Posts tagged ‘developmentally delayed’

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

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(warning: contains disturbing, graphic content)

My brother was born in the 1960s at a time when children with disabilities as extensive as my brother’s (Rubella Syndrome, cleft palate, severely developmentally delayed, legally blind, hearing impaired, heart condition, etc.) were placed in institutions at the “suggestion” of their doctors. Without knowing the specifics, all I knew was that my mother was devastated and took to her bed sobbing, my father very angry and was rarely home, and my brother cried all of the time because he could not eat through the gaping hole which was supposed to be his mouth.

My mom chose not to follow the doctor’s “orders”, which was highly unusual for her because she was a person who NEVER disobeyed authorities. Yet, she knew in her broken, sad heart that “putting him away” was not the right thing to do. Even if her life was changed forever, Curtis would remain at home. She slowly got over her devastation, and my father was home more often and Curtis was fed with an eye dropper. I loved feeing him as he gently gurgled and mewed like a baby kitten. My brother was a part of our family, and went on to live a full and exciting life as a member of our vagabond family.

My dad loved to drive and my brother loved to ride. He especially LOVED tunnels. Dad would go out of his way during our travels to go through them, such as the toll tunnels in Pennsylvania. Riding through the darkness, hearing the swoosh of the engine motor and the echoes of the other cars would send my brother into fits of giggles. Curtis also loved the excitement of paying tolls. Hand over hand, I would help him lean out the passenger window to drop the coins into the basket, and he’d clap his hands with delight. Life was great, and Curtis was always a full, participating member of our family and our community. Our life was “normal” to me.

It wasn’t until I went for my first job interview as a rehabilitation professional at a state institution that I learned what my brother’s fate would have been had my mom decided to do as her doctor advised. The first and LAST ward I toured scarred me for life. The “dorm” was rows, 20 deep, of metal beds bracketed to the floor. Most had some semblance of a sheet on them, some not. “Blankets”, or what USED to be blankets before they became worn and dirty,were randomly thrown on the bed. Many were stained with a dark brown substance that I assumed was NOT dirt. In the “kitchen”, rows of large baby bottles filled with a mushy substance substituted for a lunch.

It wasn’t until I went into the “day room” that I became physically ill. The smell of vomit, feces and urine attacked my nose so I wanted to hold my breath. In the large, tile room, with no windows to even indicate it was day outside, sat about twenty-five people, looking more like wild creatures. All ages, men and women, young and old, sat and rocked their bodies, flailed about and screeched. Hair dirty and tangled and disgusting. Eyes either glaringly wild or no emotion at all. Most naked or with minimal clothing. There was a large drain in the middle of the floor where human waste congregated; feces, vomit, urine. (Apparently, a large hose was used to “clean” individuals and it was all shoved into the middle of the floor, hopefully to go down the drain.) No attempt at programming. No attempt at socialization. No furniture because, I was told, they would either throw it, break it or try to eat it. Most of the residents, I was told had never see life outside of the institution, coming to the institution as infants. (Thoughts of my beloved brother flashed through my mind.)

It was obvious abuse was rampart on the part of the residents, swatting and clawing at each other as I stood there. A few residents, deemed the most violent, were in shackles. The two ward attendants were obviously immune to the sight because that would be the only way possible for a human being to do their job.

I left the tour, vomited and cried all the way home. The scene still haunts me.

FORTUNATELY, this was during a time when family members and professionals started to come together in outrage to demand better treatment. To demand actual services and activities and better living situations. FORTUNATELY, these groups sued the state to hold them accountable for these horrendous living situations.

The passage of even more legislation allowed four unrelated individuals to live together in a house without having to get zoning variance. Group homes were born and life changed forever for individuals with developmental disabilities!

Thank God that the pendulum has swung the other way. Now, individuals with developmental disabilities are recognized to be individuals of equal value and respect. They can choose their own clothing, what they want to eat, where they want to go, and what they want to do. You can see them out bowling, delivering Meals on Wheels, and eating at local restaurants. They are shopping for food at the grocery stores, attending churches of their choosing, and going on cruises. They can go rock climbing, paragliding, and ice fishing. They can order sandwiches just the way they like them, and drink frozen strawberry Daiquiris. They are living life to the fullest, with staff no longer concerned with cleanliness, but with focusing on dignity, free will and respect. Next time you see a person with a developmental disability in the community, smile at them. They will probably smile back, at last!

