking around and individual attention to each of the crew members. They would get a short break mid-morning, they brought their own bag lunch, and a mid-afternoon break. But most of the day, it was sweaty and hot and lots of hard work—serious business.

The supervisor made sure the crew members had sun-screen, hats, appropriate clothing, solid shoes (no sandals), water….
She also worked side-by-side with the workers. She made decisions to go to another section if a funeral was in progress, if the area was underwater…; she pulled weeds… and did whatever it took to make sure everyone was successful, and the finished job met the requirements of the cemetery board.

Partial Participation

Aaron, my son with the label of autism, does not have the skills to run a lawnmower or weed-wacker. He would not be able to be part of the mobile work crew of 6 workers who are mostly independent on the job once they are trained. Because Aaron was in the official “transition” from school to work, he was eligible for a job coach from Rehabilitation Services.

So, because he had the physical support of a job coach, Aaron had the opportunity to join the workforce.

Is there some job he could do at the cemetery? Could he partially participate in this work?

After doing an ecological assessment of the job, Kim (Aaron’s job coach) decided Aaron could pick up the sticks before the lawn mowers came. So Aaron and she would drive a golf-cart to the area where the crew was mowing, and then they would collect sticks, dead flowers, and other stuff left on the graves, put them in a trash container tied to the back of the golf-cart and then take it to the dumpsters.

Aaron loved this job. First of all, he loved Kim, the job coach. She made him feel important, she helped him when he had trouble bending over, she helped him put the sticks in the trash container, she helped him wheel the container to the dumpster. Kim, looked at every piece of the job and asked herself, “How could Aaron at least partially participate in this job?”

Plus, Aaron loved riding in the golf-cart. When Aaron did particularly well, Kim would give him an extra long ride around the large monuments.

The side benefits were Aaron made a small amount of spending money, he paid into social security, he was out in the sunshine (with lots of sunscreen) and glowed with health, he was physically strong from all the exercise, plus the emotional benefits: he knew he was contributing, he was part of a group of people who valued his work, he could make all the noises he wanted (and wouldn’t wake up the dead), he enjoyed riding in the golf cart, instead of physical therapy practicing his balance climbing steps to nowhere—he had a functional way of practicing his balance in the real world. He had a great friend and mentor in Kim. It was a terrific experience.

And, for Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veterans Day… Who was the person who put the flags on the tombstones?

It was Aaron.

Trivia too good to pass up: One of the cemetery monuments is enclosed and heated. Yes, the person who died years ago was so afraid of being “cold”–they stipulated in their will that the space above the grave would be heated (including a back-up generator in case the electricity failed.) That is a powerful “fear.”

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary

Comments:

Have you ever seen a mobile work crew of workers and wondered how it worked? Is partial participation better than no participation? Should people with disabilities be allowed to work?

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Partners in Employment

When Schools Say “NO” to Inclusion

When Schools say “NO” to Inclusion

The Inclusive Class Podcast presented a panel with Tom Mihail, Paula Kluth, Torrie Dunlap, Lisa Jo Rudy, Frances Stetson, Kathleen McClaskey and myself.

The Title was: "When Schools say 'NO' to Inclusion"

Topics include Universal Design, Technology, Differentiation, Inclusive after-school and community recreation, and in the last few minutes I talked about Inclusion as a Civil Right and strategies for getting inclusion with your IEP.

Below is the supplemental material for my topic. If you have any questions please contact me.

Here is a recording of the broadcast:

Listen to internet radio with The Inclusive Class Podcast on Blog Talk Radio

So, you are sold, you have heard all the information about inclusion, you know in your soul this is what would be great for your child. You talk to the teacher, the principal, anyone who will listen and they tell you it won't work for your child, it's a passing fad, it is too expensive, it will hurt the other kids in the school...blagh, blagh, blagh.

What do you do?

Here are the 5 Points I outlined in my part of the panel:

1. Learn the History of People with Disabilities.

Legal Segregation

Society and Schools have been saying “No” to Inclusion for hundreds of years for many people, not just for people with disabilities.

1800-1900s. Institutions and Forced Segregation were common for those with the labels of mentally defective, feeble-minded, idiots, uneducable and untrainable. Individuals and Parents had no say. People who were different were removed for the health and safety of the community.

