Archive for the ‘Disabled children’ Category

Therapy Dog…Miracle?

Nine years ago, when we adopted our daughter who is deaf, a friend who is blind donated to us his newly retired Seeing Eye Dog.  The dog, age 6, was getting to be a little bit too old to guide this gentleman on his hectic daily routine, but was still vibrant enough to be a wonderful family pet.  Thus she began her non-working life with us.

Brandy was a gorgeous German Shepherd with the colorful mixed color coat most German Shepherds have.  The most fascinating this about her as a pet was that she was so well trained.  She had been trained not to bark at cats or other dogs, although she was known to bark to announce the arrival of our son, Steven for some odd reason.  He liked to work with snakes and reptiles, so maybe in the guide school in which she had been trained such species had not been included in her training.  (After all, how many people who are blind run into snakes or tarantulas in their daily walks?)

In addition to having a mellow, friendly, and incredibly devoted personality, Brandy had been trained to run right outside to “do her business” (so to speak,) so there was none of the usual waiting, walking, coaching or exasperation  which could be associated with a normal dog’s method of, well, “doing their business”.  Rain, snow, mud, cement….Brandy voided upon command!  She would walk with Marie down the street with Marie closet to the side of our road. Because Marie was deaf, Brandy would keep her safe for oncoming cars.

Although she had a great relationship with Marie, Brandy tended to gravitate towards our son, Angel, whose dark moods and multiple personalities tended to keep his mind in constant turmoil.  Brandy sensed that in him, and quickly choose Angel’s bed on which to sleep.  Because Angel would frequently take to his bed if the dark demons in his brain became overwhelming, Brandy became the perfect therapy pet.  She calmed him and centered him, allowing him to tame the “World War 3″ going on in his head and basically live a “normal” life.  Angel’s ability to continue on and be successful in school amazed me, and he credited Brandy with survival.

Brandy was an exceptional dog!  Not only did she sense Angel’s moods and guide Marie down the street, but her personality set her apart from other dogs.  Her job was devotion to others, and she was like a quiet Saint…always loving, accepting, forgiving and tender.

My mother passed away several years ago, and Brandy was thirteen years old at the time.  Angel took my mother’s passing especially hard, and was unable to attend school for several weeks.  Brandy was there to help him through the devastating time for this a child with such attachment issues.  His grandmother had been the one to give him gum drops when he’d been especially depressed.  And she made him custard pie on a regular basis. In is mind, he lost the only person he felt truly understood him. (She definitely knew that the way to his contentment lay somewhere in his stomach, which is not so different than many of us.)

Angel’s life changed when my mother died, and a lot of his confidence and hard won happiness had waned. He was a freshman in high school, having great difficulties adjusting to his disability in the especially raw world of teens and classes of Algebra and Forensics.  Brandy was there every day when he came home from school, and they would spend time at the end of each day unwinding, in his bed.  I began to fear that Brandy, being thirteen at the time, would not live to see Angel graduate from high school, another three years away. With the loss of his grandmother, I knew that he would not be able to adjust to the lost of his comfort pet and that any potential of a successful high school graduation would be out of the question. I sincerely prayed for a miracle..for Brandy to remain alive long to help Angel through these transitional years.

I am proud to say that Angel graduated in June.  He did so proudly, and, except for the fact that his graduation cap was too small for his very large head, he made it through the rigors of being a senior, completing senior projects and getting good grades so that he could walk across that stage with pride.  It was a wonderful day for all of is, and I said a silent prayer of thanks that Brandy was able stay around long for him to finish so successfully.

Right after graduation, Brand’s physical condition worsened dramatically to the point that she could no longer walk without falling over.  Angel himself made the decision to have Brandy euthanized.  He said he had been so selfish wanting to keep her alive for his own sake, but that he knew she was suffering and that is was her time to “join his beloved grandmother in heaven.”

So, yesterday, I made an appointment with the vet to have  Brandy euthanized.  For breakfast, I searched in the freezer and gave her a whole frozen pot roast to gnaw on, which she seemed to greatly enjoy. She had been to the groomers only a week before, and she still wore the yellow bandana around her neck.  Her coat was shiny and soft, and her cute toenails were short.  Eating that pot roast, she was happy, and Angel and I stayed with her for hours, petting her soft coat and murmuring words of love.

