Showing posts with label my big opinions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label my big opinions. Show all posts

June 9, 2015

Might Have Been

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler is, by a country mile, the happiest human being I know. And it's not because she doesn't know any better. It's because she does. She gets the beautiful parts of the world, while I often only see the pain and the cruelty that it holds for her and for us all, I guess. Schuyler holds on to the aspects of the world that she cherishes, and she tries very hard to throw away the rest. I don't know if that's a plan for success or if it's going to bite her face off one day. I only know that it works for her, and it gets her through days both simple and complicated. 
And I know that in that regard, I envy my daughter very, very much. As I should. As should we all.

April 27, 2015

Tag Out

This morning, at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I need to quit worrying about the people who are supposed to be helping our kids but aren't, or about the society that should be opening doors for them but is politely but firmly closing them instead. For just a little while, I need to step away from the fear, and from the sense of injustice and from the feeling that I am growing old at a far too rapid pace and that time is running out for me to be able to fix everything for my little girl before I go, because goddamn it, that's what fathers are supposed to do.

April 6, 2015

Schuyler and the Big Questions

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When speaking to groups where I know there are going to be a lot of people of faith present, I still talk about God. I talk about Faith and God and my own broken spirituality and what kids like Schuyler may be able to teach us about such things. I kick open the door to a conversation that isn't about convincing anyone or being convinced, either, but rather an exploration of perspectives that might just bring us all a little closer together. I'm not religious, and I'm certainly no Christian, but I don't need to be snotty about it and assume that believers won't listen to me or treat me with respect. I like those conversations. I try to draw them out with my speeches when it's appropriate.

January 12, 2015

No Easy Answers

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
It's that time of year again, the beginning of the spring semester, when all the least fun parts of Schuyler's public school experience begin to rise up out of the swamp and demand attention. Soon we'll start worrying about the STAAR test, Texas's state-mandated standardized testing. It's the Godzilla monster that stomps through our little Tokyo ever year. We also begin preparations for Schuyler's next IEP meeting, and the future that it portends. (SPOILER: More monsters, pretty much forever.)


January 6, 2015

A World of Fairness

This week at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I'd like to suggest a new attitude as we begin a new year. There's a lot of concern out there about fairness and balance and making sure no one gets anything they're not entitled to. I think we've got that covered. Perhaps it's time for a little imbalance. Maybe, just maybe, the world won't spin off its axis if we worry just a little more about those families for whom the idea of fairness has always been something of a cruel joke. Not charity, but just a little empathy. Perhaps a pinch more humanity than we've been accustomed to tossing into the mix.

December 17, 2014

Some Thoughts on a Very Very Very Bad Idea

This week at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When news stories come out detailing the mistreatment of special needs kids, I tend to think that the best thing we can do is shine a light on them, to try to force change through awareness. I'm not always sure that actually works, though; when you turn on the lights, the roaches scatter and run under the fridge, but they don't actually go away. Maybe I'm just helping give the roaches a little exercise.

November 3, 2014

Making Our Own Ice

I want to discuss something very specific to augmentative alternative communication, so my apologies in advance if this isn't part of your world. I specifically want to address the strange, illogical divide in the professional speech technology world between those who use dedicated speech devices and those who find success with consumer electronics products like Apple's iPad. I'm still surprised to watch these conversations unfold online and see how blithely parent advocates and end users are often condescended to. Frankly, it pisses me off, which is why I'm subjecting you to this post.

Some of the discord comes from representatives of the big speech device makers, companies who are responsible for developing the technologies that AAC users have come to depend on but who have been struggling to sustain their business models now that commercial tablets have democratized the AAC process. It's a huge shift, and one that the industry is still trying to figure out. For a specific subset of ambulatory users, suddenly the potential purchase price for a speech language system has dropped from something in the area of eight thousand dollars (plus service agreements that can run around a thousand dollars a year) to under a grand, depending on the communications app and however many whistles and bells you choose for your tablet. So potentially MUCH under a grand.

This change has meant that where once insurance companies and school administrators held final say in the systems purchased, for some that power has now shifted. Parents and end users themselves are suddenly able to make decisions about the technology that allows them to communicate. This democratization comes with pitfalls. It is up to these parents and users to get good information about the language software that is available, and to find resources to determine what AAC needs they or their kids may have. They don't always have the support personnel in place to assist them in making good decisions. There are a lot of very, very bad AAC apps out there, and clearly someone is buying them.

