For the last decade, A2 ages while his aides do not. Time stands still as they enter our lives at 20 and exit at 22 again and again and again. All the while, A2 ‘s clock continues to tick away putting him closer in age to the next new soon-to-be-best-friend to come on board. He is still little and adorable and fun loving, but a teenager nevertheless. A teenager with care needs that are still very much in line with what they were when our very first 20 year old walked through the front door.
Each year that passes, A2 is more acutely aware and uncomfortable with this fact on a few levels, which in turn makes me uncomfortable with the skeleton crew of potential candidates I must independently identify, recruit, interview and hire folks with little to no experience with Autism. Every year I wonder if I should just provide all of his care and community support myself. I have been faced with this challenge for a year here and there at a time while also trying to find balance with my work schedule. In the long run, that is actually far less stressful and overwhelming (albeit, unpaid) than the Groundhog Day treadmill year after year of the anxiety of locating the right person,the training, the supervision, the getting over the behavioral hump, the getting used to having a stranger in our home and trusting they keep our personal life confidential/my child safe-always and no matter what, and the anticipation over A2 ‘s grief and lack of ability to process that with us when they leave our world.
And then I remember.
I remember the laughter and energy and patience for a boy who deserves nothing less on days when my own dark places pull those things under the blanket with me.
I remember new words and habits and skills that I know I didn’t teach.
I remember roller coaster riding and sledding and jumping into cold pools-things I wouldn’t dream of trying with him (or without him, actually)
I remember relief watching a young A1 be welcomed in to play, given the same attention and love by those who saw that he was here too and just as worthy of the special time his brother deserved, even though no one specifically told them to do so.
I remember birthday presents, phone calls and gifts, just because. I remember off the clock offers of babysitting just to give me and Mr. ATeam a date after not having one for over a year.
I remember A2’s uncanny ability to sense the unspoken leave-at-the-door moments that would go past my radar until I saw his care and loving behaviors.
I remember the phone calls from new professionals telling me about a challenge they faced in their new career they knew how to handle from what they learned working with us
I remember my beautiful boy has no people who know his life inside and out, backward and forward other than me and his dad. With exception of the select few who come here to work under a supervisor who often forgets to show a soft side or appreciation and yet they choose to stay here for a year or longer.
I find I am just as appreciative of this village we create year after year as I was in 2015. It looks different today. I am more tired, less patient with the learning curve and more concerned about the days and years ahead since I now have the wisdom of just how fleeting they are as we barrel toward the thing-that-keeps-me-up-at-night. However, I have had the opportunity to see the future of these college co-eds who come in and out of our life in the blink of an eye. I know special education teachers, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, RNs, Psychologists, Social Workers, Disability Advocates, Trauma specialists, Physicians. I see mothers and wives. I see women who seamlessly moved to their next stage in life from A2 better equipped to understand what Autism looks like from the inside and hope it has helped fast track their perspectives as helpers
I sure know that if that is true, A2’s purpose is far greater than I could have ever imagined and I just know if he understands that, it would only contribute to the joy he has for the things we all take for granted.
Though I can’t find pictures of all of them, they have all made a significant impact in our lives. Without them, A2 would not have made the gains in language, socialization and self care that he has. They have cleaned vomit out of their cars, do not ruffle at the idea of diaper changes, and have endured power struggles with grace and maturity. They are the extra eyes and hands in a world where we have none but need 20. They are young and move on with their lives from us but we have always known that we sacrifice longevity for love and are happy that so many reach out to stay part of our village.
I posted this 5-Minutes-In-The-Water video about parental instinct on my social media pages back in May. It is time to talk about it again as a teaser to introduce you all to something new we will be doing with A2, since it looks like it really, really is going to happen.
A2 on paper looks very cognitively, socially and intellectually impaired. A2 in person, looks like the prom king. He is adorable, social, friendly and seems to understand ways of the world which elude the rest of us.
My ultimate goal is for him to be happy, as independent as he can be and to rise to his highest potential to be a contributing citizen. Just like most people want for their child regardless of circumstance, right?