Her euthanization went as well as could be expected for such a traumatic event.  Angel and I were both sad and teary as the vet prepared her, but we tried not to let her know it, talking in loving and soothing tones throughout the process.  To me, she actually seemed happy and content, with no idea what was happening.

The vet was extremely sensitive to her needs, and the process went very smoothly.  The vet indicated Brandy was obviously a well-cared for dog…and did we realize that our Germain Shepherd had lived to be sixteen and a half years old?  This was a statement she repeated at least five times during the whole process.  DID WE REALIZE THAT OUR GERMAN SHEPHERD WAS SIXTEEN AND A HALF YEARS OLD????  She indicated that that was almost a miracle.

MIRACLE?  I have been blessed with several miracles in my life but somehow, in the scheme of every day life, I had forgotten that day, more than 3 years earlier, when I prayed for Brandy to live long enough to allow Angel to graduate from high school.  She had done that for him, for me, for US!  Our home life, and Angel’s future, would have been completely different had she not been there to sensitiviely calm the chaos in his mind..

Angel and I, (and the whole family of course,) have spent our days crying and mourning the loss of our beloved Brandy.  The one thing that keeps me grounded is the fact that her long life and her lovingly therapeutic affect on Angel HAD been a miracle.  We were so blessed to have had her…

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

Most people can look up and see a tree.  To a child who is blind or visually impaired, their concept of a tree is the bark they can feel. Their concept of a tree is that it is” rough”.  If they have some vision, they can tell that a tree is brown at its trunk, but “a blob of green” above the trunk.  They could grow up and their whole lives not know what a tree “looks” like.  Expanding such basic knowledge of their world is called expanding the core curriculum. It consists of concepts that are not taught in school, but are still important lessons for that child to learn in order to grow up as an educated adult who is blind.

One topic covered by the nine students, ages six through thirteen, at an April vacation program, was the concept of trees and their differences.  During a nature walk, students found that some trees were so small they could fit their hand around the trunk.  Some trees were so large that it took all nine students holding hands to encircle the trunk. Some trunks were very rough, with deep groves, and some were smooth, with little lines barely traceable by their little fingers.

They learned that evergreen trees stay green all year, and they giggled as they carefully touched the sharp needles. They never knew that trees could be so prickly!  Under the tree, they found the pinecones from which a new tree may grow.

They learned that oak trees, in the spring, have no leaves.  They closely examined the branches of an oak with a few dead leaves still attached, carefully feeling them and making the connection with the leaves they see on the ground in the autumn. Acorns which were still attached to the tree branch were felt with much enthusiasm.  They had collected acorns from the ground underneath the tree, but to actually see it attached seemed to be a surprise. They felt the new buds on the ends of the small branches, buds which would soon bloom into leaves.

Students learned about flowering trees, in full bloom during their springtime visit.  Most students were amazed that a tree could have flowers.  In their minds, trees and flowers were two entirely different things.  But there they were; pink blossoms on the end of a cherry blossom tree branch, gentle, sweet smelling little flowers.

As they were feeling and looking at the trees up close, students were in awe.  So many different types of trees!  And they would not describe a single one of them as “rough” because they were finally able to look beyond the bark.

If the Washing Machine Eats the Socks, What Eats the Silverware?

We all know the adage that the washing machine eats socks, which is why they never come out in pairs.  I long ago gave up trying to match them, just buying plain black socks for the boys and hoping they kind of match.  Marie gets to feel in fashion because all of her socks are multi-colored with frogs, kisses, stripes and cats.  If she can get one stripe from one sock to match the color on the cat, then she has found a match!

My concern is our silverware.  When we first had kids, we started out with a full Faber ware set.  As we saw pieces disappear one by one, we had to replace the set several times.  (We now have 72 knives and six spoons left.)  We do not know where the silverware goes.  As far as we are concerned, we eat with it, put it  in the sink, in the dishwasher to be washed and then back in the silverware drawer.  It is not rocket science.  It IS, however, way too complicated of a system to work in our house.  For some reason, our silverware disappears!  One would assume that the washing machine/sock theory would work for the dishwasher and disappearing silverware, but, alas, that is not the answer.