The problem with the dialogue that is taking place in sectors of the AAC community is that it makes some dubious assumptions. Cheaper is inferior. Using commercial tablets amounts to a "one size fits all" approach. More expensive systems mean more solid support. You get what you pay for. And teachers, parents and end users are simply not qualified to make those choices.

Getting good support for systems running on consumer electronics is a real concern. But honestly, it's no different from the situation faced by many schools and families out there with dedicated devices without any meaningful local support. It's an industry-wide problem, and honestly one that can be exacerbated for users of expensive dedicated devices by the prohibitive cost of maintaining service agreements from year to year, as well as issues like loaner devices for repair downtime.

iPads and other consumer tablets aren't a fit for every user or even most users, and I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone make the case that they are. But for users like Schuyler and thousands more like her, these tablets provide possibilities that go beyond a speech prosthesis. To say that we are in one "camp" or another, and that AAC users are divided between dedicated devices and consumer electronics, is a gross oversimplification, and it's not accurate. Schuyler uses an iPad, and it runs the same language software that she used on her dedicated device, back when it was the appropriate choice for her. She not in a camp; she's a hybrid, and I suspect she's the rule, not the exception.



In a piece she wrote for BridgingApps a few months ago, Schuyler had this to say about using her iPad:
I like to use my iPad Mini because it help me with talking and I can looks things up like the the right stuff for school. It makes me as other people. When I used my old speech device, it looks like something wrong with me.

[...]

It looks I’m like other people.
One day, I am hopeful that Schuyler will make peace with her differences and even celebrate them. It's something that we encourage in her self-identification and always have. But she's an ambulatory fourteen year-old girl with an invisible disability, attending a public school where she desperately wants to fit in. She's not interested in neurodiversity, because she's in a world where difference is problematic. That's not ideal, but it's her Now World. For Schuyler, the iPad provides a way to fit in a little better, and to participate in a world of technology and online social presence. And she does so using the same language system that she learned on her dedicated speech device.

Her situation mirrors a great many AAC users her age. And for Schuyler and her fellow invisibly disabled peers, the iPad has transformed weird looks into curious questions. She has gone from an effective medical prosthesis that almost miraculously gave her language she never had before but also sometimes stigmatized her to a new powerful tool that also functions as a part of a social narrative in which everyday tech is inclusive.

Inclusive. That's important.

No one is suggesting that this technology will work for everyone. But for speech professionals to suggest that consumer tablet technology like the iPad is somehow universally cheap and inferior isn't just incorrect, although let's be very clear on this point. It is WILDLY incorrect. For many users like Schuyler, systems like the iPad have presented a far superior solution. So no, belittling that technology isn't just untrue. It's demeaning. It often represents an attitude that looks backwards, like a turn-of-the-century ice merchant haughtily dismissing newfangled electric ice makers. It attempts to shame users and parents into abandoning their hard-earned new autonomy. "You'll never be capable of supporting and advocating for yourself," the argument suggests. "You need to step back and let the grownups make those choices."

End users and parents and therapists and teachers, they are becoming experts, out of necessity and because they represent the ground troops. They're making their own ice, not just more cheaply but with greater flexibility and efficiency. Professional support entities now need to make some difficult choices about what the future of their industry looks like, and how to create the business models that keep them employed and relevant, and that keep their clients taken care of. These speech professionals are the natural leaders we look to.

But if there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's how to take the reins in hand when necessary. We're mostly okay with that outcome, too.


August 4, 2014

The High School Chapter, Page One

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler started her summer band camp this morning, so I guess this is sort of the unofficial beginning of her high school years. Two weeks of 7am-to-noon rehearsals, a week of evening practices, and then ninth grade classes begin for real. I remember my own high school days, of marching band practice beginning in August, under a hot West Texas sun. It sounds miserable, and it was. It was also kind of glorious. In a weird way, I envy her, although it must be said, I also predict I'll be back in bed by 7:30.

June 30, 2014

"Thanks, but..."

