Monday, February 15, 2010

1840 Part Two

This is the post I'd have written first if I were a better person... sigh...

My son got his SAT scores this week and there is a crowd of people I should share that with--because of the help and support they gave. There were some notable stinkers who I really want to TEACH (not slap, teach!) about kids and their potential. In the beginning believers were few and far between--but remarkable--and in recent years there have been more and more.

I would start with our family--we have a large and diverse family who have always seen Tom as having potential. I know a woman with a son not unlike Tom in many ways whose family treats him... badly. We are lucky and I am grateful.

Then there was Jenn's OT. I went for quite a while with a stomach ache about why Tom couldn't zip a zipper. I had an OT in my house every week, but she was there for Jenn. One day I finally did ask and she was really helpful. Gave me some ideas, language to use when talking to professionals and strategies for building progress (lots of crawling... tunnels, etc...)

I would also have to thank the Down syndrome community because they taught us enough about living with disability that we were ready to go when Tom was diagnosed. The Advocacy Center in our town who teaches advocacy skills gave me the understanding of the systems that were available and how to access them--great allies to have!

The developmental pediatrician who evaluated him, and then took my tearful call when the literature she gave me said that my son had a sad and limited prognosis. She told me outright not to believe that. She said to use his language strengths to meet his other needs, build accommodations when needed and NEVER give up. She told me to think about what early literature said about people with Down syndrome and what they believe now... Be informed by the literature, then use that information to build the life he wants.

This developmental pediatrician moved away some years ago--wherever she is, they are lucky to have her.

I would thank Mrs. T. from one of the children's programs in our area. They used to offer little 'courses' about science: under the sea, geology, anmimals, etc. Tom loved that stuff so I put him in one that did not work AT ALL. He was with all girls and they made little pictures and crafts all class. I picked him up and he had this little wrinkle in his forehead that didn't go away for hours. I spoke with the program director who moved him Mrs. T's class because Mrs T. had an 'active teaching style' (aka WILD!) What a difference! Lots of facts, lots to do and see and touch, much to learn. Those classes turned a lightbulb on in Tom. Love of learning was ignited and has stayed with him.

While gradeschool was often frustrating there were always members of Tom's team who were believers--thank heavens! The naysayers were tough but never got the power they could have had because there were others asking questions or pointing out that he did always handle CERTAIN things fine... They kept the momentum going and I thank them.

I want to thank a guy named Bruce. He was part of a consulting group--two men who taught school and also did consulting work. They taught companies to use the potential of their worker and they taught presentation skills (probably among other things, but I really don't know.) I was at a presentation on presentation. They talked a lot about different types of learners and in one of the breaks I was having a conversation with Bruce and something he said made me think about my son. I mentioned that he was considered distractable, did terrible taking notes, etc, but then he would ace tests and frustrate his teachers to no end. He said, "Maybe he just can't produce output and take in input at the same time--see, no one talks to him when he's taking a test. Many people can't juggle."

Best thought ever! Perfect description for a kid he'd never met. Perfect timing too.

7th grade. When taking notes becomes very important. I took that back to Tom's team and that phrase set everyone free. He became one of the better students. A couple teachers even called him a favorite. (He does also have a very strong auditory memory which works in his favor.)

The school psychologist who evaluated him for his last triennial was amazing. She called me part way through testing to ask if she could do a couple more tests with Tom because she had never seen his learning pattern before--and she had already discussed this with him and he was interested too. I said sure! She gave us the best profile about Tom and his learning and thinking skills--and needs. She laid it all out for him beautifully. She told him he would have to manage things always to be successful, but that MANY portions of the world are wide open for him. She explained and answered Tom's questions--he's walked a little taller ever since.

He told me after that he always HOPED he would be ok, and BELIEVED he would, but now he thought he WAS.

Want to see your mom cry? Tell her that.

The junior high and senior high teachers in our district are also extraordinary. A lot of them read the paperwork and worry about having Tom in their class, but to a person they have all come around once they got to know him. He thinks his classes are interesting... I think they appreciate that. (He is a teenager and doesn't always make the best choices about everything, but they quickly learn the difference between a learning issue and a bad choice!)

And the special education teachers in our Junior and Senior High Schools are amazing. Tom got an IEP in 7th grade. The special ed teachers consult with his teachers and work with his accommodations. This means, among other things, that they sit for HOURS proctoring the exams where he gets extra time.