Theory #1 is that ours is the “HOUSE OF THE DISAPPEARING SILVERWARE”, oooooooooh!  We sometimes stay awake at night imagining the silverware whisking away into thin air with a whoooosh here and a whooosh there, kind of like witchcraft.  In the morning, half of the spoons are gone!

Of course, another explanation is that, somehow, the children are involved.  Maybe they take a paper plate of left over supper to their bedrooms and the silverware gets thrown away with the disposable dish. I shudder to think of this dirty, tragic end to our fine and selfless silverware. They die in the line of duty.

Whatever the reason, and whatever the consequences we have put upon our children for not taking care of the silverware, it continues to vanish for no reason.  (Thus the plausibility of theory #1.)  We have given up our concept that the ideal home has good silverware and we have replaced it with spoons and forks from WalMart.  Ours is still an ideal home in my eyes, we just use cheap silverware.  You wouldn’t imagine the amount of stress it relieves!

PS.  I have this fantasy that one day when I die, all of the lost forks and spoons will find their way into my casket, making up for their lifetime of disappearances.  Unfortunately, they will also drag with them the bits and pieces of food, which have now petrified onto them.  Of course, no one else in my family will ever know, because by then my casket will have been closed and sealed…

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I would love to come and speak for your group or at your conference.  I would do it for free, but would need the price of travel. For functions in the North East, that would be only gas money.

Link to my book

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

Another Prom Mis-Disaster

I wrote a while ago about the damage I did to my daughter, Dinora’s, prom dress eight or nine years ago.  I miscalculated my ability to hem such a delicate item (ON the day of the prom when she told me it was too long to go with her shoes…after weeks of my asking….) The hem was crooked and the dress was gathered in places it should be gathered! I was saved from the humiliation of being a terrible mother by a local taylor who miraculously fixed my mistake, leaving her prom dress in pristine condition.

Well, my youngest daughter, Marie, who is deaf,  is going to a prom next month.  This is the daughter who has always preferred to wear male clothing, even men’s bathing suits!  Her theory is, if she dresses like a boy, no one will think she is a girl, so no men will “bother” her…  She, of course, does not realize that at sixteen years old, she has developed in such a way that men’s clothing can no longer disguise the fact that she is a girl.

Marie had a talk with her counselor, and she actually decided she wants to wear a prom dress, which would be the first DRESS she ever wore.  She was mortified at the thought of a short dress, but warmed to the idea of a full length gown.  So, last weekend I took her shopping for a prom dress, every mother’s dream activity to do with her growing daughter. Again, my dream activity quickly turned to a nightmare, but then I was again saved from disaster.

The day started out fine as we went to the mall.  Marie led the way to a major store she knows I have a credit card to.  (Thus my laments that I “have no money” would be moot to her.)  The gowns were dazzling bright with sequins and frills, but not enough fabric to cover Marie’s “growing” body.  She ran from rack to rack, picking out modest gowns to try on.  Looking at the size 11s, I knew she was not going to fit into them.  In the dressing room, she kept asking me to help her zip them up.  I tried to explain to her they were too small, but she accused me of not helping her enough!  We had an argument in the dressing room and she flew out in anger.  We walked the length of the mall with her seething inwardly, when she spotted JC Penney, another store to which I have a credit card.  We found the prom gown section, and BLESS this store…they had gowns all the way up to size 19/20.  Marie, in her glory amongst the choices, found what she thought to be the perfect gown and they had it in her size.  It was white with rhinestones and layers of ruffles and her eyes glowed happily as she tried it on.  She looked like a bride and my eyes filled up with tears. I thought of the despair we felt as she left the previous store without a dress, and the joy we both felt as she found a dress to fit her.  I say thank you to those stores who have clothes of all sizes for teenagers, especially JC Penney’s, which enabled one sixteen year old girl who is deaf to move one step closer to her date at the prom.

