Archive for the ‘Disabled children’ Category

Termites Aren’t so Bad

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My oldest son, Francis, was born “legally blind”. His visual acuity stabilized at 20/400. (In layman’s terms, what a fully sighted person could see 400 feet away, Francis could only see blurrily at 20 feet.) He used his hearing so well that it was easy to forget that he had impaired vision, but every now and then something humorous would happen to remind us!

One Friday night when he was about three years old, he entered the living room as my friend and I quietly sat amongst the pillows on the couch, munching away on buttered popcorn, and watching “Dallas” on television, (our ridiculously favorite TV show at the time.) He toddled toward where we sat and without hesitation climbed onto my friend’s lap.

“Why, HELLO there!” she exclaimed excitedly, since Francis had previously been very shy with her. He looked startled and then began to cry hysterically. He thought that he had crawled onto my lap! He could see well enough to distinguish that there were 2 figures on the couch, but was unable to focus on the differences of our faces. From that moment on, when he entered a room, he would say “Hi, mom!” and I would respond, “Hi, sweetie!” so he could tell from afar which figure I was. At the age of three he had already learned to make accommodations for his vision loss.

He made similar accommodations when he started. He loved going and had many playmates but seemed to develop a deep friendship with a little boy named Eddy, whom I had not yet met because his mom dropped him off at a later time. Francis would come home and tell me that he and Eddy played with blocks or outside in the playground or cleaned the hamster cage together. I was not only excited that he was actually telling me about his day at “school” but relieved that he was able to socialize and make friends.

One morning my lazy body did not want to get out of the comfy bed on time, so he was driven to school much later than usual. I accompanied him into the building and saw the entire class sitting on the floor listening to their teacher read a book. At first glance, the sea of toddlers looked like a blur of Caucasian, light haired children. Francis scanned the room with his limited vision, spotted Eddy, and walked over to sit down next to the only African-American child in the class. Francis was one smart kid…for his best friend he chose the classmate who was easiest to pick out!

Francis had a wonderful, normal nursery school experience, with one notable exception. The school invited an exterminator as a guest speaker who regaled the class about the abundance and peril of termites munching on the wood of houses. Francis came home terrified at the possibility of having them in our basement. I had never seen him so anxiety ridden and he developed problems falling asleep and nightmares. After about a week of this, I finally asked, “WHY are you so afraid of such tiny bugs?” He burst into fearful, explosive tears. “TINY????” he replied. “THEY ARE HUGE!”

Driving through Providence, RI, Francis had previously seen the only termite of his young life, the famous “Big Blue Bug” atop a building on Route 95, which is 928 times the size of a regular termite. No wonder he was so petrified! His understanding was that termites that large roamed throughout his basement and were eating his house! After I stopped laughing, it was explained to him that the Big Blue Bug by the side of the road was a joke and that termites are tiny. Then his dad and I took him downstairs, searched and confirmed that our house was, in fact, termite free. Happy dreams were his again.

 

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If you want to read about Francis’ hugely successful life, including skiing, captaining a sailboat, obtaining a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, and eventual career as a high level manager at a famous Silicon Valley computer company, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Mothers, Help Your Sons Grow Up to be Fathers…

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My oldest son, Francis, grew up amongst a caravan of foster brothers and sisters. Specializing in newborns and infants who had been affected by prenatal drug exposure and addiction, our family was usually comprised of my husband and myself, Francis, his sister, Dinora, who had been adopted from Guatemala, and one or two foster babies. Despite the fact that Francis is severely visually impaired, he played an active role in child care, frequently holding a little one, feeding a bottle and changing diapers. When going to the mall, he and his sister would proudly push the double stroller. (With the 2 of them, he could be a pusher without having to see where he was going…) Throughout his childhood, sixteen foster babies lived with us, and caring for them was just a fact of life.

Francis is now an adult with a Ph. D. from Cambridge, a well paying dream job, a wonderful wife and a cozy home complete with a grill for grilling steaks and a lawn to mow. And, as of three weeks ago, a newborn baby. My week spent with his little family renewed my faith in the power of what is learned in childhood. Without even knowing it, I had trained Francis how to be a good father! He bundles his little girl up in a baby blanket, like I had bundled up those babies who were going through withdrawal. Newborns like being in a tidy bundle because they arrive with strong startle reflexes and without much control of their arms and legs. By pulling her arms and legs in close and securely wrapping a blanket around her little body, baby India can feel safe and secure. When she is awake and alert, Francis rocks her and sings songs to her, songs that he heard me sing so many years ago: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Hush Little Baby,” and “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”. Even though she couldn’t possibly know the songs, the sound of his voice quiets her, and these songs are easy to sing. When he is expertly changing her diaper, he plays “This Little Piggy” with her toes, gently pulling her feet to his mouth to kiss. He exaggerates the “wee wee wee home” by tracing his finger from her toes to her chin, tickling her slightly before kissing her forehead. And while she sits in his arms on the couch, ready for bed, he reads her books with very large print; “Goodnight Moon”, and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”.

