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Even among the extraordinary, we’re still a bit ordinary

7 Jun

“Medical science is just not interesting in kids like your daughter.” a neurologist once told us.

What I’ve come to learn is something I’ve always sort of known. We’ve never been interesting enough.

Sounds silly, because if you’ve met us, you know, we like to keep things different. But when it comes to disabilities and special needs, we’re kind of bland.

Oh, don’t get my wrong, I’ve always been thankful for the blandness of Maura’s issues. Having bland disabilities means she’s healthy and happy and able to do so much. Ironically, that’s what makes us a bit uninteresting.

Maura’s needs have never been sexy or trendy enough to get interest from the medical community. Maura’s disabilities are too generic for strangers to really care. We have no big diagnosis story to bring out. I can’t tell you what it’s like to have a doctor reveal The Something Maura Has – because we’ve never figured that out.

Reality is, for the first five years or so of Maura’s life, everyone downplayed Maura’s disabilities. Told me I was overreacting, that Maura would be fine. By the time we all realized she wasn’t going to be fine, we were all used to things the way they were, and there was no crisis moment to deal with.

And yet, I can also look back and realize that part of our perceived ordinariness is my own fault. I was raised in a “suck it up kiddo” atmosphere. If you skinned your knee, you grabbed the Bactine and a band-aid and dealt with it. When the choice is either laugh or cry, I choose to laugh. I was trained not to show my darker feelings. I still don’t show my sadness. I will joke at a funeral before I’ll cry at one.

So there I was, being calm through it all, finding the humor in situations, carrying on with life, and embracing each new thing thrown at us. While other people would mourn the introduction of ankle braces, I was giddy about them. Maura needed the support and when we got them, I was happy for the difference they made. When she developed epilepsy, I remained calm, and within a few weeks, noticed so many developmental gains that I all but hugged the bottle of seizure medication for allowing Maura to do more.

And Maura was such a happy little kid, smiling with her whole face, always willing to try something new, working hard to keep up with her siblings.

We were a pair – a smiling happy pair. Obviously we weren’t in crisis, obviously life was okay. There were others who needed more attention than us, others with more problems, more issues, real issues.

When I did crack, I would crack spectacularly. One can’t hold it all in and not eventually crack in a normal way. No, I would crack, spectacularly, garnering interest and concern for a moment. But since my life motto seems to be “Never let them see you cry”, I’d dry the tears, take a breath, and keep moving forward.

Outwardly, we were pretty normal. Yes, eventually, everyone got on the same page that Maura, indeed, was disabled. But getting to that point took years. Not a day, not months, years.

And so, even in our extraordinary life, it all became ordinary.

Because we treated it all as ordinary, people followed our lead and treated it as such. Because we didn’t make a tragedy out of things, no one else did. Because we included Maura in everything, people accepted her presence where ever we went.

And those are all good things.

But, in doing all that, we’ve sort of been seated in the back of the room when it comes to families with special needs. It seems like I’m complaining, and I know, I shouldn’t. But dang if at any point, I could have used a meal train or someone coming to clean my house or just watch my kid.

Instead, I ordered a lot of pizza, had a messy house, and dragged four kids about town. Because stuff still had to be done. Life still moved on, and no one was going to help us out. I wasn’t one to ask for help – I’m still not – so again, some of the blame for not having any help falls straight onto my lap.

I guess I make the extraordinary look ordinary, and Maura has inherited that skill from me.

The fact is, more people find the fact that we lived in Ireland more interesting than Maura’s disabilities. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Or maybe it’s because she doesn’t have a diagnosis that we aren’t as interesting as something like autism, which gets all the press time, or Down Syndrome, which has a lot of warm fuzzy media coverage. No diagnosis that affects one lone girl isn’t as interesting as a syndrome that affects 1 out of 100 kids. No one noticed when Maura’s seizure meds tripled in price, but raise the price of an EpiPen and people lost their damn minds (for good reason.)

Maura’s disabilities affect her, and her family. They don’t really spread to the wider world, not in a way anyone can test for. Not in a way medical science is willing to study and decipher. Not in a way the public can do an awareness walk for, or have a cause to donate to.

And I am grateful for that. Maura has health and happiness and the ability to go where ever she pleases.

But while we go about our ordinary lives here, please, don’t forget, it’s also extraordinary.

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When things go south

16 Jan

Yesterday, Maura had a meltdown in public.

This is not new to us. When you have all the feelings and not always a way to communicate them, meltdowns happen. Usually, if we can quickly remove her from the situation, she can calm down almost instantly.

The trick, yesterday, was that removing her from the situation required get her out of the public building with great acoustics, which also meant down two flights of stairs since the escalator was broken, and over a sky bridge.

It was on the sky bridge that things got…interesting…

I was hoping fresh air would help her calm. She loves the sky bridge as it gives a great view of everything. Instead, she stopped to sob some more. At this point, Josh put his arm around her waist and got her moving forward again, even while she kept wailing.

And then two security guards stopped up.

“We heard a woman was screaming on the sky bridge…” they said.