The Dance of the Snake Goddesses

I apologize for repeating this post from 2011, but it is on of my favorites, and a memory that is brought to mind on those few occasions that i have to go to court for my children and I see this particular lawyer there…

A very conservative lawyer friend had a very conservative lawyer wife who had taken up belly dancing.  She and 2 friends were so skilled in this talent that they were chosen to be performers for a large audience for First Night, the annual New Year’s Eve celebration in the city.  For an added “twist” to their act, my lawyer friend asked if his wife could borrow one of my son’s 5 foot long boa constrictors for their dance.  I had plenty of reservations, but I said okay. (It is always good to keep a lawyer friend happy because you never know when you will need a lawyer’s help.)  The ladies came to our house, and practiced with the snake while my son, Steven, who is very familiar with snakes, supervised.  The practice went very well, and the ladies excitedly decided to bill their act as the “The Dance of the Snake Goddesses.”

Well, New Year’s Eve came and I reminded Steven that we had to take the snake to the performance hall for the act.  Steven, who has Asperger’s and an anxiety disorder, was mortified!  There was no way HE was going to go to a large hall where there were a lot of people!  He handed me a pillowcase to put the snake in, and a bottle of alcohol “in case it bit someone”. He promptly took off on his bike peddling away to destinations unknown to me, (but far away from  First Night appearance.)  I started to panic!  These excited dancers were billed as the “The Dance of the Snake Goddesses” and they would have no snake!  Feeling extremely obligated to provide them with a snake, I decided to bring the it myself.  I had not minded the snakes when they were locked in the glass tanks, but somehow I was going to have to get up the nerve to actually take the snake out and put it in the pillowcase.  My hands were shaking as I undid the lock and took the cover off of the tank.   It looked docile enough, just lying there.  I reached in and managed to push it into the pillowcase using a long sleeved pot holder, proud of myself for not having to touch it.  Maybe I’d be okay! I tentatively carried the pillowcase to the living room, but I had miscalculated by not securing the top of it.  The snake’s head popped out, I pushed it back down.  It popped out again, and I pushed it down again.  This time it was stronger and its head came our farther.  When I tried to push it back in, it wiggle away from me and the whole snake came slithering out of the bag, which I promptly dropped.  There, on the floor of our living room, was a slithering 5 foot long snake!  I screamed.  My husband came to see what was going on, and he jumped up on the couch and screamed.  Even though I was shaking and my first instinct was to smash the thing over the head with a broom, I remembered  my commitment to our lawyer friends.  I gathered up my courage and, using the broom gently, I nudged it back into the pillowcase, this time immediately tying the top into a knot.

I was still shaking from this experience as I drove to the city with the wriggling pillowcase on the seat next to me.  I was feeling tremendous relief that I had at least caught it and was on my way to the performance. I even felt a little sorry for it, and turned the heat all the way up in my car so it could be warm.  (It had started to snow outside, which would mean there would be a larger than usual audience for an inside performance as the outside First Night performances would involved standing around in wet snow.  Great!  A bigger audience for what was sure to be a Snake Goddess fiasco!)

When we got near the theater, I put the pillowcase inside my coat to keep it warm. (MY I was brave!)  There was a line around the building waiting to see the performance.  I went to the head of the line, and quietly said to the guard at the door, “I have the snake for the performance.”  In his loudest voice, he parted the crowd by saying “Make way for the snake handler.  Make way for the snake handler!”  I wanted to hide!  As a 55 year old shaking, nervous, dowdy woman, I no more resembled a snake handler than a chipmunk would resemble Santa Clause.

I managed to get back stage with the snake and the belly dancers were very excited.  They carefully took him (her?  I couldn’t tell the difference,) out of the bag and began to practice.  By now I was shaking so badly that my stomach was in knots.  I was holding the bottle of alcohol (“in case it bit someone”.)  I was on the verge of tears, both from relief that I’d delivered the snake in one piece, but also fear that it would bite and there would be blood and screams and lawsuits.

The audience in the large theater was packed, standing room only.  The music for the dancers began.  They dramatically began the act hidden behind veils, with the snake on one woman with the head at one hand, draped across her back, and the tail on the other hand.  They did a dramatic dance, dropping the veils at different intervals for the audience to get a glimpse of the snake.  I could hear  “ooooh”  and “aaaaaah” from the audience.  I was hoping the snake wasn’t going to slither down and into the audience causing mass panic,  emptying the audience out into the street, or, worse yet, go around biting audience members with me following along with my bottle of alcohol. (Then I’d really need a lawyer for the lawsuits!)