The thing is, he has to be able to learn. He can sit still long enough to learn. He is compliant and yet his learning is minimal, basic and cannot seem to transcend across settings, losing learning over time. If something is being reinforced at school, it is unlikely I will see him do it at home. Such is the nature of his apraxia and autism.
Yet I never had the sense that meant he couldn’t learn.
It just meant we were not teaching him in a meaningful way. We weren’t tracking where he learned the best and how (except for once circumstance…and it literally became the thing he could do well everywhere!). I found it odd that I had to convey the concept of generalization across settings. It was interpreted, “He can do it with Mrs. X in the resource room, gym and speech room”. My point was that if he couldn’t do these things at home or in the community, it didn’t matter.
It would be like saying I was fluent in Japanese, but only when I was in my kitchen and only when my one neighbor came over. Would it matter if I couldn’t speak it in any other circumstance?
However, last school year, the behavior support person in my school district spoke a bit about a ‘newer’ program called PEAK Relational Training System. She described what I had been trying to convey for years about how I think A2 learns and how to track this through cumulative data collection across multiple settings. I hopped a plane to the west coast and got trained for a Level 1 certification.
Being I have been the only consistent “team member” in A2’s entire life, case managing ALL OF THE THINGS educational, therapeutic, medical, religious and social…coordinating consistency, training, communicating across all settings. And like everything else, I can go figure out the best thing in the world, but unless I have a dedicated and well trained home team, have education professionals who are critically thinking , while also making them believe I need to play a tighter role and having that happen ALL AT THE SAME TIME, well, it is like waiting for a Super Moon on a Leap Year before the Jubilee.
So I spend most of the time doing a very, very crappy job for my child, or at least feeling that way because I cannot do any of this if even one element is missing. Sometimes that element is me–thus my hypervigilence in learning whatever I can to help. What I don’t know, I don’t know, and I am the physical consistency for him.
And here we are.
All the elements are in place, at least for the moment. He has been assessed and we discussed preliminary plans. Watching the behavior person’s eyes light and hearing her espouse the same mantras about A2’s ability with the right programming along with her sense of urgency to get moving has sparked a motivation I had forgotten when it comes to parental instinct. So, I move forward with cautious optimism. Stay tuned…..
I am fortunate to live near a Big 10 university and know some pretty progressive professors who let me come in to their classes every year and speak freely as an expert.
Why is that so progressive?
Well, for starters,they are not tapping into my professional expertise as a clinical social worker, advocate or behavioral therapist, but rather into my expertise as a parent of a child with a life long disability.
Also, in both my undergraduate and graduate studies in helping professions, not once did we talk about disability perspective or experience from the direct report of the person or caregiver dealing with what we were learning.
As the years go by and awareness grows, those of us who both work in the field of developmental disabilities and who also live in it has grown exponentially.
Have 14 extra minutes? Here is the TEDx Talk I gave a few years ago about the experience of living and working “in the field”.
I am always honored and humbled to speak to our future social workers, nurses, allied health professionals, teachers and physicians. As raw as it might be, I lean into authenticity even when it means I share my political leanings, mostly because those leanings have turned into shovings because my baby’s future is at stake all the time. He needs more than me and a bunch of warrior moms. We need front line people to understand and advocate too. My end goal in about an hour and half to impart all of the things books won’t tell them. What it is like to deal with broken systems, where I have gone to understand how those systems work and the qualities of professionals who have had the most impact in our lives.
I do not have all the answers, the knowledge or perspective. I only have my own.
After almost 16 years of parenthood and about 30 years of social services experience, I have compiled some resources from my personal helping library. My experience both personally and professionally have led me to seek out some pretty specific things. Here are some tips to keep in mind when attempting to gain an inside perspective or personal narrative in the world of resources:
Is there any research behind a method? If not, are they pretty clear about that?
Does the resource have any input from someone with a disability/caregiver?
Does the “helping” resource ensure the individual’s dignity while still helpful?
Does the resource claim to be the only or best way to do something?
Is the writer hypervigilent in any way? Are they constructive in their observations? Do they demonize or humiliate anyone while trying to educate? If they are negative, are they clear it is coming based on their own personal experience? Do they recognize any shortcomings?