We went into a round of “our daughter has special needs, she’s having a meltdown, we’re just trying to get her to the car, I swear she’s not being kidnapped…”

The security guards instantly backed down, apologized a little as we told them we completely understood, and offered to assist us in any way. Two minutes later, we were in our car and Maura was calmer. Two minutes out of the parking garage and Maura was back to her usual self.

But it was a moment that really struck me – they said they heard a woman. They thought my daughter was an adult. Granted, she’s five foot three, making her slightly taller than me. But still. She was seen as a woman at first.

Folks, we’ve entered new territory.

Society is more accepting of children with disabilities, especially if they’re nicely dressed, smiling, and inspirational in any way.

Society is less accepting of adults with disabilities.

My daughter is morphing into an adult with a disability.

She doesn’t look disabled. Even watching her come back from refilling a drink the other night at Five Guys, I looked at her and realized that at most, she just appears a bit awkward – but not disabled.

When I posted what happened on Facebook, my friends tried to help. “Can you get her an ID, or an ID bracelet?” I could – but that doesn’t really help make her visibly disabled to the general public.

I could probably shout out “Don’t mind us! She has cognitive disabilities and sometimes she doesn’t transition well!” but, you know, I’m kinda busy at the time to be shouting.

Maybe I could get some bat signal, or a flare gun that shoots off so people know that this is not ordinary but not scary.

There’s not a good answer for this. The only one I can think of is talking about it so that more people become aware, so that more people understand what’s going on if my daughter is having a hard time in public.

Because becoming hermits isn’t an option.

 

Where do Americans like my daughter fit into politics?

15 Oct

Today, I read more about the election, and it left me feeling sad. Sad because people are so angry. Sad because one side has already decided it’s rigged. Sad because way too many women have come out to discuss when they were assaulted. Sad because some of them are still not believed. Sad because I’m told that all guys speak like this and if I don’t think my husband or sons talk like this, I’m delusional.

But mostly, today, I’m sad because this all has become such a shitstorm. And in such a shitstorm, other less pressing issues become invisible. Maybe I’m totally and completely biased, but I’m still waiting to hear how people like my daughter fit into each candidate’s American vision.

Because right now, she doesn’t seem to.

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^I’m with Herself ^

Now, I must give Hillary Clinton credit – in the issues portion of her website, she mentions disabilities. She talks about people who are caregivers…but mostly in a “Caring for an elderly parent” way (though to be fair, she mentions parents caring for disabled children.) She mentions employment opportunities for people with disabilities. She has a whole other section for families dealing with autism.

This is way more than what Donald Trump‘s site has. Which is nothing. The closest the Trump campaign has gotten to the issue of disabilities is when he mocked Serge Kovaleski, a reporter with arthrogryposis, and the current allegations of him calling Marlee Matlin “retarded” behind the scenes on “The Apprentice” (Marlee has an amazing response. Trump has yet to respond as I write this. And regular readers know how I feel about this sort of thing.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a girl who’s rapidly growing up – and I don’t just mean getting taller. No, she’s hit the age where we have to start thinking about what we do when she turns 18, what happens when she ages out of the school program at 21. What happens to our middle class, moderately intellectually daughter when she’s an adult? What happens to us as her parents? What happens to me, as her main caregiver?

As my older three kids are also growing up, getting jobs, having separate lives, enrolling in every high school activity possible – you know, being normal youths – I’ve become more aware of that last bit. Maybe selfishly so. I am my daughter’s mother, but I am also her main caregiver. We currently don’t receive respite care, we only recently had my daughter officially labeled as “disabled” by the state, and because of income, currently don’t qualify for anything (there is a mythical waiver I need to look into, that would waive income in lieu of level of disability or something like that – or as I call it “One more hoop to jump through”…even then, we could only receive like 3 hours a month of respite care.) I’m certain things will change when she turns 18 and is considered an adult with a lifelong disability.

But even then, I may still be wondering – when will politics be concerned with people like my daughter? She may not ever be able to work. She probably won’t ever be able to live on her own. I’m not even certain a group setting would work for her. Not that there’s many options out there for us.

I have read Hillary Clinton’s autism initiative and it sounds pretty good. The only problem is, my daughter isn’t autistic, and therefore, it won’t really help her. I know this from our own experience. It’s great that she wants to make sure that autism services are covered by insurances – but insurances will deny those same services – speech, occupational, physical therapies – to children like my daughter. It’s great that she wants to do more screening in early childhood years for autism, but we had that done – and when told “Good news, she’s not autistic!” and I responded with “So what does she have?”, I was told “Sorry, we have no clue…” and was left out in the cold. When I called up a place that had a therapy that sounded like it could work for my daughter, I was told it was only for children with autism diagnoses, sorry, we can’t help your daughter.

I know, I know – autism is a big deal. I’m not denying that. I’m just allowing myself to be selfish, and want the same kind of opportunities for my daughter, and all the other kids like her out there who are falling through the cracks.

And I know, I should be happy that at least one candidate is even mentioning any sort of disability thing on their website. But we’re talking crumbs here, because the idea that disabilities will even be mentioned in the final debate is just that – an idea, most likely mythical. I doubt it will happen, and that’s sad.

I get it – other topics do take precedent. Talking openly about what is sexual assault is very important to me as well, as my daughter also has an 83% chance of being assaulted.

Which just makes me sad all over again.

 

 

 

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