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To read more about my life with my brother, please read my book. Here is a link:

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

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

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother

I led a very untraditional lifestyle when I was growing up.  My father, whom I later realized was schizophrenic, had the wanderlust to travel, which our family did for about 6 months of the year. He would remove me out of school and we would take off for various areas of the country, living in our Volkswagen van. ( Although I am sure that today’s public education system would not allow it, somehow I think my father would have taken me out anyway.)

It was quite an adventure for a child like me.  I have a vivid memory of cracking eggs in a big, black, iron frying pan over a campfire in the Badlands in South Dakota.  The rocks the pan was on were not sturdy, and the pan fell sideways with the eggs slowly leaking out onto the pine needles on the ground.  (Clumsy then…still clumsy.) I remember traveling in southern Georgia, driving for miles watching red clay cover everything…the houses, the cars, and even the clothes hanging on the lines.  It was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I was uneducated in this area, (probably because I didn’t go to school!) The whole concept of a bathroom for “whites only” was a shock to me.  Did that mean that only people wearing white clothes could use it?  (I’m picturing nurses, dentists, pharmacists…)  I couldn’t use it because I had on my only pair of pants, jeans, and a multi-colored t-shirt. But I had to go to the bathroom baaaaad, where would I go?  Behind the bushes? How degrading!  My misunderstanding of this concept is now a slight reminder of what it felt like be African American in the 60’s. I also have the memory of  a bear at Yellowstone Park coming onto our campsite to eat our dinner as we all huddled in the car. My brother, Curtis, was upset because he had left a package of Cracker Jacks on the picnic table.  We had to restrain him from leaping out of the car to get it.  Afterwards, I was not so keen to sit by the campfire…

But most of all, I remember my constant companion; Curtis.  He was four years younger than I was, and he had been born with Rubella Syndrome; developmentally delayed, cleft palate, legally blind, and severely hearing impaired.  He was my buddy.  Because my dad was extremely frugal, (ie obsessive compulsive disorder frugal,) I did not have many toys to play with.  So, in addition to reading a lot, I played in our surroundings with my brother.  I have a memory of  sitting by a stream, sun shining down on the water through the leaves on the trees. Curtis was happily splashing about in the shallow water.  I was looking for rocks that somewhat resembled people.  (They were no Barbie dolls, but some kind of looked like Alfred Hitchcock and Potato Head.) All of a sudden I heard a whoooooosh!  Curtis had ventured too far into the water and the current started to carry him downstream!  Fortunately, I had long, slim legs (in those days,) and with a few strides, I picked him up by the back of his pants. He was laughing heartily.  To him it was a real adventure.  Like the poor person’s substitute for a ride at Disneyland!

We actually had a lovely childhood together. I had to carry him everywhere because he could not walk sturdily.  Carrying him was just a natural way of life for me.  I don’t know why, but I never thought to be embarrassed by him, (although his screeching and attempt at speech WAS pretty scary).  I never ever thought of him as a burden.  He was just my buddy, Curtis.

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My parents rarely took pictures.  (The money thing again…) But I do remember ONE picture.  It was a picture of me and Curtis, standing in front of Mount Rushmore.  I was characteristically giving him a piggy back ride.  The photo shows Curtis, looking over my shoulder, eyes squinted shut by the glare of the sun.  I was wearing a stupid, treasured, red velvet derby hat, (you know, like jockeys wear.) As the dead presidents loomed behind us, I gave my characteristically stupid, toothy grin, (like all children do when their parents ask them to smile.) And on that day, I first heard the song from Neil Diamond which fit my sentiments exactly: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.  It was a powerful moment to think that someone had put into words what my life was like.

I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others. I personally cannot take credit for the way I live now, fostering and adopting children. I am not selfless, nor amazing, nor wonderful, nor any of the other adjectives readers have used to describe me. I am simply living my life the way I was raised and it is a wonderful life!