Then something strange happened. The dancers dropped their veils, and the snake actually seemed to join in the dance.  Soon its head was wriggling in time to the music, its tail was swaying around, and it seemed to be having a grand old time!  It began to slither in time to the music (a pure coincidence I’m sure,) from one dancer to the next.  It was an amazing sight, the graceful gyrating dancers and the graceful gyrating snake, all moving in time to the music.  Mesmerizing. Amazing.  The act finished to a standing ovation, and darn it if it didn’t seem as though the snake bowed his head in response to the clapping from the audience.

After the show, the dancers gave the snake a few affectionate pats and back into the pillowcase it went.  I tied it in a knot, put it under my coat, and carried it back to the car.  I felt as though I was going to cry, but this time it was tears of relief.  I don’t know how I get myself into these situations, but, again, I’d come through it unscathed, with a little more respect for the reptile in the pillowcase next to me!

Darn it! He’s a Teenager Now!

I have been remiss in my writings, basically because I have been involved in the day to day activities of raising three teenagers with serious disabilities.  For some reason, these disabilities were not serious before.  I could find humor and joy in every day facets of our lives. Now that they are teenagers, humor sometimes escapes me, replaced by more serious concerns such as driving, (yes, every parent’s nightmare has come to me,)  and drugs.  Well, “only” a little marijuana, used by my nineteen year old son with ADHD, Asperger’s and OCD who has refused to take his more traditional drugs.  He says that pot helps control his symptoms better, and although I was mortified, by all standards except the legal one, pot is the lesser of the evils of the strong psych meds he was on.  The meds he insisted made him feel “out of it” and nauseous all day.  The ones that either plagued him with nightmares and kept him up all night, or made him so tired he could not function well.  Steven has tried a boatload of drugs, none of which controlled his symptoms as well as pot.  This is a very difficult concept for a sweet little old mother like me to understand.  I still tell him NO NO NO NO and I kick him out of the house every time he comes home smelling like…well, YOU know…   But I have to admit that his mellow mood also mellows me out, erasing the fear I always had that he would have a violent tantrum at any time, punching a hole in the wall, or throwing the newspapers so they scatter around the living room.   Please don’t send the police to my door, my precious door that does not have a mark on it because Steven no longer kicks it.

Steven has reached “adulthood” in the legal sense, (although he will never be an adult in my eyes.) He can refuse to take his medication and I can’t make him.  Not that it helped all that much anyway.

His life is in flux.  His disability prevents him from doing a regular job because focusing is still an issue for him.  The only thing he had been interested in were reptiles, alligators, snakes, turtles. (OCD makes strange obsessions.)  He had volunteered at a local facility for such creatures, and loved it, but the facility closed down.  Now he struggles daily to find something to do.

I recently visited a friend who lives near the Everglades in Florida.  She lamented the ever present alligators, and their risk to her little pups, Scottish Terriers.  She told me how the alligators show up in the man made lakes in mobile home parks, and on the banks of the rivers nearby.  How Steven would LOVE to live in such a place, I thought.  He would make a wonderful critter catcher in that area!  It crossed my mind to purchase a small house in Florida, use it as a vacation home, and bring Steven down to live there.  He would be in his glory working in a company that catches nuisance alligators.  Or he could use his experience as the alligator wrestler he was for the previous reptile facility that had closed.  I wonder how many employees fill out an application at the alligator tourist spots having already had such experience as an “alligator wrangler”.  I became excited at the idea that the perfect job DOES exist for him, except it is in Florida, 2000 miles away.  Maybe, if I am ever able to save any money, I can follow through on that vacation home dream and find a place for Steven where he can live happily.  And maybe then he won’t need the marijuana…

A Whole New Meaning to Swimming With the Fishes

I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

A Week At Camp, the Blind Leading the Blind

I have just unpacked upteen boxes and suitcases from a week of running a summer camp for children who are blind.  Lest you think this past week was a chore, it was not. It was a week of pure joy.  A week of watching months of work come to fruition. A week of watching young souls meet new friends, try new things, and, in some cases, mature beyond belief. Children whose parents thought they would be homesick and crying to come home at night, instead spent the night playing games with other children.  Sure, the children are blind and severely visually impaired, but they are still children.  The lure of learning how to play blackjack on Braille cards, or chess on an adapted chessboard, or Connect Four, Braille Uno, or Monopoly in large print and Braille, won out over going home to their lonesome bedrooms at home.  Who can argue with fun?