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Special education is a funny thing. (Not so much “ha ha” funny, more like “Huh, that doesn’t make a lick of sense” funny. Not actually all that funny at all, sorry.) We believe deeply in early intervention and a robust special education system in place from the very beginning, but there’s little agreement on what success actually looks like. And to those of us who live in the world of special education, there are few things that make us at best roll our eyes and at worst lay awake at night than hearing even the most well-intentioned policy-makers and elected officials talk about how they’re going to fix special education.

June 23, 2014

The Gatekeepers of Entitlement

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
We are so convinced that we have a right to know and understand every single scenario that we see. We are offended by nuance, and confused by invisible impairment. We are the gatekeepers of entitlement (a word that is itself loaded with judgment), and if there's one thing we cannot stand, it's the idea that someone with a disadvantage somewhere is getting something that we don't think they deserve.

June 14, 2014

Unseen Giants

I wrote a Father's Day piece for my friends over at BridgingApps. They're great people and I'm honored that they're featuring my words.

Happy Father's Day to all my fellow dads of the world. I hope you get a nice tie.
Excerpt: 
If you asked me that oft-repeated but generally useless question, whether or not I'd take my daughter's disability away from her if i could, I won't lie to you. My answer now, as always, would be yes, without hesitation.

Should we want to take away our child's disabling condition? It's a hotly contested question, but it misses the point. The thing we come to learn as special needs fathers is that it doesn't actually matter how we answer. No one is ever going to ask that question as the prelude to a miracle.

We can't fix, but we can see. We can look and really see our kids, and come to understand that their disabilities are a part of their construction, threads that run deep and true in their tapestry. We become caregivers, and we become champions. We learn to fight and we learn to nurture, in ways that the fathers of typical kids might never have to do. We don't allow ourselves to become Homer Simpson because our worlds won't work with that character.

May 25, 2014

American Poison

You're probably reading this on Sunday or Monday ("Happy" Memorial Day seems like a weird thing to say), but I'm writing this on Saturday night, in the middle of the media coverage of another horrific mass killing in America. It's at that stage where we're just now getting enough information to begin to understand what happened, and the justified outrage is building up steam, but there's still a lot we don't know. Worse revelations are no doubt still to come. Even at this early stage, though, it feels like a quintessentially American story.

I'm not going to get into the specifics of what happened. I'm not going to name the killer because, well, fuck that guy. He doesn't deserve his new-found, posthumous fame. I'm not going to name the town where it happened, either, because that community doesn't deserve the notoriety that will no doubt follow the event for years to come. If you're reading this the day or the week it was posted, you know it all anyway. If you're reading it months or years from now, I suspect some other terrible but interchangeable thing will have replaced it in the news. If you miss one mass murder in this country, you'll never have to wait long for another. My own feelings about the event are pretty straightforward. As a pacifist, I'm horrified. As a man, I'm ashamed. But as a father, and the father of a daughter, I'm particularly moved, and troubled.

Once again, the media is reporting that the accused shooter is mentally ill, a "madman", according to the first reports from local law enforcement. He's also been identified by the family attorney as having been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, specifically Aspergers syndrome.

For some, it's easy, even comforting, to blame something like this on mental illness or a neurological disability. "That's awful," one might think. "It's a good thing my own kids aren't mentally ill or intellectually disabled."

Separation gives us a sense of safety. "Terrible acts are committed by monsters," we tell ourselves, "and I don't know any monsters." We've been taught our whole lives on some level, perhaps not always directly but with the subtle stain of common vocabulary and social narrative, to fear the mentally ill or neurologically disabled.

Those of us who live in a world of mental illnesses or neurological imperfections understand a deeper truth. People with mental illnesses aren't prone to kill, and persons with disabilities are far more likely to be victims of violence and sexual assault than they are to be perpetrators. And as we're not defined by our afflictions, neither are those who share them but who commit atrocious acts. Mental illness, emotional difficulties, neurological differences, these are part of the tapestry of who we are. Sometimes they are woven in the tapestry of very bad people, too.

"That guy was fucking crazy" feels comfortable, but in this case, as in so many cases, there's a deep and disturbing well of misogyny from which the shooter drew his anger. And like it or not, we need to face the fact that his philosophy, while twisted, did not appear in a void. Even tonight, just a day after the shooting, there's an ugly subculture out there expressing understanding for his rage. This feels significant to me; I don't remember the Newtown massacre bringing out messages of support from people who just don't like kids. But then, hating children isn't acceptable in this country. Hating women is.

