CONNECTION (The Rolling Stones – also Eddie & The Subtitles did a good cover)
September 26, 2018

I took a basic watsu training class this past weekend, spending the better part of Saturday and Sunday in a 95-degree shallow pool with five other women, who were also taking the course.  I didn’t know much about watsu, other than Cole’s aquatic therapist was also learning it and thought it would be useful for me to learn the basics, so I could use it to help stretch and relax Cole at home in our pool.  I love water, and I love learning new things – especially when it’s something that can help Cole.

th-4

I nervously showed up Saturday and met the others.  Three were women who were already in the aquatic therapy business, wanting to expand their practices and knowledge, one was a mom, who is considering a watsu practice when her four kids are all in middle and high school, and me.  We were joined on Sunday by a woman who does energy work already and has already completed about her watsu training.

The first half hour we learned about watsu and its benefits.  Watsu is a form of aquatic therapy that combines muscle stretching, joint mobilization, and shiatsu massage.  It’s done in chest deep warm water, where the “receiver” is continuously supported by the “giver” (or therapist) while back-floating.  The receiver is rhythmically and passively cradled, moved, stretched and massaged by the giver and water.  Watsu promotes deep relaxation and, in my experience, euphoria.

After the basic introduction we all got in the pool and watched part of a training video, so we could see an actual practice.  Then we began learning the stance, moves and an understanding of the symbiosis of the process.  We worked in pairs throughout the day, switching between being the giver and the receiver and working on different bodies.  The better the giver can connect and adapt to each receiver (every body is different, not just in size but in flexibility and trust too) the better the experience will be.  By the end of the day we had learned the entire basic sequence and practiced each element over and over.  We all left feeling empowered and connected by the day.

Sunday we all reconvened and immediately got back in the pool.  We were joined by a woman who does energy work and has already completed about half her watsu training hours.  Having a sixth person allowed us to all work on our technique and practice with each other while our instructor could move through the pool and give us each more hands-on training and support.  We all gave and received three full hours of treatment that day.  It was amazing.  Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Watsu

There’s something almost spiritual in the practice of watsu.  The relationship between the giver and receiver and water is harmonious in a way that at times you feel at one.  Breath plays a part in watsu as it does yoga.  There are quiet times when the giver synchs their breath to the receiver and as one you rise and fall slightly in the water as you breathe.  There’s a deep sense of relaxation and rejuvenation resulting from the treatment and connectivity that transcends the treatment. I’m completely enthralled with watsu. I plan to take more training even if I don’t complete a program for certification.  I just want to be able to give Cole (and other family and friends) the best experience I can.

IT’S MY LIFE (Jon Bon Jovi)
September 19, 2018

Sometimes I marvel at the things I know about because Cole is my son.  While it’s now all old hat to us, we had an extra learning curve beyond simply being new parents, when he came into our world. We had all of the usual stuff and then all of the medical and therapeutic interventions to contend with, as well as quick introductions to agencies and supports and special education. And of course, random weird things that come into our life.

In case you don’t know, Cole is fed through a g-tube.  The only way we could leave the NICU, after five long weeks, was to have a g-tube inserted because he was not able to suck a bottle or boob.  We had hoped he would catch on when we got him home but seventeen years later he’s still tube fed.

Yesterday I was placing an order for his feeding supplies, which typically includes his formula, gravity flow bags and every other month a new mickey-button (the part that actually is inserted into his belly and held by a little tiny balloon that holds 5 cc’s of water).  I was asked what size, because they like to have you repeat every detail of the order, your contact details and lots of details about Cole EVERY time you call to place a monthly order to make sure you are who you say you are and are ordering supplies for who you say you are ordering supplies for – I’m assuming because there’s a huge black market demand for formula and mickey-buttons.  Anyway, I digress.  I give the size, 16 French, and it occurs to me that I would never know what that means if not for Cole.

Tubing, often catheters and feeding tubing, is designated by French or “Fr” to note the size of the tubing. It’s a French scale where every millimeter is multiplied by .33 (Fun Fact: The French are fond of the number “3” – I deal with withholding tax at work and the France to US withholding tax is 33.33%), so Cole’s tube is 16Fr multiplied by .33, making it 5.28 millimeters wide.  Pretty small.

