special needs parenting · The Year of Turning Eighteen series

The Year of Turning Eighteen (part 1)

Alex with his brand new braces

Next week Alex turns 17. In preparation, we have signed onto the legal plan with Mike’s employer, and are making big plans.

Why all the hullabaloo?

Because when a person turns 18, they are legally an adult and responsible for all of their own legal decisions. That includes financial, medical, educational, and everything else. When that person has an intellectual disability, the ability to make those decisions is different, meaning that we need to determine if and what type of a a safety net should be in place.

Alex can read at about a fourth grade level. He can do elementary math and use a calculator. His emotional development is also at an elementary stage, meaning that his impulse control, long-term planning, and ability to make decisions about housing, medical needs and even grocery shopping is about that of an average fourth grader. In Michigan he can attend school until he is 26-years-old, though we are not sure if he will attend for that long, he is still nowhere near high school graduation. We still have great opportunity to maximize all of those skills in school. Realistically, he will probably always need guidance for things like informed medical consent and legal decisions. To give a glimpse of what this looks like, Alex recently got braces. His orthodontist explained the process thoroughly, and we reinforced the explanations. When trying to eat dinner the first night with braces, Alex’s teeth were too painful to chew. His solution to the problem was to remove the braces. He knew that the orthodontist would have to do that, but he wanted to return first thing the next morning and be done with the whole ordeal. If he had legal decision making capacity and transportation, I have no doubt that he would have been on the doorstep of the orthodontist well before the office opened the next morning. While I don’t blame him and we all have those feelings, it’s also important to keep Alex safe from his immature decision making process.

Then there’s the obvious issue that he cannot drive.

Thus, before he turns 18, in 372 days, we must have a safety net in place. That safety net is in the form of either Power of Attorney or guardianship. We presently lean towards Power of Attorney for Alex, which gives him greater control and autonomy to him, but the decision is not yet final.

The first step is to get his full educational evaluation completed, which is in process. From there we contact an attorney who participates with our legal benefits and get guidance on the best way to move forward for all of us.

My hope is that by documenting our process we can help other families navigate, so this is where it begins.

autism · Down syndrome · family · parenting · special needs parenting

Let’s Talk About Self-Care

It’s a topic I go round and round with; self-care.

I love the idea of self-care, putting my oxygen mask on first makes perfect sense, if it was actually that simple. The problem is that there is nothing about parenting a child with complex developmental, behavioral and medical needs that makes the oxygen mask analogy work the way it’s suggested.

Having worked with oxygen as a paramedic, if the person receiving it exerts themselves, they need more oxygen. The delivery system is cumbersome and the person is tethered to it in order to get the benefits of the blessed gas. That makes for serious limitations. To put on your oxygen mask adds the burden of obtaining and maintaining the equipment necessary to do so.

Today is the first day in months that I haven’t felt like I have more to do than I could possibly accomplish. Sleep was pretty decent last night, I was only up once with Ben, and this is the first week of 2019 when Ben has no appointments and, unless something completely unexpected happens, no snow days. That means I have a whole week to get work done, work that has been waiting since last year to be touched.

I’ve often live in survival mode. Treading water so to speak. Prioritizing self-care feels like lugging around an oxygen tank in order to keep my oxygen mask on. If you have never tried metaphorically wearing your oxygen mask while treading water, I don’t recommend it.

Like when you’re broke and need gas to get to work to get a paycheck and you put in only as much as is absolutely necessary and just pray it gets you through the week.

Or when you need to get groceries and have to wait for the money to hit the bank account so you make do with leftovers and the odd items at the back of the cabinets for days on end.

Most people have been there (if you haven’t, stop right here and steep yourself in some serious gratitude), and parents, especially moms, of kids with complex needs, live there when it comes to meeting our own needs.

I do what I can. I get outside to soak in sunshine, and field the never-ending phone calls from doctors, teachers, insurance, and more on my little outing.

I take short little trips to see family and get away, clearing my schedule and notifying as many people as possible to not contact me. To do so I have to cram in impossible amounts of work before and after and still manage urgent communications, which often have the bonus of being at odd hours if I get to visit another time zone.

Please hear me, I despise complaining. Kvetching feels dirty to me. I strive for resilience and optimism and strength. I bathe in gratitude for what we have on a moment by moment basis. I find joy in the little delights of the day, like when my pileated woodpecker friend visits my suet feeders or the belly laughs over the antics of my kids and pets and even my husband. There is so much that I do to keep keeping my head above water.

I’m not a whiner.

But as I tread water and continue to do everything in my power to keep my nose out of the water, my oxygen tank was kicked off long ago as more of an anchor than anything beneficial.

Having the resources for self-care, much like having the bank account that allows you to fill the gas tank all the way up every time it’s low and load up a shopping cart with goodies as the need arises, is just not something that everyone can just do. Not everyone can find the time, money and energy necessary to take care of herself.

And being told how important it is doesn’t help. I’m not diving to the bottom of the lake to retrieve my oxygen tank, that’s precious energy I can’t afford to expend. Every single fiber of my being is dedicated to staying afloat.

I like to wrap up posts neatly, whenever possible on a lighter note. I’m not comfortable being this vulnerable and blunt. It’s nice to leave my readers with a warm fuzzy for their day. But this is truth. Not just for me, but for so many of us. We’re out here just keeping on. I just want you to take a minute to see us.

adoption · Down syndrome · special needs parenting

The Next Step in Pro-Life

This weekend marks the 45th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion nationally. I am not even going to attempt to discuss the law, rather, I’d like to examine the next step.

What happens after birth?