The shooter blamed women for the tragedy that he unleashed, and of course this is entirely false. The knee-jerk response of so many is to blame mental illness or a neurological disability for his horrific actions, and this is also wrong, simply a grotesque oversimplification. The responsibility for the murderer's actions fall squarely on him, but with an asterisk. We live in a culture where poison flows in rivers just under the surface. "Fear the fool and the madman. And she was asking for it."

As the father of a teenaged girl with an intellectual disability, my own fears are simple and clear. Schuyler is growing up in a society in which she is devalued twice over. And that fills me with a deep, enduring sadness.

Not just because I can't always be there to protect her. But also because I shouldn't have to be.

May 19, 2014

The Thin Line Between Wrong and Wrong

Today at Support for Special Needs:
But perhaps more importantly, for special needs parents, it's not always as simply the choice between right and wrong. Sometimes, you just have to shoot for the choices that will probably turn out to be wrong, but just perhaps a little less wrong than others. Less damage to undo, fewer apologies, maybe even marginally more restful nights.

April 28, 2014

This Is Only a Test

Today at Support for Special Needs:
In Texas, our kids take the STAAR test, which replaces the TAKS test, which was probably preceded by the CRAAPS test and the BUUG test. I have no idea what STAAR stands for, and I refuse to go look. It stands for "The Test That Will Take Hours and Days of Actual Instruction Away From Your Kid, Stress Them Out In Ways You'll Probably Not Grasp Until They Go Into Therapy or Rehab or End Up on the News With Helicopters Circling Your House, and Provide Politicians With a Way to Sound Like They Care About Education But Most Assuredly Do Not."

April 27, 2014

Stumbles

It was a rough week. I won't lie. It was rough for me, and it was even worse for Schuyler. One thing I can say for certain about this week, however, is that if bad days offer the chance for learning, I feel like we all had some graduate level education going on. I feel like we should be wearing those little flat hats and robes and jabbering in Latin.

Most of all, we learned that the structures we come to depend on can be unreliable at best. We were reminded that in the end, we can depend on each other, and sometimes that's all.

There are a lot of very individual stories I could tell about last week, but they wouldn't be of much help to anyone reading. Schuyler and I were both actually threatened, individually and in unrelated circumstances, in ways that left us both a little twitchy. That doesn't actually happen very often, to either of us, which is obviously a good thing, but I'm not sure either of us knew exactly how to respond. We didn't fight back, either of us. For that, I'm proud of her and ashamed of myself.

Without getting into details that are not entirely ours to share, I'll simply say that Schuyler learned how friends can be very unfriendly indeed, and perhaps that her own sense of what true friendship looks like needs some new layers of subtlety that don't come easy to her. I think Schuyler learned that school isn't always a place of fairness, and that sometimes she might find her sense of justice bruised by the "path of least resistance" decisions made by the adults around her. As far as important lessons for adult life go, I suspect that's an important one, but I hate watching her learn it.

I learned some of the same lessons, perhaps. As special needs parents, we become accustomed to the idea that the teachers and administrators and therapists who work with our kids stand on certain principles of behavior. We forget, until we're very dramatically reminded, that those professionals are also human beings. They have insecurities and they have tempers and they have blind spots where they cannot gaze for long with an objective eye. They can do solid work but still stumble.

That doesn't make them bad at what they do. If it did, I would be run out of proverbial town on a proverbial rail. Mine is a most personal kind of writing, and my reactions to the world around me are rarely divorced from my emotional responses. That can be hard for parent advocates, but I also believe it's what gives our work a unique kind of value. Professionals work hard for our kids, but they're also invested deeply in their reputations; parents are invested in not screwing up our kids. Unfortunately, that's probably sometimes at odds with our commitment to being correct in our approach. Our strengths can be our weaknesses; our love can make us stumble, too.

This week, I learned most of all how very human we all are, and how that humanity can be the root of so much failure when it comes to doing our work. Schuyler learned that lesson, too, although for her, I suspect it felt like a lesson in the smallness of those of us who profess to, and occasionally even manage to, work to make her life and the lives of her friends better, richer, more fair, more MORE.