I spoke to one of them about that once and she told me that extra time doesn't help if a kid needs to know more, only if they need to produce more. And that's Tom. Processing time and the mechanics of production are slowed (though keyboarding is certainly faster than handwriting.) This teacher told me she LIKES working with Tom because when they put the accommodation in place he performs... She said that's what she went to school for.

And most of all credit goes to Tom himself. He keeps on keepin' on, no matter what people say to him, whether they work for him or against. He learns and grows and keeps going... Congrats Kid, You did good!

This is a score. Not a guarantee of an easy life or productive carreer. NVLD doesn't go away and I know that, but it is a step toward a carreer that interests Tom... and maybe a bit of a sign that some of the things we have learned along the way about NVLD have been right--at least in how they affect my son.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wow! Some Folks are Just Too Clever

My friend Jennica just sent this out, is it amazing or what??

Saturday, February 13, 2010


My son got his SAT scores back yesterday.

I am so tempted to send it to a few people.

Like the teacher who told him when he was 8, "You're just not as smart as your mom thinks you are."

And the teacher who told the IEP committee in 4th grade that she "Did NOT believe in him... at all."

And the IEP team that told me that if he needed accommodations he shouldn't be in (their) academically challenging classes.

It feels very good to be right.

Oh yes it does!

Friday, February 12, 2010

R-Word Firestorm

The first time I ever saw self-advocacy I had no word for it. I was in college and I was riding the bus into town to do some shopping and this young guy called someone else on the bus a r*tard.

There was a woman who had a disability sitting toward the front of the bus. She turned around and told him to shut up...

And that jerk looked at her and said, "You don't even know what that word means!"

"I do too! You're saying he's bad because he is like me. Well I am NOT BAD!"

The bully said, "I wasn't talking about you," and got off the bus.

But he was.

Insults are words that give people a little verbal slap. They are individual and specific.

Slurs are the big guns. Slurs not only insult individuals, but burn entire groups of people. They are part of every civil rights movement because they disempower. They refer to gender, race, religion, disability and more. Slurs are so powerful, so forbidden and so tempting... The possibility of hitting someone that hard makes us giddy.

So we create exemptions to make it OK to use the occasional slur. Here are some of the exemptions I have noted over the past week:

*It's OK if you're a Republican. (IOKIYAR)
*It's OK if it's funny--or satirical--enough. (IOKIIFOSE)
*It's OK if you're referring to yourself or your own group. (IOKIYRTYOYOG)
*It's OK in private. (IOKIP)
*It's OK if you call it Free Speech. (IOKIYCIFS)
*It's OK if you're really mad. (IOKIYRM)
*It's OK if you're not prejudiced. (IOKIYNP)
*It's OK if you didn't mean it that way. (IOKIYDMITW)

Have I left any out?

Do they work? Do any of these exemptions actually de-slur the words???

No, they don't.

It's just not OK. (IJNOK)

Picture from here.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Wrong Again: This Time About Palin and Limbaugh

If you ever want to know how things are going to play out politically, ask me and then know it will be the opposite. Honestly, last year I was certain that President Obama would make more than a behind-the-scenes apology after his Special Olympics dis. And I was equally certain that Rahm Emmanuel wouldn't. And I certainly couldn't picture Sarah Palin tsk-ing a Republican...

And of course I was wrong on all counts. I should have learned, but I didn't.

This week I KNEW for sure that NO mom would EVER put up with the level of POISON about people with cognitive disabilities that Rush Limbaugh spit out on his program this week.

Wrong, wrong, wrongety, wrong, wrong!

Not only did Sarah Palin put up with it, she joined in. She called Limbaugh's vehement spewing of the r-word over and over again "hilarious" and "satire."

I never saw that coming.

Of course, I do realize that disability issues don't give anyone a lot of political traction--if we were that powerful or respected these issues wouldn't even come up. In fact I have mentioned this to everyone who said that Sarah Palin was using her son with Down syndrome as a political prop. I told people that Trig really wasn't going to get her any clout, but with him she might change the world.

And, I realize that Sarah Palin does have a tendency to jump into things she doesn't understand and then quit when they get hard: things like talking to reporters and governing Alaska, for example.