This was my 23rd year doing the camp. I started it when my son, Francis, was five years old.  In our state, as in most others, children who are blind or visually impaired go to their neighborhood public schools with accommodations made so they can be educated with their fully sighted peers.  It is a wonderful concept, except for the fact that the child may often feel alone.  I started this camp so the children who are blind can get together with other children with the same disability and learn that they are not alone.  There are many other children just like them!

We have been fortunate to rent a wheelchair accessible retreat center. (Some children who are blind are also mobility impaired.)  Although I call it “camp”, it has bedrooms with 4 beds, (linens and all,) each with its own bathroom (with hot water!)  There is air conditioning, carpeted floors, and a great room where all meals are cooked by a full kitchen staff.  There is also plenty of room for camp activities.  I know it does not sound like your typical “camp”, but it is as close to nature as this little old social worker cares to get.

The children range in age from six to eighteen, although theoretically the campers top age is 13.  Any camper who has shown active participation in the camp, we hire as a junior counselor when they reach the age of 14. I learned this “technique” to deal with the teenagers years ago when we found ourselves with a large group of teen campers who rebelled against the camp activities and wanted to just hang out.  They would sit back and not want to participate in the dance, the games, the swimming and so forth, effectively using the time just to socialize.  I am not saying that socializing is a bad thing; in fact it is a much needed activity for these teens, but just not the purpose of our camp. So, we hire them to work with the younger children.  Our state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation actually pays us to use this experience as a job training opportunity.  For those counselors who are totally blind, we provide a sighted guide for them, but they are expected to do the actual work.  Is there anything more valuable than seeing a fifteen year old girl, totally blind from birth, working with a six year old girl who is also totally blind? The campers learn that despite their disability, they have valuable skills, and they learn these skills from the junior counselors.  We have had many junior counselors go on to be head counselors, and also onto college into teaching and human service positions based on their initial experience at camp.  (We also have one young man who has become a certified EMT after working at our camp as our Medic for 8 years.) Because these young people are working at camp, they are learning valuable work skills and building a resume, and I have been asked to write many recommendations for these hard working, eager to learn, teenagers.

The activities at the camp itself are modified for children with vision impairments.  Besides the games mentioned previously, we have many group activities.  My favorites are our “Olympic” events.  The groups generally include one head counselor, one junior counselor and four campers, make up the “Olympic teams”.  We have many activities over the week that enhance the group dynamic, but also teach the children that winning isn’t everything.  While the teams make up the audience, one team performs the event while the others cheer them on.  It isn’t winning or losing that is the goal; it is the camaraderie, good sportsmanship, and support of others that counts.  Events this year included the ball in the basket toss.  A beeper is put in a laundry basket, and teams are asked to throw the balls in.  The team that gets the most balls in wins.  Easy enough one would think.  But to make it a little bit harder, and because some of the children have some limited vision, we blindfold everyone. Not quite so easy.  We also had a shooting event.  Water guns.  Turkey roaster pan hanging from a tree. Me banging on the pan so they can tell where the pan is located.  Lots of fun, but the most fun was seeing where on my body they would shoot me when they missed the turkey pan! Unfortunately, they did not get any extra points for shooting the camp director!  Another very humorous event was a twist on the old standby game…the dressing game.  In a laundry basket there are a pair of pants, a man’s long sleeve dress shirt, a tie and a hot.  The “athlete” is supposed to put the clothes on and race down to the person at the other end of the line, who is wildly calling their name so they can find them.  Getting to the person is the easy part, putting the clothes on, blindfolded, is the hard part, especially when the person before you has left one of the sleeves in the shirt inside out.  Or trying to put the tie on after the hat was on their head.  Or holding up the ill fitting pants while they ran. In this game, none of the audience could cheer the athlete on because they were laughing so hard.  We also had a pizza box challenge.  For this Olympic event, I put up a yellow plastic rope tied to a chair where the event started.  Using a talking caution cone which would sound an alarm when you came near it, the athletes could find their way along the rope and turn at the caution cone, heading back to the start.  Carrying a pizza box.  Then 2 pizza boxes, then 3, then 4, then 5.  The team that completed it in the shortest amount of time won the event.  There were several other events to the Olympics with the purpose of having fun and fostering a team spirit.  Of course, when the awards ceremony came, each of the teams had won at least one event, so everyone won a medal for their efforts, (a Brailled, bright, changing color medal with the name of the Olympics in large print.)