On the evening before I left to fly home, he looked over at me and thanked me for giving him the opportunity to practice on all those babies years ago. All of his friends are having babies now, he said, and they are all in a tizzy. Because of the practice HE had, he is a confident parent and not at all nervous with India. I realized that by being a foster parent to infants, I was not only caring for little ones, but also nurturing parenting skills in my oldest sons, skills that will ensure he will be an awesome father!

I have repeated this post from last year. His adorable baby is now a year old, and his father’s day skills have continued to flourish!

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If you are interested in reading other stories about Francis, please purchase my book on Amazon.

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

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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.

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(I apologize, it has been a busy summer and this is a repost from 2 years ago.) For more stories about children who are blind, 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

A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”

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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!

 

If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Under the “Dome of Silence”

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I am really dating myself, but my favorite tv show to watch when I was a child was “Get Smart”, a spy spoof where Maxwell Smart comedically played an agent who always “got his man”, even when he didn’t know how he did it! I relate so well to Maxwell Smart and his “methods”, because my life is been pretty much the same!
But their infamous concept, the “Dome of Silence” flittered through my mind recently in an unpleasant way, a way that made me change my thoughts in a major way.
My daughter, Marie, who is deaf, has been hospitalized again. For parents of children with severe psychiatric disorders, y’all know that hospitalizations are a recurrent theme, no matter how well a child seems to be doing. Life with such a child is full of peaks and valleys, and sometimes the valleys need a tune up. As conscientious parents, we probably all play the same game…do we visit every day? Do we bring food and drinks? Games? Puzzles? In other words, do we turn each hospitalization into a reward for being there?
My brother’s schizophrenia emerged when he was just emerging himself into young adulthood at the age of 18. This was a surprise disability on top of his already existing developmental, vision and hearing disabilities. As my parents aged, he eventually lived in a wonderful group home, but HE also needed “tune ups” in a psychiatric hospital, generally after an incident where the aliens told him to walk ten miles to the train station, or throw himself against the wall as punishment for some unknown offense. These hospitalizations were regular, and each and every time my mom would visit every day, bringing with her his favorite desserts, or a milk shake or ice cream sundae. Her heart ached to see him in the hospital so often, so she would sit there for hours with him, holding his hand or rubbing his back. It made her feel better to visit with him, and it made him feel better also. In fact, it made him feel so much better that the frequency of his “tune ups” increased. I learned as a young adult that being in a psychiatric hospital should not be rewarded with food and puzzles, or even with visitation every day.
I have tempered my need to mother my daughter with the need not to make inpatient hospitalizations seem better than the residential school in which she lives. Following my own instincts, which were reinforced by Marie’s social worker and psychiatrist, I have limited my visits. Yesterday, however, I changed my mind.
The hospitals have all been wonderful at providing ASL interpreters for at least 12 hours a day, which facilitates her conversations with nurses, social workers, unit workers and her psychiatrist. Marie does not, however, want to utilize the interpreter in conversations with other children. She tries to fit in with them, but does not understand what they are saying or laughing at. Being somewhat paranoid, (aren’t all teenagers?) she suspects they are laughing at her. She tries to join in, and they may include her for a few minutes, but soon the conversation continues over her head, and the children are once again laughing and joking and not including her. As I was leaving yesterday I witnessed this happening, saw the look of sadness in Marie’s eyes and noticed that she was holding back tears so as not to further embarrass herself in front of the other children. She looked so alone, and in reality she was. The other children were under a “Dome of Silence”. She could see them talking, gesturing and laughing, but could not hear or understand what they were saying. I don’t know why this obscure reference came to mind, but it did, and the visualization of it has changed my way of thinking. I realized that her isolation from others trumps the need not to reward her for being in the hospital. Nothing in the hospital could be a reward for her, as she is not part of the community as she is in her school. If anything, one would think she would be so adverse to being in the hospital that she would do anything in her power not to be hospitalized. Ah, the irony of that nostalgic “Dome of Silence.” I think I will visit for a few hours today and bring her a milkshake. We will sit there and “talk” in ASL and I will hold her hand like my mother did with my brother. She will no longer be sad and isolated, at least not during my visit…

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To read more about our life, here is a 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/

“It Smells Like Flowers and Sunshine”

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Working this summer running an educational/recreational program for kiddos with disabilities, I have been giving my good ole, 12 passenger van with a wheelchair lift a run for its money.  Surprisingly, despite numerous past mechanical difficulties, it has become a war horse for transporting us throughout the state to many wonderful adventures!  Because it is an industrial type van, it supplies the children with a lot of extra bounces, creaking, twists and turns.  (It is good thing they are all snapped down into booster seats and seat belts or by now I would have many little dents in the ceiling from their bouncing heads.)  They laugh and screech and go “weeeeeeeeee” as though they are on a ride at an amusement park. (I dare say, some of the children have never experienced such excitement…)

Over the weeks, I have become somewhat lax in van cleanliness…food wrappers, discarded art projects, broken recreational items (such as water guns and deflated balls,) and, EWWWWWW, old clothing left by the children, litter the floor.  I KNOW it is not proper, but, somehow, I am so busy with the program arrangements, supervising the children and driving them back and forth from their homes that at the end of my 12 hour day, that I am too pooped to do anything but sit in my lounge chair at home and watch Judge Judy.  I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances…purchased a couple of cute, little, purple, sweet smelling air fresheners for the van.

