Commitment, Disability Awareness & Advocacy, Life, Uncategorized

Adversity, Growing Pains & the Hope of a New Life

When your adult child with a disability “grows up”…. meaning they are no longer a minor child, life changes. Sometimes in a big way. Time marches on. Their needs change – in so many ways, it’s difficult to keep up with!

Along with that change, I’ve learned that the various “systems” that support them (and myself as a parent), are seriously and fundamentally lacking.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. We as parents are getting older and we wonder, what’s going to happen to our children when we’re no longer around to either take care of them or advocate on their behalf? What will their lives be like, we wonder. Will they be deprived, neglected or abused? Will they be safe, healthy, happy and engaged and included within their community? These questions and thoughts keep me up at night – and truthfully have been with me every waking moment of his life, since birth. I know that I’m not alone, as a parent. Hello. Nice to meet you!

Suddenly life evolves, transcends or parts of that former life that existed in supports and services, simply deteriorate or disappear altogether in many areas – educational, social, mental, the physical, medical, financial, etc., (and not for the better, especially for those parents who have a child who is more severely or multiply-involved).

I’ve become overwhelmed lately in trying to figure out how best to prioritize and handle life on Max’s behalf – so it’s entirely about HIS life the way HE wants it. It’s quite frankly, daunting.

My brain literally wants to walk away and turn off – just for a little bit. Just long enough to re-charge and have quiet time to think this all through. Time is the problem here.

I’m so tired of repeating the same stories (his life story and various issues) over and over again to different people in different places, to get supports and services; to make what I consider to be necessary changes. Some people listen sympathetically. That’s good, right?

Well why do I have to keep telling the same story over and over? My God, it’s like Max and I live in an endless loop.

If I never had to talk to another person about his life (to get services/supports), and others did what they’re suppose to do, he would have a more meaningful, engaging and all-around better life, and hell, I’d have a life too. Peace might reign.

Well, that’s not going to happen where Max lives now. It sucks – unnecessarily so and it pisses me off. It doesn’t have to be that way and sometimes, I’m not nice. Too bad. Max is human and so am I. So…

Some good news in all of this, is that Max now has a remarkable, magical communication device based on eye-glance (Dynavox Tobii), and it’s being set up and programmed for him. It will be a life-journey, but I’m very happy for him to begin that. It’s hopeful that one day, he will be able to have his own voice in which he can speak his preferences, wants, needs, desires and dreams. This may be his ticket out of his current, sad living environment.

I can guarantee he NEVER would have gotten this device if I wasn’t the one that went after it. They would have still been just “looking at him looking” (no, I’m not kidding) and reaching for food or a drink, etc. But wait! I’m looking at them looking at Max. I see everything.

I imagine (too much and agonize over the fact) that there are many nonverbal people (with complex communication needs) out there who could communicate quite clearly what they want if they were given the opportunity, devices, training and patience to do so.

I have to fight for everything where Max lives now. Literally everything. He is living in a group home where no one responsible to support him, understands his emotional needs – those related to Self-Determination or community inclusion.

At his group home and local CMH, they continue to believe that ANYONE who is disabled, especially developmentally-disabled (no matter their age) is a “peer”, even if they’re old enough to be an aunt, uncle or grandparent. And there is absolutely NO opportunity or activities that put Max in touch with any non-disabled people in his age group. Slap my forehead.

They can’t comprehend his physical and medical needs, either current or in the future (there is no anticipation) of anything. They appear to not care at all. I don’t know if it’s out of ignorance or laziness or greed, because I have tried to educate them time and time again.

I constantly feel like I’m spinning my wheels, and while I’m talking to these people who could and should be making a difference, some aren’t listening at all or others have it down to nodding their heads sympathetically, while doing nothing.

Time, as we all know it, is running out for Max. He’s now existing in a very lonely, stagnant world. It’s bleak. It’s wrong. No one else locally or at the state or federal level is checking in. No one has reached out to me, ever. I have to do the reaching out and the follow up – consistently.

So am I wrong to feel at least a little bit upset by this betrayal of his very being? I think not.

He’s not in school anymore. He aged out at 26. In school they had lots of activities, including going out into the community. They’d take bottles back to the store for return, and go shopping for supplies for art projects. They’d volunteer and go to the Humane Society. They’d go out to eat at a restaurant. They’d work in their garden in the Spring/Summer.

They worked on academics and were given opportunities all the time to communicate in many different ways.

He’d be stretched out (given range of motion), and his leg braces would be put on according to the schedule that was set by the physical therapists. He’d be up in his sit-to-stand device – which would help to improve his digestion, circulation and bone density/strength. He’d be up standing tall. He had a teacher and staff who worked with him diligently, and cared about engaging him and working with him on fine-motor activities and communication. They’d notify me when his equipment had issues or something wasn’t going on right with him. If he was ill or if there was even a scratch. He doesn’t have that anymore. He doesn’t have the friends that he had at school either. Poof. Gone.