Still, I believed she would hold firm for disability respect because she is a mom.

I predicted that she and Rush would plot something out where he would say that he wouldn't ever be "PC," but would that he would defer to a mother's righteous rage.

Good thing I didn't bet money.

So how will this play out?

Will people see this as another episode of Sarah Palin quitting when the going got tough?

Or will folks see this as proof-positive that disability issues don't pertain to them, and as permission to carry on the traditions of disrespect like a bunch of playground bullies?

Or will people be horrified that when the chips were down a mom, any mom, chose Rush Limbaugh over her own baby?

Or was merely giving birth to a baby with a disability enough for everybody?

At our house we have tons of family stories about how we look out for each other and how we stick together no matter what, how will this event play out in the Palin family stories?

This time I'm not even going to guess.

Read all about this event here. And did you notice this?

Picture from here.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

This and That

Last week, Jennifer approached me to tell me things that Carly, a girl from her class, was doing after school, then she would take my face in her hands to say "And not me!"

Jenn was clearly feeling left out.

At first I would comment that Carly was just a busy girl... Then I asked if Carly was doing this with her family.... Finally Jenn made me understand that there was an afterschool club that she wanted to belong to.

So we asked and Jenn is now taking part....

Excellent bit of self-advocacy, wouldn't you say?

And now for some interesting links:

This post by Stephen Drake about Writers Logjam talks about an NVLD issue that my son runs into too... As do I sometimes.

Deborah at Pipecleaner Dreams talks about the heroes she has met while parenting her kids with disabilities.

And this letter from Deborah to professionals working with her kids should be read by every young professional.

I am really enjoying seeing the Think Beyond the Label ads around the net.

And in case you think people with disabilities are the only ones working to change the language and the message that the world hears about them, they're not!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Rush Limbaugh Brought Tears to My Eyes Yesterday

Caution: Watch this video at your own risk. I heard it unprepared yesterday and it actually brought me to tears. I am only posting it because when I mentioned the incident to a couple people yesterday they didn't believe me...

My daughter has Down syndrome. I'm not a wimp. I stand up and handle lots, but the furnace blast of abject hatred in Rush Limbaugh's broadcast took my breath away.

On his radio program Limbaugh praised Rahm Emmanuel for calling liberal Democrats r*tards... and that was just the beginning...

Limbaugh yells the r-word over and over again, to ridicule liberals, to mock people with disabilities who deign to say "stop it" when something hurts them, and to deride the disability activists who met with the administration at the White House Wednesday about respect for people with cognitive disabilities.



Limbaugh's tone leaves no doubt. He believes people with cognitive disabilities are nothing:

Beneath contempt... Completely valueless...

Emmanuel's incident was bad enough. Limbaugh's diatribe made Emmanuel look like an absolute saint.

Yesterday Limbaugh stated on his website that he was just quoting Rahm....

In admiration?

Or because he is 6?

Well Rush, as my mother would have said:

"If Rahm Emmanuel jumped off the Barge Canal Bridge would you jump in after him???"

Way to think for yourself AND take responsibility.

Sarah Palin said Emmanuel should be fired for his remark--a remark that took months to even hit the newspapers... She made statements about Rick Perry's blatherings in Texas yesterday as well...

She has herself a dilemma now. This guy is supposedly her buddy--and he hates her kid.

What's she gonna do? Not for nothing, but mom to mom? I'm hoping for a full-on mama bear smackdown.

If my family, my friends and loved ones have to swallow this bile, this better be a giant step toward respect.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Guest Post From 'A Frustrated Grandmother"

This is our Oliver. Even before he was born, we were led to believe that Oliver wouldn’t do much. Thanks to all the medical technology available nowadays, we knew he had a good chance of having Down syndrome and we knew for sure he had a heart malformation. We were given a very gloomy prognosis. Weeks at the NICU, potential heart/respiratory problems , feeding problems, weight gain problem were all predicted. Well, he beat all the odds: 3 days at the NICU, no heart related problems, excellent nursing, good weight gain, good muscle tone, responding to all kinds of social interactions, good development, happy, never ceasing to amaze us, loved to bits by all of us.

He never needed an extra trip to the doctor’s office, just the well child visits covered by his parents’ health plan. He was a good patient... until Saturday January 23rd 2010.