In the years of parenting Cole, we have had to deal with some many different therapists, agencies, doctors and medical interventions.  He’s had surgeries and treatments that exposed us to so many new adventures.  When he was still small enough to be tucked in to a Baby Bjorn, he did acupuncture to help open his brain flow.  I’d wear him and spend the whole time trying to keep him from puncturing me once his head was full of needles!  He did botox in his hips and arms before it became mainstream for faces, he had his back and neck muscles supported with Japanese kinesio tape before it was available in the US, and now gets Watsu (aquatic Shiatsu) massage when he does aquatic therapy.  I’m actually going to take a two day Watsu training class next weekend so I can take advantage of our pool and support his aquatic therapy at home too.

Being his mom keeps me on my toes and keeps me expanding my knowledge and researching every little potential interest, development, resource, product, therapy, intervention that I hear about related to cerebral palsy, communication, inclusion, education, life as an adult with special needs, etc.  I’m sure I miss a lot but thankfully I have a community of moms who all do the same and we share.  It’s a unique experience that thankfully we share with a welcoming wonderful community of likewise unique families.

 

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS (The Beatles)
September 18, 2018

I saw a post today, shared by a friend in Australia, about a friend of hers who just had a baby. There were complications with the delivery and her daughter has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  The post was asking for donations for the baby’s current and future care.  I wanted to write on the post that with seventeen years of experience with a similar child, it’s going to be okay and that despite the dramatic entry and overwhelming sense of the unknown, life will be joyful and their child will be loved and happy.  I held back though because I’m never quite sure if people want to know this while they’re in the throes of trying to understand their new reality.

This doesn’t just apply to this particular situation.  I struggle with it in all kinds of situations.  I have come to realize that often people don’t want to know that there are other people who have walked the path before them and can shed some light on the journey.  I also worry that it comes off as “know-it ally”, which is never my intention.  So I often opt to hold my thoughts.

I, for one, am truly grateful for advice and support, and I cherish the guidance of those who have similar parenting journeys because between all of us working together we have quite a network of research, connections and experience that enriches the lives of our children beyond what one lone set of parents can do no matter how savvy.

One of my fantasies is to one day create a compound living situation, preferably near the beach, with a therapeutic swimming pool, accessible gym complete with an infrared sauna on the property, where other families like ours could all live with their 24/7 adult kids (either in independent homes or with family) and support one another.  Some of us have kids that will likely remain with us for life but there are ways to provide some independence for them within a fixed community and to allow parents to have some independence as well.  It’s a fantasy but not completely outside the realm of possibility.

b653c0dc39dfd54a18c0d046eabb44bc--tiny-house-cabin-small-homes

We can go it alone but in my experience it’s always better with friends…

 

 

 

LEAN ON ME
September 15, 2017

The value of a quality caregiver is unrivaled, and it can come in different forms, each fulfilling a specific need or time in our children’s lives.

Summer care is always difficult for us as a special needs family. My husband and I both work full time, and up until this year, we’ve been fortunate to have summer school and day camp at my son’s school, that cover all but a couple of weeks of the summer time off. We usually do a family week vacation or staycation depending upon what’s going on with us financially and schedule wise, and find full day child care and support for the other time off. There’s cost involved, but we’ve been fortunate thus far to have had the school programs to rely upon.

Cole finished up his freshman year in high school, and had over two months off school. Because he has an IEP, he qualifies for Extended School Year (ESY), which is sort of summer school. It’s not quite four weeks of casual education at one of five LAUSD campuses, running from 8:00 am to 12:15 pm. It’s something, but it left us needing childcare for his entire summer holiday, because he still needed someone to be at the house when he arrived home from ESY and for the six hours left in the workday.

Finding childcare is a challenge in itself. We again have been fortunate thus far to have maintained contact with a few of the great support staffers at our former school, and were able to offer competitive salary during the summer and the comfort for us is that we have people we know, like and most importantly, trust with Cole. They know him, he has trust with them and they know how to care for him and to engage with him.

The value of that trust is priceless.

The first weeks of summer were easy and comfortable for Cole. We employed a woman who worked with him at his former school and who he enjoys spending time with, mostly chilling out. He has his moments when he likes nothing better than chatting, watching cooking shows and relaxing. It worked well for the post ESY afternoons, when he felt a little taxed from ESY and was happy to relax.

We then took a few days off for family time in Carlsbad, a little beach town in San Diego County that we all enjoy. Mornings were spent doing some visits to museums and the aquarium, and afternoons in the pool. Cole’s idea of perfect vacation!

