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.

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.

advocacy · parenting · special needs parenting

Why Do I Post So Many Pictures of My Kids?

Many bloggers take great care to avoid showing their children's faces, to keep a modicum of privacy for their families. They make up blog names for their kids and keep the family's identity anonymous. I get that, the Internet is far from safe, people steal photos of children and use them for rotten purposes. It seems that it's foolish to churn out photo after photo of my precious brood.

But I do.

It's because I want you to see them, to really see my kids.

I want you to get used to their features; those almond shaped eyes and small mid face that are the hallmarks of Down syndrome.

I want you to see their humanity, their preciousness, and to recognize them as the multifaceted, complex people that they are.

Alex was stared at yesterday. Blatantly, unavoidably stared at for several minutes yesterday. I'm sure it's because he wears his diagnosis on his sweet face. Anyone who might not be familiar or comfortable with Down syndrome will see his differences and not be able to stop examining him in order to perhaps put a finger on just what is different about him.

I want a world where every single person can look at someone with a disability and see the human being, not the difference.

By my sharing of photographs and our daily ups and downs, I hope to give insight that will facilitate that. I want people to understand that my children are as adorable and adored as any other child, and also to realize that there are differences and challenges; both for them and for us as parents and caregivers.

This is all my bodacious effort to make the world a place where they are accepted.

How can I do that if you never see their faces?

I know that some will disagree, and I'm okay with that. In fact I'll gladly listen to any dissenting voice. I've never claimed to have all the answers. I'm just doing everything in my power to make the world a safe, accepting, and welcoming place for my children.

Something many parents get to take for granted.

advocacy · special needs parenting

5 Myths About Medicaid that I No Longer Believe

Tomorrow morning a social worker is coming to our house so we can formulate Ben’s plan of care for the Children’s Waiver Program.  This is a day I have waited, hoped, and fought for for years.

I’m going through the motions, cleaning the toilet, vacuuming the floor, and closing the shower curtain because the social worker had no business in my shower anyway.  All the while I’m fully anticipating a disastrous event just as she pulls into the driveway that will leave me mortified, and last, but not least, I’m noticing a fishy smell in the house that I can’t track down for the life of me.

I finished the pre-approved paperwork to enroll Ben in Medicaid this evening, and in so doing, I’m busting some of my own myths about Medicaid.

  1. I always believed that help for people in need or with disabilities was best rendered privately, by charities and churches.  But this report shows how absurd that notion is.
  2. I always believed that Medicaid was for able bodied people who chose not to work, but it actually grants coverage to many elderly people, children, and people with disabilities.
  3. I always believed that Medicaid was just medical insurance.  However, Medicaid covers many programs and supports for disabled people that medical insurance doesn’t.
  4. I always believed that Medicaid was wasteful and exorbitant, but Medicaid is actually pretty thrifty for a government program.
  5. I always thought I would be ashamed to receive government assistance for my family.  I’m actually relieved.  By getting these supports, Ben will be able to remain in our home, something we have doubted many times because his care is so complex.  Seeing as how in the recent past, most people with disabilities lived in institutions from a very young age, I see keeping people with disabilities in the home and the community as a wise investment that is worthy of taxpayer support, and they have the right, granted by SCOTUS, to do so. 

I don’t know the details about the BCRA (nobody does), but I do know that cuts to Medicaid would weaken the supports that keep people with disabilities in the our country safe and healthy in their homes.  I consider this a worthy and valuable use of public funds.  I recognize that the ACA has many issues and needs reworking, but we must protect Medicaid, and the people who need it.

Now I’m off track down and eliminate that fishy smell.

advocacy · special needs parenting

Is Modern Medicine a Luxury?

Welp, here it goes. I can’t be silent. I reviewed the Senate Healthcare Bill, and it affects my son.  I don’t know if my blogging does a darn thing, but I believe I’m obligated to advocate for my child. As such, doing what I can to ensure that people are aware of the ramifications of this bill and asking those who care to make their voices heard, is the least I can do. 

For the sake of brevity, I will keep this to the two factors which have the greatest impact on my child.  The photos below were taken from an NPR summary of the bill. 


Many people think that Medicaid is a hand out to able bodied people who choose not to work.  However, around 90% of Medicaid dollars go to the elderly, disabled or working people whose income falls below the threshold in their state. Therefore, reduced funding to the program hits heaviest on the most vulnerable populations. As adults, both of my sons will rely on Medicaid for their medical coverage.  It’s not exactly clear what these cuts will mean to them, and perhaps that’s the most worrisome part of this. Alex might be just fine if he stays healthy, but Benjamin’s health needs are lifelong. If he cannot stay on our healthcare plan, and Medicaid is cut, what would the options be?  Nothing here is clear, and for families like ours it’s terrifying. 


This part is even more harrowing. In addition to his developmental and medical needs, Ben has serious mental health needs.   He sees a psychiatrist, uses psychiatric medicine, and needs autism therapy, which is a mental health benefit. Without these in place, his wellbeing is in jeopardy. I cannot overstate the seriousness of this situation. As it is, resources for people with developmental, medical and psychiatric needs are sparse, if funding is cut, it would be nothing short of devastating for Ben and our family. 

But we aren’t the only ones. In fact, we’re pretty fortunate so far. Mike works for the state and has his choice of excellent healthcare plans, of which we have chosen the most thorough and economical coverage. Many are self employed without access to such benefits. For us, the cost of healthcare thus far has been a strain, but one that we can manage. For many, it’s already past management and only set to get worse, highlighted in this Washington Post article. 

Look at smiling 12-year-old Parker from Utah, who needs a feeding tube, an aspirator, a trach and loads of medication to survive. One drug costs $100,000 a year. For a while, his family relied on food that neighbors left on their doorstep because Parker’s medical bills were so high after their health insurance capped out.

I’ve followed Parker’s story for years now, and his family deserves better.  They’re working hard, being resourceful, and just want their son to live! 

Here’s the thing, we have spectacular medical science that’s evolving and growing daily. We are able to save lives that just a few years or decades ago were hopeless. It’s marvelous, simply marvelous. But it’s expensive, as would be expected, too expensive for any but the wealthiest citizens to afford. Do we reserve such marvels for those who can afford to buy it? Is modern medicine a luxury for the few?  Is it a commodity available to only those who have the cash reserves to pay for it?  

How do we decide who gets this care?  Do we deny children whose parents don’t have jobs with a hearty benefit package?  Or do we put caps on it and say we can only spend so many dollars to save a person’s life, and after that just shrug it off?  Or do we leave people with mental illness without access?  This is dangerously close to eugenics. I shudder to think that denying Medicaid coverage for mental illness is a tidy way of saying society shouldn’t be obligated to help them. 

Finally, I want to point out that it’s the “pro-life” party that is endorsing all of this, and I’m calling bullshit.  There is nothing life affirming or life-protecting about any of this.  This is prioritizing finances over people and it’s repugnant. If you suggest that charities or churches should fill in the gaps, please just get off that ridiculous notion. In eleven years of managing complex medical, developmental and psychiatric needs, we have tapped into private resources to a great extent, I’m quite savvy at finding and accessing them, and we have had a church with a congregational care employee who identifies and designates church resources for families in crisis. Between the two, the help has been incredibly helpful for certain things, but only a drop in the bucket compared to the day to day impact of copays, deductibles, time and miles. It’s simply not feasible for private organizations to offset such monumental costs. 

So I ask you, do you really think it’s okay for people to suffer and die when medical care is available, but not affordable?