Today we still have prejudice against minorities, young women who are unmarried and pregnant, gang members, young people who are gay or lesbian, immigrants, poor, people who don't speak English, Native Americans, homeless, children of migrant workers...

Our society is more diverse every day, we need inclusion for everyone.

Parallels in Time: A history of people with disabilities

Parallels in Time 1 and

Parallels in Time 2

Check out the section in Parallels 2 A PLACE TO LEARN.

(Page 59-60 has the definition of Inclusion)

(p. 61 has reference to Paula Kluth and a picture of my son Aaron)

Inclusion is a Civil Right

14th Amendment:

“The 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on July 9, 1868, and granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. In addition, it forbids states from denying any person "life, liberty or property, without due process of law" or to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” By directly mentioning the role of the states, the 14th Amendment greatly expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans and is cited in more litigation than any other amendment.”

Reference:

Questions the Courts had to decide:

Citizenship: Is someone who has an intellectual or other disability, a person? (consider the slaves, Native Americans, women, immigrants, prisoners…)

Due Process: If you have a disability, do you have the right to due process? (consider people with physical, intellectual disabilities, people who are deaf, blind… can’t read/write/talk, people who can’t pass IQ tests…)

Equal Protection: If you have a disability, are you entitled to the same rights and benefits other people have? (go to school, live in community, get jobs…)

Consider the implications:

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) Separate is equal. 50 years of Jim Crow Laws.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954) “Separate is inherently unequal.”

Fascinating Reference:

PARC Class Action Case: A Game-changer

(Interviews with Tom Gilhool and Gunner Dybwad are also in Parallels in Time 2)

Video and transcript Tom Gilhool at Temple University:

Testimony of Tom Gilhool before the Joint Subcommittee Hearings on “the Events, Forces and Issues that Triggered Enactment of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) of 1975” in TASH newsletter, 1996 p. 11-15.

Excerpt about PARC decree and 94-142: Teacher Training and Best Practice

The Requirement that Schools Know and “Adopt” “Effective” “Promising” Practices. Requires the delivery of an “effective” education. One, the Act (EHA) requires states and districts to see to it that all teachers, both “regular” and “special” are fully informed of and continuously trained in “promising practices” in the education of children. “Second, the Act requires every district as well as the states to “adopt promising practices’ Third, the Act’s requirement of “a free appropriate public education has been help by the Unites States Supreme Court to mean an education “reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve education benefits”
Hudson v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 178, 203-04V (1982).

NOTE: Remember to NOT just look at the current regulations, go back into the Congressional Hearings before each law was enacted, the legislative history, court cases…

Other Court Cases:

“Inclusion is a right, not a special privilege for a select few” (Federal Court, Oberti v Board of Education).

You will want to quote the most relevent and recent cases.

2. Become an Expert on IDEA

The best resources I know are Partners in Policymaking’s series of lessons on IDEA.

Free, online, study at your own pace.

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (ages 3-22).

3. Build Alliances

Focusing on the dignity and goodwill of the people you're working with. Build trust. Create a common vision.

Partners in Policymaking has programs in almost every state. The courses are designed for parents of young children and self-advocates. New groups start every year and are usually funded by your state DD Council. On the Partners website, find your state liaison.

NICHCY has a list of organizations and Parent Training Centers in each state. Find people both on the National, State and Local level who think like you do and can help.

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (ages 3-22).

National Organizations for Professionals often help parents and teachers. TASH helped me. I know the ARC, United Cerebral Palsy and National Down Syndrome Association have done advocacy work. I’m sure there are others.

Check out your local university. Sometimes you can find a professor or student who can help.

In our particular situation, because no group existed-we started a parent group in our local school district.

Set group goals: start an extended school program in the summer; make the buildings more accessible with universal design; start an after school Job Club and Key Club at the high school. By focusing on specific goals we were able to get local grants, publicity and see tangible results for our children.

NOTE: In hindsight, I would have made this an ad hoc committee of the School PTO or General Education Parent Organization. I would ask parents and teachers of general education students to be on this committe so it is inclusive. 20 years later, duh, it is so obvious.

Univ. of New Hampshire has great programs and resource materials.

Clay Aiken's Inclusion Project. This looks good, but I haven’t tried it.

4. IEP: Educational Evaluations

The first part of the IEP process is getting evaluations of current level of functioning and setting specific individual goals.

Be creative. Don’t let the school psychologist run the show.