At the end of this summer I engaged a former staffer from his school, who we’ve maintained a friendship with for the years since he left the school and went on to pursue his higher education in Northern California, as well as fitness and wellness interests. I thought that it might nice for Cole to have a male caregiver, and I wanted him to get out and do some stuff. The first week they watched a little cooking on the telly and then went out and shopped for ingredients and prepared some of the recipes they watched! They met friends for lunch and went to a local art studio and did some painting and they headed over to our neighbors house for a swim one afternoon.

The second week they attended a day camp I found for Cole. Their summer program was for kids aged 14 and up. Cole was amongst the youngest but really loved being among teens. Each day they did all sorts of fun activities, ranging from gardening, to cooking, to working out, to creating art. They even filmed a movie in iMovie, and did some literacy studies and practice. Their final day was a beach outing. They both made a lot of friends and pretty much had a great time. As a parent, I couldn’t have asked for more.

The bond between these two is pretty special, and having a male caregiver is something that Cole needs. He was respected, treated as a nearly sixteen year old, and engaged in age appropriate, fun, activities. The balance between being a friend, mentor, and caregiver was just that perfectly balanced. He thrived. He soared.

We now need to find someone who can be all of those things to Cole who lives nearby so that he can enjoy some independence away from his parents, and perhaps even with friends, but with someone trusted, creative, and kind, who can also balance friendship, mentorship and caregiving.

Any recommendations???

 

 

 

SOUND OF YOUR VOICE
September 26, 2016

A friend recently shared information about a service that can create a voice for people who do not speak and rely on the use of a voice output device to communicate. Vocal ID can create a voice that closely resembles what your actual voice likely sounds like by using both sound recordings of utterances if you can make them and accessing a voice bank they have to find your vocal match.

I love the sound of Cole’s voice when he uses it successful to speak, and especially when it rings with laughter. I can’t quite imagine how I’d feel hearing him speak and sound like him. The voice his Tobii device uses is a computer generated voice that is somewhat age appropriate, but a voice that is shared by countless others who are of similar age and sex and who use voice output devices. It’s not unique.

Our voices are one of the most unique things about each one of us. With closed eyes, I think I could correctly identify most people I know by their voice. Cole’s is a voice I never imagined hearing, save for the limited vocalizations he makes. To have conversations with him using his Tobii but sounding like Cole would be overwhelming and life changing. I feel like conversation becomes that much more intimate in knowing it would be his voice, unique to him.

I’m just starting to explore how to go about having his voice imprinted and put on his Tobii. I’ll share more as I myself learn more and begin the process. I signed up as a donor too, to bank my voice with the hope that it could be used to help shape someone else’s own voice.

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

SPEECHLESS
September 22, 2016

A new television series, a family sitcom, debuted last night on prime time ABC called SPEECHLESS. The show revolves around a family of five, where the eldest son, JJ, has cerebral palsy and depicts the inner workings of this family as they navigate life.

th

I heard about the show early on because someone approached us about having Cole audition for the role of JJ since he’s kind of living that character already and he’s shown interest in performing over the years. After consideration, he decided not to. I think nerves and the start of high school made him think it might be too much, and he’s probably right.

The boy who earned the role is good. He too has cerebral palsy, though I suspect he does actually speak. There are certain truths about the character that wouldn’t be in the show if he actually used a communication device to speak because either he, or his parents, would know better. They wouldn’t be seeking a “voice” for their son. They still would want a wonderfully capable, engaging support for him at school, but not to serve as his “voice”. JJ uses a laser pointer in one scene so I questioned why he would not have a voice output device that operated with a laser pointer, or like Cole, by eye-gaze?

Despite my natural predilection for pointing out the things that I think are wrong with the show, which I know are things that only I would notice or care about (or perhaps other green parents), there are a great many things that are right. I’m thrilled that there’s a family not unlike my own on television. Families of all sorts are now represented on television and finally ours. It’s a huge thing to make something like a kid being in a wheelchair, attending school, and out in the community, a familiar thing.

The value in depicting a family like ours, showing some of the struggles and challenges, but more importantly, the regular life joys and relationships and dreams, is priceless. JJ, like Cole, is a boy who wants to be defined by his interests and abilities, not by his disabilities. He’s a funny, thoughtful typical high school boy, who happens to have cerebral palsy.

The beauty of Speechless is that they do a great job of portraying everyday family life, which in most ways is no different than any other, except that some of the challenges they deal with are a little different. Every family has challenges, all siblings feel neglected at one time or another, all parents fight for what their kids need and all kids are kids, no matter what their diagnoses.