You see, the only requirement Oliver had was to get a series of 4 shots during the winter months to boost his immune system and avoid getting sick from RSV, a common virus, which can cause a wreck in kids awaiting heart surgery. He had his November shot and his December shot, and stayed healthy.

Then, the nightmare began.

The company that Oliver’s dad works for decided to change insurance companies. The logical thing would be that all his medical needs would roll over, but his parents discovered that the pharmaceutical company would not deliver the shot unless they re-applied and got re-approved.

There was a delay transitioning between the two insurance companies, and a further delay with the pharmaceutical company apparently.

Before the process was completed Oliver had caught a common cold. His parents dealt with the cold the way the doctors told them to. They waited for the shot the way their insurance company and the pharmaceutical company told them to. They did everything they were told to do. And Oliver ended up in the hospital with RSV and pneumonia.

Why the delay?

I am sure all of those people could find Oliver’s information just by striking a couple of computer keys. It’s hard to believe they didn’t see that Oliver needed to be treated right away. Shouldn’t patients like Oliver have a red flag and get channeled a different way than people who aren’t in as much danger to speed up the process? Shouldn’t they take care of all the procedures instead of delaying it by making parents call doctors and rewrite papers?

All the information is available. Channel these urgent cases to employees trained to deal with the procedures right away, who can tell parents not to worry, that they are going to take care of everything, that they are going to call the pharmaceutical company so they deliver the medication right away, and that parents must call back if they don’t receive it by the next day.

You think it’s crazy? Why, one can get plane tickets instantly, or get approved for a credit card instantly, or have his/her information available on the net to anyone that wants it. These companies are being paid billions and billions of dollars, but the people that are paying them are being rationed and delayed when they need help.

Are you thinking that their employees are dealing with hundreds of requests and it takes time? Oh, but wait! What did Oliver’s parents received on the mail while Oliver was still in the hospital? A notification from their insurance company warning them that they “don’t guarantee payment for services provided while in the hospital,” that the company would have to determine the “appropriateness of the admission, length of stay and level of care and would have to review it against established criteria."

The timing was cruel. It added so much stress to an already horrible situation. Were his parents supposed to take him off the ventilator and take him home?

Didn’t Oliver deserve to be treated this diligently when his mom called requesting the approval of the shot?

I don’t even know whether my complaints will fall into the right hands. I am pretty sure the people who hold the top positions in these companies have learned to isolate themselves from us, the people that need their services.

We are blessed to be in a city with good medical care and to have Oliver home with us and healthy again, but still in so many ways, the system does not work:

*Tiny doses of lifesaving medications for babies should not cost over $1000.

*Somebody else besides the company making the $$ needs to make the decisions on what treatment is needed and how fast this treatment should happen.

*The process of changing insurance companies shouldn’t delay care.

*Companies we rely on for important medications need to be timely and communicate.

We need a system that hears the people and tells us: don’t worry we’ll take care of you.


(Picture of a brown haired baby boy wearing a t-shirt that says Mommy and Daddy Love (heart) Me.)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Book Review: Late, Lost and Unprepared by Cooper-Kahn and Dietzel

Late, Lost and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, PhD and Laurie Dietzel, PhD is a breath of fresh air. It offers a positive and practical approach to the maddening issues of Executive Functioning Disorder.

The executive functions are our brain's coordinating and directing functions. They include such skills as planning, organizing, scheduling, initiating, emotional control and working memory, to name a few. These functions can be disordered in anyone and can be affected by upbringing, experience, maturity and disability.

When these functions work smoothly, life goes well; and when they don't, it just doesn't.

From what I have found, there are traditionally 2 approaches to executive functioning difficulties: The first is to write the child off as lazy. The second is to write long, dull, negative, theory-dense, strategy-thin, tomes about it.

Neither of these approaches has helped my family much.

This book breaks that mold. This book is short. It is divided into 2 sections. The first discusses what the Executive Functions are, how they affect our lives and how they are assessed. The second section explains the process of changing behaviors and then has a chapter about each of the 8 components of Executive Functioning.

Each chapter in this section includes explanations, short term strategies, longer-term approaches for reducing support/increasing independence, and advocacy tips for working with your child's school on the issue.

The book is designed so that you can go directly to the chapters you need. So if my son is having trouble getting started on activities, but no difficulty with impulse control you can read the one chapter and not the other.