Have your IEP team decide what kind of evaluations they need in order to have your child make educational progress in all the school environments.

There are the formal evaluations that are the traditional testing tools of the experts. And, there are the individual informal tools also designed by experts, but cannot be standardized and put into multiple choice answers.

Informal Evaluations

1. Person Centered Planning, Circle of Friends can supplement the formal evaluations and look at social relationships, before-during-after school-weekend-summer activities, this can also be used for team building, communication, transition and long term planning.
http://inclusion.com/ Where inclusion began, great tools.

2. Educational Evaluations

Educational Evaluations are usually conducted by a teacher or other educator with the appropriate teaching license.

Educational Evaluations look at an individual person in their life spaces. Aaron’s evaluation started in his home, followed him on the school bus, in the classroom, in the lunch room, bathrooms, gym, after school activity and back home. The evaluation compared Aaron’s current level of functioning in each environment and then made suggestions for IEP goals.

For instance, the educational evaluation shows the "individual benefit" for Aaron. Not the whole class or school, just Aaron.

The Educational Evaluation determined Aaron, with accommodations and related services, could be in an inclusive class. What supports would he need? What supports would the teacher need? How would the curriculum be differentiated? What technology? Universal design strategies could be used?

See the difference between this sort of evaluation and a traditional IQ or standardized test?

Who Pays?

The tricky part is that if the parent pays for the evaluation, and chooses their own “expert,” then the school district only has to “consider” the recommendations.

If however, (at least this is how it used to be), if the parents or teacher ask for an evaluation, and the school district agrees to pay for the evaluation, then they have to use that evaluation to develop the IEP, or if they disagree, they have to get another evaluation saying the first evaluation was not appropriate, and why.

If you go to court, the educational evaluation can make all the difference. If you are writing IEP goals, the educational evaluation gives you a practical starting point for goals and objectives. (The conversation is NOT about "Should we do this?" but rather, "How do we do this?")

And, if the parent does pay for the evaluation and “prevails” in a due process hearing then the school district has to pay. Of course, it goes both ways and is risky because if the parent loses, then the parent has to pay.

How do you find an expert?

In our due process hearing we used our contacts from TASH (a national organization) and one of Lou Brown’s graduate students from the University of WI-Madison. This process was repeated several years later when Aaron was in Junior High, and again when Aaron graduated.

We also used local university graduate students and county respite providers when appropriate, ie. They did independent studies to help us design an after-school program and going to the prom.

If you are going due process, find out who the expert is in the area you are challenging.

Check out professional organizations, journals, university faculty. Who is going to know how to do the job? Who is willing to testify? Who will impress the hearing officer?

5. Be BadAss Confident

Know what you believe and how far you are willing to go.
Even if you are uncertain, typically shy and withdrawn--you have to act fearless.

This is your child, This is your class, the time is NOW!

When people see you walking in the grocery or in the school you want them to see you and immediately know what you stand for: “All means All”—“Inclusion means Belonging to the Community.” You have to model what you want others to do.

Build trust, convert the doubters. It can be done--and it's up to you. And, you will join the thousands of other parents and advocates who have made a difference for one child or many and have moved history and inclusion forward.

Segregation and Inclusion by Zip Code

In my opinion, this is why we need a national policy, federal laws and oversight.

Vulnerable people with disabilities and other minorities should not have to reinvent the wheel, every year, in every city and county.

Do we want individual states and school districts to make decisions about segregation and inclusion?

Would you want to live in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana… and I include Ohio?

Different school districts have different definitions of inclusion. I recently visited what was called an “Inclusion School.” To my shock, the principal proudly told me, “Inclusion means EVERYONE in the school is on an IEP.”

After we won our due process hearing, we moved to a neighboring county where the school district shared our values.

The move was the best thing we ever did.

First, after we won our due process hearing, it was like Aaron had a tatoo on his forehead that said, "Don't mess with me."
Our reputations guaranteed they took us seriously.

Second, I got elected to the County Board of Developmental Disabilities. One of the proudest days of my life was when I got to make the resolution to close the segregated county school.

Third, because the school district was good for Aaron, it was also
an excellent school district for my other son who had the label of "normal."

Bottom-up; Top-Down: Baby Steps

You can achieve Inclusion from the IEP process: bottom-up.

But it is easier to work from the top-down.