Another activity we do at camp, of course, is arts and crafts.  Everyone painted frames.  EVERYONE painted frames.  You do not have to be sighted to paint.  After they were painted, we had a wide variety of doo dads with which they could decorate their frames.  Tactile, three-dimensional stickers which were easy for everyone to use.  My favorite was the young camper who painted her frame like a flower and then stuck bees all around it.  Although the children may be blind, they still like to show off the group picture that will be placed in their frames.  A picture of all of their friends.  Lots of friends.  All who have vision problems similar to theirs.

We have also always done a group art project, one that hangs in our office at work and two that we give away to important state administrators who support us in this camp endeavor.  This year, we did rainbows.  The colors of the rainbow were outlined in puffy paint so that the campers could tell where one color ended and another began.  Then, everyone put their fingerprints to fill in the colors.  Hundreds of big and little fingerprints.  After the fingerprints had dried, we then had them glue on tactile items of the same color.  For example, for the red color I had real little birds, (well, not REAL little birds, but little birds about 1/3 inch high,) apples, hearts, gemstones, (fake, of course) and so forth.  For the orange color we had plastic oranges, flowers cut from a branch of artificial flowers, glitter orange stars, and so forth. This activity not only creates a beautiful 3 dimensional rainbow, but it also helps the campers with color identification.  Many of them did not know that a heart was red or that apples could be red, green or yellow.  (I had a variety of colors of apples just to demonstrate the point.) Someone glued clouds from pillow material, and someone put down a tissue sun.  It came out incredibly awesome!

I feel very strongly that children, ALL children, should volunteer and give back to their community.  When you have a disability, often you get used to others doing things for YOU.  I need these children, as I’ve taught my own children, to know that anyone is capable of giving back, of volunteering, of doing something good for others.  As our special project this year, we used Ziploc bags.  On one side, the children decorated them with tactile stickers, ribbons, lettering and glitter. The fronts of all of their bags say “Thank You”, in print and in Braille.  On the back of their bags, they could choose the stickers of their choice…monster trucks, flowers, spiders, ice cream items, a soldier, and so forth.  Then we took the children to the local dollar store and gave them each $7 so they could buy 6 items themselves to fill the bag with toiletry items for soldiers in Iraq. From this lesson, we learned about the brave men and women who are fighting for their country.  How it is hot and sandy there and there are no Walmarts or drug stores where they can buy the basic necessities such as soap and toothpaste.  The children each made their own thoughtful list of items they wanted to buy.  They learned the $7 bought only 6 items because there is a tax we all have to pay.  One by one, the children went into the store, shopped, and spent their money.  5 toiletry items and 1 “fun” item.  The fun items included such things lollypops, playing cards, gum, yo yos, hard candy, perfume and hair gel, (for one boy who insisted the soldier who got his bag would want to spike his hair into a mow-hawk.)  The children then came back to camp and joyously filled their bags. It was a wonderful learning experience for them, they had great fun doing it, and they learned that anyone can do something for someone else.  Once completed, we had 50 bags stuffed to the brim to donate to Give2TheTroops, Inc., which sends such bags to Iraq, Not too shabby of a day!

Many other wonderful experiences happened at camp this year, and I will write more at another time.  Right now, I am pooped from all of the unpacking, and my bed is calling. I did not see much of my bed during camp for some reason…

The Deaf Leading the Blind: “But I was just TALKING to her…”

My job is a social worker for children who are blind includes coordinating both a summer and winter program for the children with whom we work.  Last winter we went to an indoor water park during February vacation with about twenty-five children who are blind and “legally blind”.  The children had a wonderful time playing in the water park, on the slides, in the wave runner surfing area, and in the pool, as well as participate in the regular activities that we plan, such as playing bingo and dancing.  Getting together is a huge big deal for these children who are mainstreamed into regular classrooms in their neighborhood public schools where they might not ever see another student with a vision impairment.  I began this program twenty two years ago when my oldest son, who is legally blind, was six years old.