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Link to my book  The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

 

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970

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

My Brother Says Goodbye…

I took my brother who is developmentally delayed, legally blind, autistic, profoundly deaf and schizophrenic to visit our mom for the last time before she passes away.  I was worried about how it would go.  We walked into her room and she lay in bed.  She seemed to perk up a little when she was told Curtis, her beloved son, was there to visit with her.  She didn’t perk up enough to open her eyes, but she did start to talk, albeit mostly nonsense.  Curtis held her hand and rubbed her back.  He was talking to her, and because he could not hear, he did not realize that she was not really talking to him.  He was talking about himself, of course.  Was there a restaurant around the nursing home where I could take him to eat?  Did they have pie?  He then went and got her a soda from the soda machine and opened it for her.  Soda is Curtis’ most prized item.  He gave it to her, saying he wanted to do his best to make her last days better.  He then told her she was lucky because she had the pleasure of his visit because he was good company and he rubbed her back.  After an hour or so, I had him say good bye.  Not being a demonstrative person, he did not know how to hug.  I felt it was important for him to hug her and kiss her good bye, so I helped position him so they could hug.  It would have been laughable under any other circumstances.  He was stiff like a robot and clearly was not comfortable showing affection.  So he took her hand and shook it, and said “It has been nice to know you.  Let me know when your funeral is because I might want to attend!”

On the way home, Curtis was quiet for a while.  He said “Something has been missing all week and I didn’t know what it was.  Now I do.  I was afraid I would miss saying good- bye to my mother.  Today I was able to give her a soda and rub her back,” (2 things she had always done for him when he was sick.)   “I feel better now.”  This was such a profound statement coming from someone who usually did not think rationally.  Of course, true to his character, he asked to stop for pie.

Dinosaurs, Diet Coke, and Driving ‘Round in Circles

Yesterday was my brother’s birthday, so as treat, I took him on a trip to the Museum of Science.  My brother turned 51 years old, (while I am not admitting my age, I can’t deny that I am older.)  For those new to my blog, Curtis is legally blind, profoundly deaf, and severely developmentally delayed.  He can also be a joy to be around!  He is fun loving and enjoys just about anything.

My son Angel came with me on this adventure.  I picked Curtis up in the afternoon and he was so excited about the trip that he actually came dancing out of his group home, wearing a non-stop grin that was contagious.  We drove to suburban area of the city where the museum is with the plan to take the Metro into the city the next morning.  Before we went to the hotel, we stopped at a mall for dinner. Curtis’ LOVES malls, especially the food court, where we all had our choice for dinner.  After eating, Curtis wanted to walk around the mall independently.  I gave him $20 to spend and agreed we could meet back at the food court in an hour.  Off he happily went, thinking he was alone.  All the while, Angel played “spy” and followed him.  He thought he was on his own, and we didn’t want to spoil that illusion.  Off he went to, predictably, get a diet coke.  He pointed to the diet coke sign and handed the cashier his $20 bill.  She handed him his soda and his change, which he attempted to put in his pocket, (with half of it falling out on the floor.)  As he turned away to sit at a table, Angel scooped down and picked up his change to give back to him later.  Angel sat a few tables away so he could keep an eye on Curtis.  After finishing his soda, Curtis was up and moving…with his nephew as a tailgater.  Curtis then started his quest to fine every single elevator in the mall.  He knows that stores like Macy’s, JC Penney’s, Sears. and Lord & Taylor have elevators and he has the nose to sniff them all out.  In his mind, the elevators are transporters, taking him to level of the space station on Star Trek.  He has a mission to complete, to find every elevator in the mall, and after he completes his mission he can get another diet coke.

After the mall, we went to the hotel and checked in.  Curtis was so excited that he didn’t sleep well.  Every hour, ON the hour, he woke me up to see if it is time to to get up. (He learned this hourly ritual from my mother, who used to beg him to let her sleep “just one more hour”.)  I awoke at 7:30 to see him wide awake in the next bed, waiting for 8:00 am so he could wake me up and ask me if it is time to get up!  I moved to get out of bed and my movement announced that it is time to get up.  Curtis jumped up happily. He had all of his clothes on for the day. (He must have dressed during the night.)

After a quick breakfast of yogurt and bananas that I had brought, we drove the car to the parking garage for the Metro.  This happens to be his favorite parking garage in the whole world:  it has a spiral driveway all the way to the top.  As we drove, we sang and sway back and forth.  “Around and around and around and around” all the way to the top floor.  We then made our way onto the subway, which he also loves.  He asked me where we were going, as I had kept it a surprise.  Having recently lost his hearing completely, he does not yet understand that he cannot hear, so the conversation goes something like this:

C: “Where are we going?”