Each chapter offers lots of strategies for change--the strategies are concrete and doable and the overall tone is positive.

For my son who has Non-Verbal Learning Disorder these issues loom very large and I have been sharing quite a lot of the book with him as I go. For my daughter who has Down syndrome many of the same concepts apply.

The book offers strategies to meet a variety of learning styles with somewhat of an emphasis on auditory prompts and reminders. For my son these are great as-is, for my daughter the auditory prompts in the book require simplifying (a modification I would expect to make with most things.)

I am finding this book useful for helping my son and daughter with their differing diagnoses, I have shared a few nuggets with my other daughter and have even claimed a few strategies for myself!

That's my idea of a helpful book!

Picture and to learn more about this book click here.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Delicate Dance

The relationship between someone with a disability and the people who provide their support can demand some complex choreography.

Since my daughter Jenn started at her new school this year people notice a difference in her ability to converse. She participates more. People notice that she takes more turns and clarifies more when people don't understand what she said.

What changed? Mostly, I think it's that she no longer has a 1:1 aide.

Now, don't get me wrong, Jenn had wonderful, well-trained, supportive aides. They were intent on making her more independent. Their presence made TONS of experiences available to her in our public school that she would have missed without them.

Yet, while the existence of a designated support person creates lots of opportunities, it also creates a tricky relationship. This relationship must be functional if the aide is to provide effective, individualized support. However, this relationship also turns the two--supported and supporter--into a "partnership."

A partnership is a social arrangement with etiquette and expectations. It requires give and take. It's both a useful and complex situation. (And it doesn't just occur in disability, executives and their secretaries contend with these issues on some level, as do couples.)When you're working with someone who is in partnership you are not just dealing with the individual--with either individual--anymore. You are dealing with the team.

I have met people in support situations who try to negate the "partnership" dynamic. I have met a deaf woman and a blind man who instruct people who are interacting with them not to address their support staff. Ever. While the desire to keep lines from blurring and to be addressed as an individual is understandable, it is awkward for observers and almost abusive to the support person to be treated this way. Consequently, this isn't the way most partnerships function.

Others try to treat their support partners more as friends. This works great if both people are compatible and can negotiate the leading-following nature of support--if not it gets ugly.

And if the supporter is an adult and the supportee is a child the partnership can't be anything but directive. But an adult with a cognitive disability is NOT a child. Providing adequate support AND self-determination requires both intention and attention.

With Jenn her partner status presented as a subtle waiting, a slight holding back and non-ownership of her role in conversation and other situations.

There are trainings and articles on the subject (like this one) but I don't think the questions of support vs. enablement, and codependence vs. interdependence vs. supported independence ever completely go away.

Parent as Support Partner.

When the parent is the support partner the complications of both the partnering and the parenting relationship get piled on even thicker.

When I am the support person my partner should be as self-determined as possible and I am there to facilitate.

When I parent I create the stuctures and expectations for my children...

My daughter needs both of these things, and it's hard to do them both at the same time.

Sometimes it's so easy to over-support because I do know what she's saying, because I know how hard some things are for her, because I'm her mother and KNOW what's best, because I don't have an objective view of her maturity or capability, etc, etc, etc... Beyond this, keeping my support-partner hat on all the time can be stifling for both of us--knowing when or how to remove it is really difficult.

When am I a parent? When am I a partner? And what if I need something?

Recently I turned down an evening swimming program for my daughter because I would have needed to swim with her. The opportunity to swim is good for her, but swimming after supper would disrupt my sleep which I just can't afford. The program director found a volunteer to swim with her... and I still feel a little guilty.

And when do you turn off the "because I'm the mom" mojo? I have seen parents of adults with disabilities subtly and not-so-subtly direct their adult child's choices. A partner who is also mom has undue power. Should she exercise that power?

Yet, NOT being mommish, being professional and detached doesn't work either. People need their parents to be attached and parental. At least sometimes.

And how does this work with the rest of your family members?

So far this is what I try to do: I try to engineer opportunities for my daughter to run alone--in big and small ways whenever possible. When she does need a partner, I work hard to set up situations that are healthy and effective. And when I am the partner I try to keep a balance between parenting and partnering. When things get out of whack I try to change.

How do others manage the partnership dilemma?

Picture from here.