Try to get on influential committees, or find allies in leadership positions that will work for inclusion. If your school board and/or school administrators embraces the Inclusion paradigm, and understands how this will be better for all students, then you are well on your way.

Try to get inservice for staff, parents—both general and special, about inclusion, differentiated instruction and universal design.

Baby Steps:

I like to think of a yard stick. On the one end is segregation, on the other is inclusion. If I think an action, a decision, anything... is a step in the direction of inclusion--I accept it. There is always tomorrow.

Celebrate each small victory. There were many times when I had to take a deep breath and tell myself, "This is the best we can do today. Be happy."

Moving Toward Inclusion by Michael Giangreco.

Last Thoughts

I wish I had a magic wand to make it easier for each of you.

Twenty years ago, we thought this would all be figured out and our children would just be children, parents could just be parents, teachers could just be teachers.

There is an old "Up With People" song that says, "Freedom isn't free. You've got to pay the price, you've got to sacrifice for your liberty."

Wishing each of you, freedom, libety and inclusion.

I hope you will share your thoughts in the comments.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Mary

Related Blog Posts:

Note: Since this whole website is about inclusion, almost every article tells part of the story. Some are about school issues, many are about adult issues. Here is a sampling:

What is Inclusion?

Dream Plan 1 for Aaron, Normalization

Dream Plan 4: Aaron is an adult

The Race Toward Inclusion: Do you see it?

Better than Church

Building Community| One grocery trip at a time

Test Questions| segregation or inclusion?

The Animal School| Differentated Instruction

Going to Family Reunions? Shave your armpits

Going to the family reunion, or not?

part 3.

access ramps shout \”Welcome\”

Absolutely gorgeous day for a family reunion at the swim club, the mid-80s, no clouds, not even any bugs to speak of. This is my third post about Going to the family reunion, or not? In post one (click here) I talked about planning and doing an evaluation of what my son Aaron, who has the label of autism, would need in terms of modifications and accommodations to feel welcome and included. In part two, (click here) I wrote about the layers of social systems that are part of each family. Today in part 3, I’m going to talk about the actual activities and events that happened.

Informal Support Systems

Tommy (Aaron’s brother), Ana, Baby Isabella and Ana’s parents from Brazil arrived about the same time we were unloading the coolers, so they helped me carry the stuff and guide Aaron through the parking lot. My husband, Tom had to work so he had to miss this year. If Tommy’s family wasn’t here to help, Aaron and I wouldn’t have gone. I figure there were about 60 relatives ranging from my mom age 88 to Baby Isabella, one year.

Aaron started repeating his, “You Okay?” routine and everyone came over and gave him a high 5, patted him on the back, or laughed and said, “Yes, Aaron we’re okay.” They were welcoming Aaron on his own terms. Sometimes Aaron looked at them; sometimes he didn’t. He said, “You okay?” about one time every other second. So that’s a lot of “You okays.” Everyone just took it in stride and went back to what they were doing.

Setting up the routine

In past family reunions, everyone swam and then ate about 6 pm. So we arrived at about 4 PM to find everyone eating. Oops.

Even though we split an Arby’s sandwich on the way to the swim club, if everyone else is eating, you can bet Aaron is going to want to get a plate ASAP. I introduced Ana’s family the best I could, but getting Aaron settled and fitting in the social setting was priority one.

Almost immediately, Aunt Ann started putting melon balls on Aaron’s plate. Some male relative who I didn’t even know had the brats and metts ready to go, so with a little help, Aaron was happy as an ant at a picnic—aarhh. How Aaron melded into the group in the first ten minutes makes all the difference.

While Aaron was busy eating, the rest of the family settled in, made introductions and even though Ana’s parents’ first language is Portuguese, everyone was excited that they were here for a visit. Various Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, second cousins and relatives I swear I’ve never seen before, were all very gracious. Ana’s parents are just naturally friendly and their English is incredible. (They learned it by watching American movies and taking English classes in high school.)

As soon as Aaron finished eating, Aunt Ann cleaned up Aaron’s spot. Uncle Steve and Tommy offered to take Aaron swimming. I didn’t even have to ask. They helped him put on sunscreen, take a quick trip to the bathroom and then just whisked him off (of course Aaron doesn’t really whisk anywhere).

Terri, my cousin who organized the whole event, told us that the neighborhood swim club was just given a ramp by the Jewish Community Center when they built a new facility. (Note to self: next year do not take off Aaron’s shoes until he gets to the ramp—the sidewalk was too hot and he had trouble walking to the ramp.)