What happens when children are born with disabilities, and in an instant a parent becomes a caregiver?

What happens when a parent gets addicted to opioids or dies of an overdose?

What happens when parents hurt their children because of human frailty, or neglect, or substance abuse?

What happens when children have enormous medical challenges?

What about services and support for people living with mental illness?

And so much more.

Wouldn’t robust support of families caring for children with exceptional needs be pro-life? Would women be less likely to terminate a pregnancy with a child who has a prenatal diagnosis of disability if they knew that access to everything their child would need to thrive would be available and affordable?

Wouldn’t it be pro-life to fund research and resolution for opioid addition? And while we’re at it, there are record numbers of children in foster care at present, in large part related to opioid addition, being a foster parent is, in my humble opinion, the most stunningly beautiful example of pro-life imaginable.

Do you get what I’m saying here?

There are dozens of ways to embody a full-circle, lifelong pro-life stance without even bringing abortion into the conversation.

But it’s hard.

It’s easy to talk about changing a single law, and to carefully hand select politicians who have a certain box checked on their platform. But if that’s your stance, can you answer what should happen after the children are born?

Adoption.

But wait, is it right to separate a child from their ancestry for life? Biology is enormously important, and while infant adoption is sometimes necessary, far too often it’s a lifelong solution to a short term problem when better solutions for both the child and parents are available.

I don’t claim to have answers, in fact, it’s the questions that overwhelm me.

But as a person who has spent my adult life focused on the children who are already born, the ones with disabilities, the ones whose parents are addicted, the ones who have been orphaned, the ones with mental illness, the ones with so little support. I have come to believe that if everyone who made sure that they voted for the pro-life candidate took a step or two to care for the children once they’re born that it would transform everything. We have the ability and the obligation to fill in those vast gaps for the children who are already born.

advocacy · parenting · special needs parenting

7 Big Truths About Special Needs Parents

Every week or so my messenger app dings with a message from someone reaching out. Often it’s a question; someone looking for input or encouragement, asking advice or giving any of the above. Sometimes it’s a local friend, often strangers find me via Google or an article and seek me out.

No matter who it is or what the reasoning, I welcome it.

I’ve noticed a few things as well. Though I’m reluctant to generalize, there are some threads common to many of these families.

  1. We’re dedicated. Whether it’s helping a child with ADHD or dyslexia succeed in a general classroom, finding a niche for a child with Asperger’s (yes, I know it’s technically not called that anymore) who is gifted, making plans for a child with a complex medical diagnosis or finding the right fit for someone with a developmental disability; families are bound and determined to do right by their kids.
  2. The resources aren’t readily available. This many years after IDEA and ABLE, it’s still hard to find and create resources for people who need any services or aids outside the norm.
  3. We’re tired. We struggle to find child care or respite, we spend untold hours driving to and attending appointments and meetings, we often are years or even decades behind on sleep, and we’re often trying to brainstorm, troubleshoot and solve behaviors.
  4. We’re broke. Between copays, deductibles, and gas, our money flies out of the bank account with extraordinary speed, and it’s not from being irresponsible. In fact we often feel guilty for small indulgences that many people take for granted because we know that the $2 we dropped on coffee is $2 less we can pay on bills.
  5. Despite all that we’re usually grateful. We realize that the services we can access for our kids are unprecidented, and though we struggle to make it all work, we do so gladly!
  6. We’re an unparalleled network. We find each other, we support each other, we advocate together and encourage each other. It’s a worldwide commune where people gladly share anything they have, eager to help one another out.
  7. We have a vision. It starts with our desire to make the world a better place for our children, and a recognition that our children make the world a better place. And we’ll go to the end of the world to bring it to fruition.

What would you add?

parenting · special needs parenting

Why Is a Homecoming Date a Headline?

This is Alex.

He’s a pretty cool kid if I do say so myself. He is clever, empathetic, funny and just plain sweet.

Alex is 15 years old and a freshman in high school. He has loads of friends, even though we just moved to a new district. People like him, which makes sense, he is a likeable person.

Some time in the next 4 years, I think he would totally dig going to a formal high school dance. He enjoys socializing and dancing, I think he would have a blast. Whether he goes stag or has a date, he would be in for a great night.

But when I think of Homecoming (or Prom), there’s a bit of trepidation. Alex has tons of friends, both in in his special education classes and in the school in general. What if a young lady asks him to the dance? And what if it happens to be a young lady without a disability? And what if the local news caught wind of it and decided that they need a feel good piece to round out their broadcast?

I don’t want my son to be a feel good news piece.

And I don’t want him to be asked to a dance by someone with secret hopes being a the local hero for the day.

I get it, it’s moving. Perhaps it seems like a Cinderella story. But there’s a term for stories that use people with disabilities to play the heartstrings of others; it’s called inspiration porn.

Just like the standard type of porn, you know it when you see it.

And just like the standard type of porn, the subject is objectified in order for other people to get off.

If Alex does end up going to Homecoming, why can’t it be just like every other student in the high school?

Is it because we assume that anyone who would ask him must be some sort of saint? Really? Only a saint would want to get dressed up and spend an evening out with him?

Ouch.

But what other reason would there be for news coverage of two high school students attending a formal dance together?

So please, think about it. Put your child or yourself in those shoes. How would you feel if your high school student got on the news for getting a date for Homecoming? Isn’t that something most students take for granted? Isn’t that a normal rite of passage?

I plead with you, use your critical thinking skills. The next time you see that feel good headline, picture your child as the person whose date to the dance is such a novelty that it’s considered newsworthy. Then pause and reflect on whether that’s something we should embrace as a society.

I don’t think it is.