The day after this ingenious addition, the children filed on one by one for a trip to the aquarium.  Many of them commented on the smell, including one little girl who is blind who remarked “Do you have flowers in the van?  It smells beautiful, like flowers and sunshine!”  Thus proving to me that those Febreeze commercials where people are put into smelly, messy enclosures really DO smell only the Febreeze!

Cracker Jacks and Oranges: My Kids Have the Best Dad!!!

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I suppose I am prejudiced, because I picked him, but Raymond is a wonderful dad!  I am sure when we dated and eventually married sooooooo many years ago, he didn’t have a clue about the roller coaster ride we were in for.  Sweet little marriage with 2.5 kids, growing old together, holding hands and walking on the beach….forget that!  As the parent or foster parent to 19 children, we have spent our marriage trying to have a positive, loving impact on the the children who have passed through or are in our lives.  I am the flakier, impulsive, eternally optimist slob.  He is the more grounded parent, making sure we have enough money to pay the bills, the house is somewhat clean, and the meals are on the table.  He is like a big kid himself with the children…enjoying playing with them and gently bopping them on their beans when he tells them he loves them. He despises the lime light, and has asked me never to write about him in my blog…hopefully he will forgive me for this post.

During a recent visit to the grocery store, he demonstrated everything I love about him:

The store we shopped at was one in which the discounts are great, but the ambiance is lacking, as are the shopping bags.  This was his domain, as he does the shopping weekly. This is his life…no frills, just get down to business.

Filling the cart with basics, (pasta, spaghetti sauce, bread, cheese, eggs and milk,) he purchased enough to provide for our home as well as for our 2 young adult children who are struggling financially. Because I do not generally go grocery shopping with him, I did not know he did that. His sense of support for his children extends into adulthood. Even though they are out of the house, he is still their “go to” person for flat tires and a listening ear. When he listens, he takes things more serious than I do…for me, there is always a silver lining.  I will try to cheer my child up,  make her/him happy.  However, sometimes children just want to bitch that sometimes life just SUCKS!  He listens, commiserates, and gives them that affirmation.

Because he was shopping with a budgeted amount,  I was playfully reprimanded more than once for putting something in the cart that was not absolutely necessary.  However, he DID justify the expense to put in one special thing for each of our children; Cracker Jacks for Steven, fresh oranges for Dinora,  pasta salad mix for Angel and Lay’s Salt and Vinegar chips for me to bring on the weekend visit with Marie. Most importantly, while getting in line at the cash register, he reached over into a bucket of flower bouquets and spent time picking out the best one for me.  (Yes, he DOES buy me flower every week.)  Practical, loving and romantic.  Isn’t he great?

After filling our cart at the grocery store, despite a long line at the cash register, Raymond was patient.  So patient, in fact, that he let a woman with only a few items pass in front of him.  Smiling, he said “Go ahead of me, please. I’m in no hurry”.  He chatted with the cashier, expressing genuine interest, and he assisted an elderly woman in carrying her groceries to the car. He cares about others, strangers, anyone in need. Is it any wonder he has been a great father to our children?

Any set of parents will experience difficulties of varying degrees.  Raising children with disabilities magnifies those difficulties.  It is a huge financial strain, and any thought of retiring and spending our days walking on the beach holding hands is for naught.  Potential retirement savings have been spent on the care of our children, funding therapists who do not take our insurance, taking time out of work when they are hospitalized, transportation to hospitals and therapists out of state, and other expenses many parents would never dream of having. Quality time between Raymond and myself can’t be spontaneous, but needs to be scheduled. (Rest assured that romance is alive and well with us!) Family and friends are often not our best cheerleaders. (Is that a polite way to put it?)  The challenges have been huge, but Raymond’s support has never been greater.  He has rolled with the punches, as though having a screaming child rescued by paramedics from the side of ferris wheel during a PTSD episode, having a child with twelve personalities (and trying to get along with all twelve), spending the whole day at Disney World in a quiet cove of trees while our son who is autistic collects bugs and worms, never knowing whether to buy girl clothes or boy clothes for your daughter are normal parts of parenthood. It’s is just normal family life to him. And I thank GOD for that…because I could never do this alone…

 

 

 

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To read more about our life, here is a 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/

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