Aaron, Tommy, and Uncle Steve went in the big pool. Ana, her parents, and the baby went to the baby pool. I took pictures and held my breath. Aaron had a couple of tough moments, but he calmed himself by biting his hand and then was fine.

I got to talk with a couple of people, and watched everyone playing in the water. Aaron can swim pretty well. He does this sort of dolphin movement and though he doesn’t close his mouth he can swim from one side of the pool to the other. The lifeguard watched Aaron and his team the first couple minutes and then when everything looked in control, he relaxed and just concentrated on the entire pool as usual. After about half an hour, other relatives and Ana’s parents joined everyone in the big pool. Baby Isabella had a great time meeting new cousins and playmates. The toys went in and out of the pool, the kids stood up, fell down—all was well with the world, just a sunny day in paradise.

The Circles of Life

Everyone caught up on the recent engagements, school arrangements, camping trip, new babies… all the gossip and family changes. Ana made a Flan dessert which was a big hit. Someone brought about five of those blue ice containers and put them together like a cold plate—instead of a hot plate—and I thought that was very clever. Everyone ate, traded stories, pictures, and just had a great time.

Uncle Ed

Uncle Ed’s memorial dinner was the next day, but my cousin Dan, who is a Bishop, came and ask about how Aaron was doing. How was Tom doing? (When someone in the family isn’t there, they are missed.) We got to tell the story of how Tommy surprised us by moving back to Cincinnati last year… it was just normal, everyday family talk.

Because of people helping out with Aaron, it was an enjoyable day. We left after 4 hours, just long enough.

Worth the price of admission:

My favorite moment: One of the dads was holding his two-year-old baby in his lap. The baby had an angelic face and a devilish grin. They were relaxing after a swim when the baby suddenly reached up and grabbed the hair under his dad’s arm. OUCH! His dad—I mean you could hear him gasp and see his eyes tear up-couldn’t reach his son’s hands. Every time he tried to lower his arm, the hair was pulled tighter. We were all laughing so hard everyone’s body was shaking up and down in their seats. Grandma looked like she would need oxygen. The more dad tried to pull the baby’s fist away, the tighter he squeezed.

I thought the lifeguard was going to blow the whistle from all the hoots and hollers. It was a memorable moment that will become an urban legend in our family as the repetitions help the story grow. (Remember, Mark Twain, said to never let the truth get in the way of a great story.)

Summary:
All our planning worked. Aaron and all of us had a great time. He belonged. We all had a chance to reconnect to all these people who are connected by blood but now are also connected by new memories.

Moral of the story: shave your armpits before going to family reunions:)

Did you ever think of all the modifications and accommodations we just naturally make for babies, seniors, people with disabilities? Baby bottles need to be kept cold and then heated, Grandma likes soft foods, Uncle Charlie always likes a ball game on a radio or TV– we make these kinds of modifications all the time just because we want to make the people we love happy and comfortable.

And what about us regular folk, we also use modifications and adapt environments and “things” all the time. We bring our lawn chairs, sunscreen, ball gloves to protect our hands… we like our hotdogs with… spicy mustard, or ketchup, or sauerkraut or well done or on buns, or not …?

We don’t think of these small ordinary “things” as adapting a hot dog? Because we are all normal, yet it is what we are doing.

But putting in a ramp or curb cuts–well, even if we normal folks use it, it is er, handicapped or special or an ADA adaptation.

When builders use the principles of “universal design” and blend the adaptations into the everyday way we access buildings or swim pools… then parents won’t have to think of ecological assessments before they go to a family reunion, everything will already be in place.

ADA is good for all of us. i.e. Now most grocery stores have accessible entrances. Grocery carts and children’s strollers and people in wheelchairs can just go through the front door. And, since it is now so common, no one even notices that the entrances have changed. They meet “universal design” for EVERYONE.

The world is becoming more accessible and just in time. Because me and all my relatives are getting older and like it or not, we will soon join the ranks of the “disabled” and our life activities will depend on all those loving people around us, and those universal designed environments.

Tell us in the Comments

What are some of the things you do to make your family reunions more inclusive? What do you think of Universal Design? Is ADA just another government example of “Big Brother” and forced rules and regulations?

Keep Climbing: ONward and Upward
All my best,
Mary