**I have not been asked nor have I been compensated for adding any of these resources to this list. I am also not endorsing one resource over another
**This list is not exhaustive! Feel free to contact me with some of your favorites. I am always looking to add to my collection
WHAT ITS LIKE (Autism related)
Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (2015) by Steve Silberman
The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults(2015) By Temple Grandin
Schuyler’s Monster: A Father’s Journey with His Wordless Daughter(2009) By Robert Rummel-Hudson (Schuyler is not autistic, but has apraxia of speech)
Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism(2012) By Arthur and Carly Fleischmann
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism(2016) By Naioki Higashida
Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man’s Voice From the Silence of Autism (2017) By Naioki Higashida
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s (2008) By John Elder Robison
Ketchup is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up with Autism (2015) By Liane Kupferberg Carter and Susan Senator
Thinking in Pictures (1995) By Temple Grandin
The Way I See It (2008) By Temple Grandin
Born On A Blue Day (2006) By Daniel Tammet
The Horse Boy (2009) By Rupert Isaacson
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kinds on the Spectrum(2013)
Aching Joy (2018) By Jason Hague
What We Love Most About Life: Answers from 150 Children Across the Autism Spectrum (2016) Complied by Chris Bonnello
This Is Asperger’s Syndrome (1999) By Brenda Smith Myles and Elisa Gagnon
What About Me? A Book By and For an Autism Sibling (2017) By Brennan and Mandy Farmer Illustrated by Emily Neff
The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Integration Dysfunction(1998) By Carol Stock Kranowitz
The Out-Of-Sync Child Has Fun (2003)
Disconnected Kids (2009) By Robert Melillo
Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder(2006) By Lucy Jane Miller
Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues(2005) By Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske
Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System (2015) By Kelly Mahler
Food Chaining (2007) By Cheri Fraker, Mark Fishbein, Sibyl Cox, Laura Walbert
The Incredible 5 Point Scale (2003) By Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis
Exploring Feelings: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to Manage Anxiety (2004) By Tony Attwood
The Explosive Child (2001) By Ross W. Greene
From Chaos To Calm ( 2001) By Janet E. Heininger and Sharon Weiss
Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage and Meltdowns (2005)By Brenda Myles, Jack Southwick
Zones of Regulation: A curriculum designed to foster self-regulation and Emotional Control (2011) By Leah Kuypers
The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook For Kids(2009) By Lawrence E. Shapiro and Robin Sprague
ADDRESSING SOCIAL DIFFERENCES
Thinking About You Thinking About Me: Teaching Perspective Taking and Social Thinking to Persons with Social Cognitive Learning Challanges, 2nd ed. (2007) Michelle Garcia Winner
The New Social Story Book2000 by Carol Gray
The Hidden Curriculum: For Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations for Adolescents and Young Adults(2013) by Brenda Smith Myles, Melissa L. Trautman, Ronda Schelvan
Navigating the Social World: A Curriculum for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, High Functioing Autism and Related Disorders (2002) by Jeanette McAfee
Skillstreaming the Elementary School Child: New Strategies and Perspectives for Teaching Prosocial Skills (1997) By Ellen McGuinnis and Arnold Goldstein
ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) :Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism: A Manual for Parents and Professionals (1996) Edited By Catherine Maurice, Gina Green and Stephen Luce
PEAK Relational Training System (2014-2018) By Mark Dixon
Bringing ABA to Home, School and Play (2012) By Pam Leach
VBA (Verbal Behavior Approach):The Verbal Behavior Appoach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders (2007) By Mary Lynch Barbera
Floortime Approach/Greenspan Approach: The Child with Special Needs: Encouraging Intellectual and Emotional Growth(1998) By Stanley Greenspan, Serena Wieder
The Challenging Child: Understanding, Raising and Enjoying the Five “Difficult” Types of Children (1995) By Stanley Greenspan
Addressing the Challenging Behavior of CHildren with HIgh Functioning Autism/Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom: A Guide for Teachers and Parents (2002) By RebeccaMoyes
How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism of Asperger’s(2010) By Jennifer McIlwee Myers
Taking Care of Myself: A Healthy Hygiene, Puberty and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism (2003) By Mary Wrobel
The Sixth Sense II (2002) By Carol Gray
Simple Strategies That Work:Helpful Hints for Educators (2006) By Brenda Smith Myles, Diane Adreon and Dena Gitlitz