The winter program was a huge success!  Most notably for me, it was the first time my fourteen year old daughter who is profoundly deaf wanted to help out a group of younger girls who are blind.  Each girl had their own staff person who amicably allowed Marie to join their group to help with the little girls. Despite the fact that she normally communicates in American Sign Language, she somehow managed to be very sociable and get along well with everyone. Having normally been obsessed with surfing at the wave runner attraction, and being a somewhat selfish young lady, I had expected she would help for a little while, but spend most of her time surfing. However, I was pleasantly amazed that she did not choose her own activity, but spent all of her time in the water park playing with the little girls, helping them on the slides, holding their hands to guide them around the park, showing them where the food was on their plates, and so forth.  She was having a grand time, and the girls all seemed to adore her.

On the last night of this program. Marie was seated at a booth with two of the girls and their staff.  One of the girls all of a sudden started waving her hands wildly in the air. Prone to seizures, her staff person asked her if she was okay.  She said of COURSE she was okay, she was just TALKING to Marie!!  The laughter started at their table and  soon circled around the room as everyone realized what she had said…she was signing to her, of course!!!!

The Baptism from HELL

I don’t mean to be blasphemes, but I am sure that all you parents out there with “difficult” children can understand what kind of hell we live with from time to time.  Most of the time raising children is heavenly, or at least like purgatory. However,sometimes there are those moments when it is just plain hell!

Our son, Steven, was adopted at the age of 3 after living with us since birth.  He was born addicted to heroin and cocaine, to a mom who was an alcoholic and, (GASP) cigarette smoker.  Although we loved his cute little face very much, the rest of him left much to be desired.  He was hypersensitive to sound, touch, smell, noise and any little thing that altered the peace in his little world.  Even as a 6 month old he would bang his head on the highchair if he was “stressed”.  He needed a strictly consistent schedule with no tags in his shirts and no loud noise from the tv.  We altered our life to fit his needs and things were fine, for the most part.

Then came his Baptism day.  First off, it was a change in his schedule, something his 3 year old body did NOT appreciate.  THEN, he had to get dressed up.  I remember thinking he’d never wear a suit and tie, or even a tie for that matter, so I managed to buy a nice pants/sweater outfit.  Unaccustomed to wearing sweaters, his body squirmed in this outfit.  Our church had arranged for a private ceremony, understanding Steven would not be able to be baptized during a regular church service.  We used the little chapel so as to cut down on the anxiety he would feel in the huge church.  His dad carried him to the altar with Steven’s head buried in his chest.  My husband, myself, our older son Francis and daughter Dinora stood by with Pastor Lorraine to begin the baptism.  Steven looked up and saw the baptismal water.  “OOOOOOOH NO!!!!!!”  he screeched.  “You’re not going to put that water on ME!!!!!!”  (He also had a fear of water I’d forgotten to mention…)  He jumped down from my husband’s arms, crawled on the ground, and crawled into the first dark, quiet place he could find…under Pastor Lorraine’s vestments!  There he was, under her vestments which were over her dress…I was MORTIFIED, (thus the “HELL” part!)  She, however, as the parent of three rambunctious kids, thought it was funny.  (God bless her!!)  She felt down for where his head was and she calmly proceeded with the baptism.  (Fortunately, you could see his head clearly outlined in her vestments.)  She did the whole ceremony with him completely covered.  I had a camera to document this momentous occasion, but was at loss of what to take a picture of!  When is it over, his dad gently dragged him out and home we went.  For any other child, a celebration would have been in order, but for Steven, it was home to his usual routine.  Same day as any other day.

PS.  I obviously didn’t learn from this experience as we attempted first communion for him.  At the age of 12, he met with our pastor for one-on-one communion classes as he was unable to participate in the standard classes.   He was then to join the other children on “First Communion Day”.  When the pastor called out his name, he promptly crawled underneath the pew, and curled into a tight little ball, where he stayed for the rest of the service…

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