My hope is that by having a family like mine on prime time television being portrayed in an authentic manner, which includes the good, the bad, and the ugly and everything in between, with humor (because who doesn’t find humor in some of the craziness we deal with?), care, and honesty, will make people understand that despite some obvious differences, at the heart, we are all more a like than we are not.

MAKING PLANS FOR NIGEL
September 19, 2016

My current conundrum is navigating the teenage social life, without appearing to be doing so.

Cole’s at an age where most of his peers are managing their own social lives, with parents providing only transportation input be it, actually driving, or providing access to an Uber or Lyft account, and setting some general boundaries like curfews. Kids text each other to initiate an outing, activity, get-together, and to make arrangements.

Cole doesn’t text, or talk, and doesn’t receive many texts, and never texts inviting him to hang out. He might enjoy doing so but since he’s not part of that very prevalent social networking world, he’s not immediately thought of for social activities. Truthfully, much as it pains my heart, he’s probably not thought of for such things regardless of his social networking status.

That doesn’t mean I’m not keen to somehow help him facilitate a social life of some sort, even if it’s a bit challenging to do so whilst trying to remain behind the scenes. I’m learning that this is much more difficult to manage in high school, where parents are not connecting the same way and not being on campus makes it nearly impossible to know which kids he might actually want to see outside of school.

He didn’t see friends much during the summer, which was tough and more noticeable to him than it is during the school year when weekdays are long (he’s gone from 6:15am-5pm) and weekends have activities already scheduled like baseball league, swimming lessons, and the dreaded homework. There’s less free time to fill so the absence of friend time is not as obvious.

However, boy cannot live by hanging with the parents alone…he needs opportunities to spend time with friends and to do some socializing outside of school without hovering parents. (Not that I intend to hover but the reality of Cole is that he does need some adult support most of the time). A few old friends came over this past Saturday evening to watch a movie and very informally celebrate his birthday. It was a treat to have pals who know him well and with whom he can relax, and Dan & I can pretty much fade away while they hang out. Hearing not only his laughter, but theirs from the distance of a couple of rooms made my heart swell. If only I could figure out how to make nights like that a monthly thing…

I’d also love to figure out if there are any new school friends he might want to hang out with. I keep hearing about a boy named David, who I’m told by Cole’s teacher is one of Cole’s favorite friends at school, despite Cole telling me otherwise when I ask about him. I know he’s just goofing around when I ask but I also don’t know that he’s ready to make the leap of inviting him to go bowling or something on the weekend. Time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll be working on the next movie night…

HAPPY
September 15, 2016

We’re now almost a month in and dare I say, high school is going well. There were big bumps leading up to the first day, and a small one on the actual first day – the aide who was supposed to ride the bus with him didn’t show up in the morning so he rode alone with the driver until they picked up the next kid. Apparently, not legal so we made the wrong decision in allowing him to go, but the aide did eventually catch up to him on the route and he arrived safely for his first day.

His schedule got sorted out and he even has a close friend from CHIME in one of his general education classes. I think it’s helpful because having a typical, cute, volleyball team, girl chatting with you and laughing with you goes along way to inspiring other kids, kids who have not previously attended school with someone like you, to talk to you too. He’s making friends, slowly, but it’s happening.

School friends…not necessarily the friends you do stuff with on the weekends. That seems harder to navigate in high school, where parents are interacting in the same way and the community itself if much larger. At this age, kids generally start to take charge of their social lives so for a kid like Cole that becomes a bit more challenging without parental support and intervention. We’ll see.

Overall, the school has shown a great interest in making sure he’s supported, challenged and engaged. He really likes his main teacher, his special education teacher, who he has for several classes, and the general education teachers likewise are making efforts to ensure that he’s participating and part of their classroom community. It’s really quite impressive.

All that said, and I’m really not complaining, but it’s still not exactly what was promised. The LAUSD high school system is very different in terms of how it approaches kids like mine. Inclusion is not a concept that is implemented at the high school level. They mainstream, which is more a sink or swim concept, and where I’m thankful he’s at a school where the administration has more than a passing interest in inclusion more so than mainstreaming.

At the end of the day, this month has gone well. He comes home tired, but happy. He’s adjusting to the crazy schedule – being picked up at 6:10 am by the bus and returned to our door sometime before 5 pm at the end of each day. Him happy, it’s all that matters. The other stuff can work itself out.

LIAR
August 11, 2016

Reality bites…

We attended the freshman orientation with Cole this morning at his new high school. He starts school next Tuesday at a new school where inclusion means something entirely different than what we’ve experienced for the past fourteen years.