ADDRESSING EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING
Late, Lost and Unprepared (2008) By Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel
Taking Charge of ADHD (2005) By Russell Barkley
The ADHD Book of Lists (2003) By Sandra Rief
How to Reach and Teach ADD/ADHD Children (1995) By Sandra Rief
You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! (1993) By Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo
Driven To Distraction(1994) By Edward Hallowell and John Ratey
Organizing the Disorganized Child (2009) By Martin Kutscher and Marcella Moran
Ordinary Families, Special Children: A Systems Approach to Childhood Disability 3rd Ed (2007) By Milton Seligman and Rosalyn Benjamin Darling
From Emotions to Advocacy 14th Ed (2011) By Pete and Pam Wright
All About IEPs: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About IEPs (2011) By Peter Wright
The Complete Guide to Autism Healthcare (2017) By Anita Lesko
Ethics for Behavior Analysts (2011) By Jon Bailey and Mary Burch
The Five Things We Cannot Change (2005) By David Richo
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (1981) By Roger Fisher and William Ury
The Only Negotiating Guide You’ll Ever Need (2003) By Peter B. Stark and Jane Flaherty
YOU TUBE CHANNELS
Admittedly, this is a newer realm for me! Contact me to add resources
My home phone rang the other day right before my kids got home from school.
For those of you who do not know what I mean by “home phone”, its that thing that plugs into a wall and has the # symbol that cannot hashtag anything. When the home phone rings, I typically keep doing whatever I am doing unless I am feeling a bit of whimsy to torment . The only other time it rings is when someone at the school does not know to call my cell–which often then strikes fear in my heart. So I picked up.
It was A1’s new science teacher calling to say, “First of all….let me tell you I think he is hilarious. He made this cartoon strip ….”
He then went on to disclose all the other things drenched in awesomeness while I was waiting for the “Second of all….” part. That part never came.
He called me to tell me I had a cool kid. And that was it.
I am already too experienced with the school system to be naive. That same morning I had to send an email to kindly remind another teacher to carefully review A1’s IEP and Health Plan as there were some important things not being followed. Coincidence to hear from the science teacher the same day? Probably not. I am guessing he may have just been reminded that he had a kid in his 4th period class who has an IEP and a Health Plan. Maybe not, but as I suggested being doe-eyed does not work as well with crows feet.
Unfortunately, what struck me most about this amazing phone call is that in the 3 years that my younger child has been in public school–my very speech impaired child–I have never ONCE received a phone call from a regular ed teacher just to tell me about his day in their class. There are two things you need to know:
1. He tries to tell me about his day. Every day. And without context, we cannot understand what he is trying to tell us.
2. I have ASKED for this type of communication from regular ed. Over and over. Every year. In front of other people. To almost no avail.
So, regular education teachers, this advice is completely free of charge. The key to keeping us special ed parents at bay.
1. CONTACT US FIRST: Before school even starts, call to introduce yourself and ask about our kid. Give us your contact information. Assure us you are the extra eyes and ears for a kid who has no voice.
2. DON’T ASSUME THE INTERVENTION SPECIALIST IS JUST TELLING US EVERYTHING. My kid has a whole 30-60 minutes a day of direct intervention specialist time required in his IEP in our high-end-award-winning-district. My severely learning disabled child with a severe speech disorder. The paraprofessionals who are with him most of the day are not permitted to communicate with me directly due to their classified employee status. We often get second hand info from our IS that sounds something like “had a great time in music class learning new songs” likely because that is all SHE gets told. The small tidbits we do get…well, that’s ALL we get to know. The nuances are never there for us. We don’t get to hear if they are making a new friend, if someone hurt their feelings, or if they liked something they learned about. And those things are definitely happening in my child’s world. No matter how hard he may try to share those things with me, if I have no context, I will not know at all what he is telling me let alone what questions to ask. The paras also are not allowed to attend IEP meetings even at my request. Were you aware of any of that? A2’s Intervention Specialist has 10 kids who can’t tell their parents anything about their day.
She is ALL of their voices….and she is trying very hard to be all knowing by being the 3rd party communicator. But why?