Me: “To see the dinosaurs.’

C:  “The aquarium?”

Me:  “No, the DINOSAURS!”

C:  “The movies?”

ME:  “NO THE DINOSAURS!!!!”

C:  “You’re taking me back home?” he said as his body melted in disappointment.

ME:  “NO!!!  WE ARE GOING TO SEE THE DINOSAURS!!!”

Realizing I was not going to get anywhere with telling him, I grabbed a piece of paper and drew a large picture of what I think was a pretty good imitation of a dinosaur.  “Oh!” he said happily, “we’re going to see Fred Flintstone?”  I sigh and shook my head yes…

I am the type of person who can sleep anywhere, any time.  Exhausted after being woken up all night long, I curled out across 3 seats in the back of the subway car, and Angel and Curtis sat across from me. It is about an hour’s ride into the city and I asked Angel to wake me up when we got closer to the city and it started to get crowded.  I was sure people would NOT appreciate me taking up 3 seats.  I fell fast asleep.  I woke up only when Angel was tugging on my sleeve because we were at our stop.  I was MORTIFIED!  I looked like a homeless person! I have “bed head” and drool coming down the side of my mouth. The subway car is full of people, many people standing up.  “I told you to WAKE me,” I reprimanded him.  At least it sounded like I was scolding him for the sake of the people standing up.  Secretly, I was grateful I was able to get an hour’s sleep in.

We had to change from the Red Line to the Green Line.  The seats in the car we entered were completely full, so Angel and I each grabbed a vertical pole and Curtis grabbed the horizontal pole above him and was kind of hanging like a monkey.  Angel and I put our arms around his waist to steady him.  The car swayed back and forth and we swayed back and forth.  Curtis thought our fingers were tickling him on purpose, so he started to laugh.  Angel and I started to laugh, and pretty soon the 3 of us were laughing hysterically.  Several of the passengers offered their seats as they could tell our predicament was precarious.  “No, thank you,” I said, “We are the adventuresome type.”

When we get to the museum, Angel, true to his nature, went to check out the museum store.  (One of his female “peeps” is a shopaholic who believes in the “shop til you drop” motto.) Curtis, true to HIS nature, wanted to eat first.   It’s not so much that he wanted to eat as he wanted to get a soda.  He is obsessed with soda.  We went through the cafeteria line and he picked out macaroni and cheese and I picked out a chicken caesar salad.  With him hanging on my arm, we payed and I looked for a seat. It was very very crowded. I was trying to do sighted guide technique with him on one arm, carrying the tray with the other, and steering him towards the one empty table I saw all the way across the room.  He spotted the sign for Diet Coke.  He wouldn’t move, just pointed at the sign.  I tried to tell him that first we needed to get a seat, that I couldn’t possibly stop for soda with a tray full of food and him on my arm, but of course he couldn’t hear me.  He continues to point at the Diet Coke sign like ET pointed to home.  He kept trying to drag me closer to the soda machine and I pulled him towards the table. The tray of food was unbalanced, and I was afraid our $35 lunch was going to drop on the floor, or, worst yet, on top of the head of one of the many children in strollers nearby. Finally I won the tug of war and we reached the empty table where I plopped the tray down, grabbed the soda cups and headed with him back in the direction of his  beloved soda. His face immediately burst into a smile as he realized what we were doing.   He was a happy camper!

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the museum.  The dinosaurs were  big enough for him to see, and he really enjoyed them, although he did keep asking where Fred Flintstone was.  (The Flintstones were our favorite cartoon when we were growing up.  Every Friday night.  Channel 6.  8:00 pm.)  When we finished with the exhibits, Curtis bought another soda “for the ride home” .  He perked up again when we got to the parking garage and had to go “around and around and around and around” in the car to get out.

Bringing him back to the group home was uneventful.  When the staff asked how his weekend was, he answered “GREAT!  I had diet coke and we got to drive around and around in circles.”  He didn’t even mention the hotel or the mall or the subway or the dinosaurs.  The next time I take him, I think I’ll save the money and just park at the Metro parking garage and buy him all the diet cokes he wants.  It would sure save me money, (and anyone who has read my blog before KNOWS that I like to save money!)

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