The school, and LAUSD, our school district, both seemed opened to having Cole attend this school, and touted the potential for him to do some of his classes in general education and some under the wing of special education. We worked it out as such in his IEP, painstakingly ensuring that he’d have plenty of opportunity to spend time with typical peers, as well as benefitting from the support needed for some subjects in special day class.

His schedule was hand delivered by one of his special ed teachers. First period – Jazz Ensemble. Um…What? That is supposed to be his elective, one of the courses he’d take in general setting. First off, he doesn’t play any instruments, nor is he physically capable of doing so. Secondly, Jazz Ensemble?

Apparently all of the other electives were full. That’s the explanation we received.

And it got worse from there. Jazz Ensemble is the only class he has in general education. Everything else in his day is in the special ed classroom. Again, what? This is not what was agreed upon and spelled out in his IEP. To this we received a “We’re not like CHIME. We can’t support him in class”.

Apparently the IEP means nothing.

He’s supposed to have a one to one support throughout the entire day. Someone who can tend to his personal needs, support his access to the curriculum and to the classroom, facilitate his social goals, and enable him to thrive in the school setting. Thus far, they haven’t hired, or found, this support person. We’re told they’ll be there Tuesday morning, ready to go.

Apparently without any training or understanding of Cole at all.

I knew high school was going to be different and that leaving CHIME would mean some changes in terms of the kind of support Cole would receive, but there seems to be little interest in ensuring that he receives the same kind of high school education and experience that his typical peers will have access to.

When they say no child left behind, they lie.

 

TAKE A CHANCE ON ME
February 23, 2016

The high school process continues. The great news is that Cole got into our top choice for him. The bad news is that the hard work is still ahead of us. The school he got into is an independent charter high school. It’s small, fully inclusive, and open to the challenge of having a diverse student body. It’s a performing arts charter but Cole was accepted to their liberal arts program.

They’ve never had a kid like him, but the reality is very few schools have. Cole’s unique beyond just his obvious challenges. I’m not sure where kids like Cole go to school but this process has shown me that very few schools are open to the unknown. Spectrum diagnoses are now apparently commonplace enough that they do not rattle most mainstream schools, and there are endless private options available to these kids.

The task of managing a child with physical needs is apparently more daunting to school administrations, than say some of the significant behavioral issues that can accompany many spectrum diagnoses. Add in the non-verbal component and he becomes even more so. The reality of a kid like Cole, who is by all accounts friendly, interested, cooperative, and bright in class, is that once people know how to manage his physical needs and to work with his technological accouterments (i.e. his Tobii), he’s a pretty easy kid.

Yes, he needs modifications for some of his schoolwork, and even the occasional accommodation, usually extra time, but even that isn’t terribly taxing. The big problem as I see it is that there just aren’t enough kids like Cole in general, and more pointedly, who want to be fully included. There aren’t even enough to motivate an innovative school or non-profit to start a specialized school for kids like him, as we’ve seen happen in the last decade or so for kids on the spectrum.

Neil Young started a very tiny school, which I believe emerged initially from a camp program that focuses on assistive technology for kids with cerebral palsy. It’s for younger kids, and handful at that, who can afford the private tuition. I’d love to send Cole to the camp to better his Tobii skills, and to perhaps help motivate him use it in social settings, and not just at school.

For Cole, whose only education experience has been in fully inclusive settings, and his only social group is a diverse pool of kids, mostly typical, the best, least restrictive setting for him is a high school that can provide the same. He’s motivated by peers and teachers who are seeing him, Cole, not the wheelchair, not the Tobii, just Cole, the boy.

Getting a school to take the chance of having him as part of their community is proving to be harder than anyone led us to think it would be. If the school of our choice can be convinced to take the leap and to go for it, the rewards of having a kid like him in their student body would be far greater than the accommodations and modifications that would be required to do so.

He brings something unique to the party and it happens everywhere he goes. I know I’m his mom, but I’ve seen it happen everywhere he goes. He has the ability to attract people, to make peers feel comfortable, cared for and important, and to make a lasting imprint on teachers and staff. He has countless checkout people at our regular haunts, and waitress staff at favorite restaurants that count on smiles from him and return them just as openly.

If he can continue his education at this school, he’ll find his place quickly, routines will become established, and life will go on, just slightly altered, and most certainly improved, by him being there.

Please!!!!  Take a chance on Cole!