This is a team approach. While you do have 25 kids in your room, if they are lucky and have parents who actually ask them about their day, their kids can tell them. You have so much you can tell us and I guarantee all of us want to know.
3. INVITE US IN: To volunteer, to be a fly on the wall, to talk about our kids to your class. Did you know that neither you nor any of his other caregivers during the day are allowed to divulge any information regarding our child’s diagnoses to the other children due to HIPAA**? And there are SO many questions from children aren’t there? If you have an inclusive classroom, the information a parent can provide the children can be invaluable to the inclusive environment. Offer to include the IS to help that parent if they express interest but are uncomfortable.
**IMPORTANT DISTINCTION: FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) any information that is directory information is ok to give out. So If a parent is asking for another child’s last name or to get in touch with another family, that is not confidential information if the family did not opt out of directory information. You just can’t tell us the child is on an IEP or anything regarding diagnosis.
4. RECOGNIZE WE UNDERSTAND YOU ARE BUSY: We are not to have a “gotcha” moment. I cannot imagine being a teacher right now. Huge classloads, jobs dependent upon test scores that are dependent on more than just your ability, differentiated instruction, outliers flying under the radar, helicopter parents, uninvolved parents. A 10 minute phone call once a month to tell us something we wouldn’t know without your call us huge for us. If you do that once a month without fail you will likely rarely hear from us. But your principal will almost definitely hear from us. To hear how awesome you are.
5. INCLUSION AND INTEGRATION ARE DIFFERENT: This doesn’t mean let a special ed kid also have a desk and have peers help him hang up his backpack (though we recognize the value in that too). I mean if you take a picture of our kids to put on a bulletin board, make sure it is a good one like everyone else. If you are reading to the class and you ask a question the other kids can answer, figure out a way to ask a question that could include our kids’ ability to answer. While you have kids who can fall through the cracks, ours have absolutely no way to mountain climb out of those crevices without you. I am sure like us you don’t want them just to be a warm body at another desk. Ask their IS for strategies–that is why they are there.
BONUS #6 also at no charge: THE MOST DIFFICULT PARENTS ARE LIKELY YOUR BIGGEST ALLIES: Yep. We are the wave makers, the getter-doners. We figure out what you want and need and we try to get it for you especially if it will benefit our kids. Sometimes you don’t even need to tell us what that is. We figure it out. Assume nothing regarding our motivations.
For those of you who went into regular education vs. special education–those days are long gone. Inclusion is not just the responsibility of your Intervention Specialists. Much like us parents of kids with special needs…we started out in the exact same place as all the other parents in your room. Maybe even as you did too as a parent. Our journey veered off years ago but the desire to get to know the same thing we would have if everything turned out as expected has not.
It is time again for the November Thankful Challenge on social media. For 30 days people publicly declare the things in their lives for which they are grateful. As a therapist, I can tell you it’s an excellent daily exercise in mindfulness–a way to connect and be present for those things we tend to take for granted. Soul soothing salve in the bustle of every day life.
If we take a few minutes every day to reflect on the things that are going right amid the trashcan fires of life all around us, over time we can actually retrain our brains to become more centered, less reactionary and supposedly just happier in general. It becomes a good habit.
So, why don’t most people take appreciative stock every day?
I believe its because most of us have what we need (most and need being our operative terms). So even if you don’t have much, you DO probably have a roof over your head, access to clean water, some kind of education and likely one person in your life who cares when your birthday is. Those are things we easily take for granted.
This doesn’t always feel so much like gratitude in comparison in our rich-kids-of-Instagram kind of society. Things like rampant poverty in the streets or dysentery are not infused in our every day life. Yet as special needs parents or as disabled people, it feels like we are expected to display this type of gratitude of circumstances in moments when it feels just this imbalanced.
I have somehow won the life lottery and I didn’t do anything to deserve that any more than some starving, orphaned toddler in a war torn country did to deserve his lot. There are many people who might look at my family and think otherwise since we were dealt the hand of having a child with a disability. We have a life that can be exhausting and lonely and sometimes just very scary, but rarely because of anything my child has done or his disability itself. It is more about the circumstances around him prohibiting understanding, access, equality or equity.