I’m not going to say that school was perfect. It wasn’t and I would even say that there was a certain amount of “seclusion” within the community at-large – but in a very rural community, this was most certainly better than sitting in front of a tv while laying in bed watching Paddington Bear for the 10th time (or staring out the window), while someone yelled they had to go to the bathroom – with the only hope of getting out during the week being those trips in the accessible van to the dentist or the doctor’s – or to the podiatrist to get your toe nails clipped and then running through the McDonald’s drive-thru.

There are some parents who understand exactly what I’m talking about and we’re “one” in that regard and not alone. We’re an unfortunate and sad “tribe”.

I understood, early on when Max was very young, about people who get “jobs” in the “social service” fields; those who do advocacy work. They go out and give presentations or do work shops, and help to represent children and adults with disabilities and their families. They advise. Sometimes they have children with a disability or disabilities – or maybe other family members. I learned that this can have its pros and cons.

As I’ve reached the age that I have, I’ve seen some “forget” what started them on that path. They become de-sensitized (I’m sure they’d argue against that – but eh, I’ve a right to my opinion).

Come on, let’s be honest. It happens. It’s called burn-out or “I stopped giving a fuck because everyone else stopped giving a fuck”. I refuse to buy into that bullshit. Don’t get me started on the lack of funding crap either. There ARE answers out there, if people are creative and innovative enough.

So instead of supporting and defending parents and families and individuals with disabilities, they take issue (offense) with any criticisms I have of the systems within which they work or about their associates?

That says a lot and it’s not good. When someone tries to make ME feel BAD for standing up for myself and my kid; for pointing out systemic breakdowns that hurt my kid, I take offense.

I’m hearing lately that everyone is “too busy”.

Sorry.

No, not sorry.

I care that those in a position (and who receive a salary) think it’s “okay” to use that excuse. That attitude directly affects my son’s quality of life and I’ll say it, his very life.

Cry me a river over the “too busy” bullshit. So suck it up buttercup. I’m not going away. I owe Max much better than that. I’m better than that. And they should be too.

This attitude has given me pause recently to re-think my position as Max’s parent, guardian and advocate, and how effective or ineffective I’ve been these past few years. And to think about EXACTLY what are the roadblocks in his life in getting him what he needs.

Do I need to change my “direction”? Do I need to re-assess which people or nonprofits, organizations, agencies, departments – either state or federal are worth my time or Max’s time in approaching? Am I wasting my time? Are there particular grass-root movements where Max would be better-served when it comes to my time and energy?

Obviously, changes need to happen. I believe that socially aware and involved people need to get together and have brainstorming sessions. We need to come together in making those changes. Everyone involved in the area of ALL the disabled. Too often, the most severely, multiply-disabled are left out of some very important discussions. Why? That should be obvious. They nor their parents or family can “make it” to the many meetings that happen at a distance from their homes, as they struggle to take care of their child or family member. They’re too busy just trying to survive.

Here’s one. How about instead of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services/CMH’s hiring more fresh-out-of-college, inexperienced, incompetent social workers (who have absolutely no fucking idea of what’s suppose to be going on), they hire some activity directors to make those very much needed community connections (concentration on inclusion), into oh-my-god, meaningful and fun DAILY interactions? There. See? Was that so hard?

Start thinking outside the box people.

How about THROUGH the State of Michigan, MDHHS, the CMH’s, Intermediate School Systems, and other advocacy organizations, together, figure a way to REACH out to EVERY person with a disability and their family members – to make sure that THEY’RE meeting EVERYONE’S needs; to LISTEN; to really hear ideas, suggestions, comments? Btw, not everyone has or can afford to be connected via the internet or has a computer. Think that they can get to a library? Think again.

Thinking about HIPA and Privacy issues?

I’ll sign a release of information for them to contact me if that’s what it takes – you know, because privacy issues should continue to keep myself and Max (and others) in the dark and unsupported? Wow. Just wow. SMH.

Let’s do better…. as human beings. Be mindful. The sky’s the limit.

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Disability Awareness & Advocacy, Group Home, Mental Health, Music, Uncategorized

Another Brick in the Wall

In Max’s life – “Another Brick in the Wall” translates into “Another Roadblock in Life”. The constant assaults on his individuality and integrity and personhood continue. It’s moments like this, that I wish I could sit across the table from Max, we both drinking a beer, while talking and laughing “about life”. I want to hear about his hopes and dreams. I want to know how he’s really feeling.

Then I’m dragged back into the reality of it all. All of this real-life crap that surrounds him. It’s been never-ending bullshit lately. I’m feeling powerless. I hate that feeling, and usually when I get to this point (it does happen sometimes), it spurs me on and makes me even stronger… eventually. Ha!

KORN

I meant to post more regularly (I have a lot to say) – with proof that Max lives and not merely exists in a world that doesn’t recognize his humanity, but life can be cruel. I got distracted by “life”. I had to take some time to re-group and make contact with people in-the-know. This is how it is when you have a child/adult with multiple, more severe disabilities. Networking and finding resources are EVERYTHING! It’s a fact in living this kind of life.

I know that it’s been awhile.

This week I visited him in his group home. When I walked in, he was sitting in front of the tv in the common living room. Two other people were sleeping in their wheelchairs. He was slumped in his wheelchair and needed to be pulled up. No one noticed except me. He was drooling so much that the front of his shirt was sopping wet. He had a look on his face that suggested he was disinterested in whatever he was suppose to be watching on tv.

At first he looked at me, like he really wasn’t seeing me. And then, he smiled as I used his shirt to wipe the drool off his chin. He needed his hair combed. He smelled. He only gets a shower on 2nd shift every day. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if he gets up in the morning, after having a bowel movement and sweating all night, that maybe someone should have given him a good bed bath in the morning?

I guess that’s not a part of the routine in this group home. It’s probably that way in most, if not all group homes. They’re very big on following the routine for “the whole”. There is no individuality in that regard. Or maybe it’s all about who is verbal and the loudest. Therefore, Max is not verbal and not the loudest. Max is also non-ambulatory, so no one has to go after him if he runs. Then it becomes survival of the fittest. Did you get that?

And I learned yesterday, when I contacted his “support coordinator” through email (I like creating paper trails) that they’re all about discouraging me from commenting, suggesting, complaining. She said that staff did engage him throughout the day but went onto say that basically, he “couldn’t have all their attention all day”, etc.

I want to make something very clear here. More times than not, it’s not the staff that is the problem (although there are those few). In fact most care providers work short-staffed, and are forced to work long hours – mostly 12 hour shifts – for very little pay (that needs to change). I’ve seen them exhausted and disrespected. I also know that they have their own families. In Max’s case, more than a few of his care providers have included him in their own family gatherings, and I’m grateful for that – as he has no close family living near him.

My problem is with the company that they work for and their managers. My problem is also with the local CMH who should be monitoring his care and working in partnership with myself and keeping me informed. They do the opposite. Where they should be diligent in their oversight and transparent, they avoid any communication with me unless it’s absolutely necessary. They don’t continue to educate themselves and they can’t see another way; the way that it’s suppose to be in creating a safe, happy, meaningful life for my son.

I’ve been stonewalled. I never see anything documented in his notebook and neither am I offered a look-see or a verbal report. I don’t get to hear, as in, “today we used small toys for Max to pick up and drop into a container, to maintain/increase his fine motor skills”. There’s no running commentary, ever.

They inform me of NOTHING. All I know is that every time I go over there, he’s sitting in his wheelchair doing nothing, except watching tv. Or laying in his bed watching his tv / listening to talking books (which I set up for him with the Library for the Blind). Note: I told the group home manager that books on tape could be easily acquired and set up for all the residents there (it’s FREE), but did that happen? No.

Every observation/comment that I made in writing in this email was countered and I was basically called a liar and my concerns belittled or questions unanswered. I WANT to reply back…. but won’t because it’s wasted energy and it’s all frustrating the hell out of me right now. (I need to think about how to effectively deal with this.)

She said Max didn’t smell… Believe me, he did. Perhaps,“that smell” is normal for her in the group homes that she visits. She only sees Max for 15 minutes 3x month. And NOW I know that every time she sees him, she doesn’t really “see him”. Excuses. They all have these pitiful excuses and I’m made to feel like I’m an unreasonable whiner. Fuck that.

I know “they” (CMH/Group Home Management) wish that I would go away and not visit him at all. I know they wish that I would just shut up and not care and let them NOT do their jobs; that I would be like other family members who drop of “their person” and walk away.

But I won’t. Fuck them.

Max received a Dynavox Tobii. It’s all based on eye-glance. Think of what Stephen Hawking used to communicate. Someday he WILL tell me what’s happened to him and what his wants, needs, hopes and dreams are. Someday he will have his OWN voice, and there won’t be anymore cop-outs, lies or manipulating from other people who would continue to get in his way of being self-determined.

When he starts using this, over time, he will get better and better. It may take a long time and I’m sure that both he and I will be discouraged – if staff isn’t trained and/or refuse to make this device accessible for his use (Dynavox Rep and SLP are coming to his home to set up everything, program the device and train staff) when I’m not there, but you know what?

Fuck them.

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