Thus the rub of the special needs parent and the expression of gratitude toward professionals who serve their child.
If someone asked my child’s providers,’Do you think A2’s mom is grateful for the services you provide her child?’, my guess is that at least 80% of them would answer ‘no’. They would be completely wrong, but still. If that same surveyor could time travel and go back year by year to 2007 when A2 first started getting help and ask the same question, I suppose the percentage who would answer ‘no’ would shrink in proportion to year asked.
For many years, regardless of how many holiday gifts, number of hours I volunteered, amount of money I donated, number of thank-you’s doled out, at this point I am still going to be seen as a wistful pariah to those whom I ask more. So out of self preseveration, I have stopped creating debt and sparkling thank-yous unless I really mean it. And that breaks my heart for everyone.
As A2 ages and the disparity in needs between he and his peers grow, so does the need for advocacy.
There is a pervasive belief system which keeps those who are disadvantaged in some way from asking for more and it is through the guise of gratitude and the false belief that the basics are a form of entitlement. You are lucky to get what you get, even if it is not meeting your needs.
20 sessions of speech therapy for your non-verbal child? Well…at least your insurance gives you that much. Some people can’t get speech therapy approved at all!
I’m not really seeing progress in my child, but the aides are nice to him and he seems happy.
He doesn’t need a bus aide. He can make noise so its not like it would turn out like that boy who died on his bus because they forgot about him all day….
Sorting nuts and bolts is a career for lots of people. She may have an above average IQ but she’s lucky anyone is willing to take a chance on her
Kids just love him here at school, but no….we can’t tell you who any of them are so he can invite them over and extend those friendships to the community. At least kids play with him here, that says a lot about the kind of person he is.
When exposed repeatedly to systemic issues that shame you into to accepting less, you get a little crisp when it comes to the process of fawning over people doing the jobs they chose. Can you imagine for one minute being OK with your child failing a subject at school and then thinking, ‘well…at least no one is hurting him there’? No…those things are not interchangeable. Ever. As parents, we want to always feel and show gratitude to those whom we entrust our children, but when trust is bent, even a little, it dulls the surface.
A couple years ago, during a conversation, one of A2’s team members let me know just how stinkin’ cute A2 was and how he brightens everyone’s day and how much kids just love him.
“He has made so much progress..he always asks to see the PA system!”
I nodded and smiled and said nothing about how platitudes like that can ruffle the feathers of pre-adolescent special needs parents because, you know….gratitude and grace. We have to show ours a bit differently.
It’s not that we don’t like the compliment. It is kind to find the strength. However, very soon, that go-to strength of being little and cute, the thing that draws people to him and keeps people friendly will be gone. Drinking out of a sippy cup with a full beard might be confusing and odd to those who don’t know him. And it scares the hell out of me. So instead, I say nothing for fear of not seeming grateful for at least his current level of adorable.
“Yes, progress.” I say. “Though I worry. He still cannot read, we still have not cracked that code and he only has one more year here.”
She side eyed me, flashed a knowing smile, lifted her finger as if to gently stop me and said “Mrs. ATeam, you GOTTA focus on the positives. You just gotta.”
Do I though?
Focusing on the positives is actually WHY I have to advocate and ask for more. It is not for the purpose of making sure other people can see my gratitude. More out of the box thinking, more time, more energy, more inclusion. I see what he is capable of achieving all while being systemically reminded in IEP meetings of things he still cannot do, how services won’t be expanded to accommodate that fact and how planning for a future where if we are lucky, he will get to be a marginal member of society. Unfortunately when faced with this frustrating reality, as a mother I don’t have enough energy left over to make people feel good. I used that energy up in the front end not realizing what lie ahead.
My child lives in a society that sees the deficits, that sees the differences and believes that the slightest hint of meeting his needs because of his differences is an entitlement. A society that believes that being adorable is a strength. A society that makes heroes and saints and examples out of others showing my child dignity when they come to work or are being a friend. A society that doesn’t hashtag abuse, neglect, bullying and even murders against children like mine.
So team members…if you are confused about my level of gratitude for your involvement with my child, don’t be. I am never short on gratitude and when my child is happy and progressing, what our collective efforts are doing is working. There is nothing for which I could be more grateful, just like any parent.
But I understand.
I too have a job where the pay is low, the paperwork is tedious and 100% of my work is about helping other people. I too am rarely told thank you. But that is not why I do what I do. I am trying to make the waves to change systems and influence the way the world sees people who are at a disadvantage.
By accepting less simply because we are told we should be grateful for what we get is the dysfunctional thinking that will keep things inequitable.. always.
I am doing the future of disability advocacy and everyone who works with kids like mine a disservice by this act as well. When I am sitting on this side of the table, its my job to check and double check your work, ask questions and tell you when something isn’t working. That is not the opposite of gratitude, that is showing you that what you are doing matters. Its the ultimate compliment. My kid is your boss and I am trying to teach him to always get what he needs based on HIS different needs in this world.
I’m just trying to do my job as his mother, one that is universally never the recipient of gratitude is often met as if I am a villain and yet is still the most rewarding job in the world.
My 10 year old and I stopped in for lunch today on your shift. I could see after you asked him how he was doing today that his jumbled answer might have caught you off guard. You shifted your eyes to me and then back to him as he continued…something that happens all the time in our world. So I looked down at him and as his 24/7 speech and language coach I said “You can say, ‘I’m good!'”.
But then you caught me off guard. Instead of looking to me for his order, you asked him.
He answered you.
You leaned in and said “I think you said you want a cup of water. Is that right?”
“Aren’t you getting anything to eat?! What else?”
After he excitedly spit out a string of jargon you asked him to slow down and try again. So he did.
“Fuhweyes” he said.
“What size?” you asked.
“Great….anything else?” she asked, glancing quickly in my direction.
I shook my head as my son clearly said, “Nope!”
What you didn’t know as we held up the line is that my son has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, but the name of his disorder didn’t matter to you. What mattered to you was making sure you got his order right.
You didn’t “let” him be an equal patron at your restaurant…he just was.
You let him be his own expert.
You presumed competence. Not your version of competence, his.
You allowed him the dignity of time.
You asked him his name to put on the screen for his order just like everyone else and checked out to see if you said it right. You even asked him if he knew how to spell it for you. So he did.
Through this act I am certain you are not expecting a newspaper article or local talk show segment. You weren’t trying to be noticed or given kudos or wanting to be called a hero because you took a moment and tried a little harder. You wanted a 10 year old at your counter to order lunch just like any other 10-year-old might on a Friday afternoon.
Advocacy and inclusion are tricky things. When they come from a place of equality, empathy and understanding they are wonderful things. When it lacks authenticity, it can still have a place but can also be humiliating and damaging to an already fledgling movement. By “letting” my child be prom king, shoot the last basket in the last 10 minutes in the last game of the season, by being so kind as to “be his friend” , well meaning people are inadvertently continuing to marginalize him. No one has assumed that he was worthy of the crown on his own, able to make that basket without help or that maybe he makes one heck of an awesome friend and that perhaps HE is the kind one.
So you, Donna your authentic advocacy is the kind that will change the way we as a society deal with disability. Thank you for lunch with a side of hope.
An Occupational Therapist once corrected me in a meeting when I mentioned that A2 ‘s progress is like being in a race. She said “no, it’s like being in a marathon, you have to pace yourself”….but not having a child with a disability herself what she didn’t understand is that he needs to be front runner in that marathon if he has any hope of functional independence as an adult. As any kid ages, it gets harder to learn new things easily–neural pathways are set, myelination slows down…so early on every moment needs to become practice or a learning opportunity. We celebrate small steps toward independence with hope. After 2 years of task analysis, A2 can almost navigate a bathroom (with the exception of going) with minimal assistance. Yesterday, he independently ordered fries. But he cannot be alone or play outside without supervision, he cannot make his needs known clearly, he doesn’t know what to do in emergencies. A2 is not likely to ever live independently and as older parents without a caretaker for him this is terrifying. So we move forward and relish and celebrate every step forward with hope…and so does A2. Each step represents countless hours of work, practice and sometimes frustration. Everything he does takes 50x longer 100% more effort to learn than a child sitting next to him. His independence is truly the embodiment of a strong spirit and determination.