Schuyler ended the week owed more apologies than she received, and as her father, that's hard to bear. I made choices for myself that were about peace rather than justice, but I at least fought similar decisions made in her life. I can at least say that. And thanks to a very dedicated teacher who listened to our concerns and went way beyond what she was required to do in order to address those concerns, and on a Saturday night, no less, we were reminded that there are a great many professionals out there who do this work for the best of reasons, and they do it better than I could ever hope to.

It was not a bad way to end a week that went on far, far too long.

April 14, 2014

The Things We Know

Today at Support for Special Needs:
The challenging aspects of being the parent of a special needs kid aren’t always the things you don’t know, although believe me when I say those are bad ones, like "stay up late and start drinking early" bad ones. Sometimes a greater source of parental frustration comes from truly knowing your child, in a way that is simply impossible for a doctor or a teacher or even a family member, and having to work tirelessly to be taken seriously.

February 17, 2014

Diversity in Language

Today at Support for Special Needs:
As parents of children with disabilities, we are constantly looking for the word choices that reflect not just our kids’ reality, but also the dignity and the hope and the possibilities that we hold as a kind of sacred trust.

February 10, 2014

Monsters Who Smile

I'm sorry if you're getting tired of this story. I actually wrote this last week. One of the pitfalls of a weekly column, I guess. Anyway, today at Support for Special Needs:
But being Schuyler’s father has also shown me, again and again with stark clarity, that there really are monsters in this world, and some of them smile pretty smiles and take your daughter by the hand if you let them, and God, do I hope I’m alert enough to know those monsters when I see them.

December 31, 2013

I will try.

At Support for Special Needs:
I’m not sure I’d call any of these "resolutions". But as we march off into 2014, I will try to be the father that Schuyler needs, more now than ever. I wasn’t ready to take on the life’s work of being a special needs father; I’m not sure anyone ever really is. But it is in the trying that I become a better father, and a more whole person.

December 18, 2013

My All, at Fourteen

This week always presents a natural time to stop and reflect on where Schuyler is in her life, with her birthday only a few days away. It's also the end of the year, so everyone's in this whole "looking back" mood anyway. It's a good time for marking transitions.

This year, it feels even more so. When I look back on Schuyler's first teenaged year, it feels like a great deal of significance took place, not all of it easily measured or commemorated. She doesn't come across as a different person than she was a year ago, but she just seems... more. More complete. More complicated. More damaged. Stronger. A little sadder. A lot smarter. And in some ways happier, too.

Thirteen was the year that Schuyler became serious about using her iPad to communicate. It was the year when the software and the hardware caught up with each other, and despite a few snags and professional lapses, it was the year when she began to assemble a team that is developing a real plan for how she moves forward. She still resists using AAC to communicate; once again, we recently had the semi-regular "But I want to talk like everyone else!" tantrum. I don't think she's demanding that the impossible change somehow. I think she just needs to howl at the sky every now and then, to protest the injustice and to fight the future a little. She's learning to put aside her protest when she needs to, and that might represent the best step forward that she's taken in a long time. This next year will tell.

Thirteen will almost certainly be remembered as her cheerleader year. She's still got some responsibilities for the spring semester, but not that much. This was the year that we crossed our fingers and stepped into uncertainty, handing our daughter over to a situation that could very much work, or very much not.

The verdict? I don't actually know. Schuyler loves cheerleading. She's incredibly proud of herself, and she participates with real joy and enthusiasm. When she's actually cheering, she's on top of the world.

But there are... complications. The inclusive environment that we'd hoped for feels more like the "you can stand here and be happy" school of inclusion. Schuyler hasn't received the extra help that we'd hoped she might get, and wasn't even allowed to move to the back row of girls so she'd have some visual cues to help her, despite both Schuyler and us making that request. The mix of girls broke into cliques almost immediately, and stayed that way. That's never good news for the kid who's different.

It's the little things that start to feel not so small. As we discovered last week, Schuyler's name wasn't even spelled correctly on her locker poster OR the official board at the school, and I guess it's been that way all semester. That might sound minor, but it sends a message.

I asked Schuyler if she'd pointed out the spelling error to her cheer coach, and she said no. She's being frustratingly oblique about the whole thing. She has a good time cheering, but she also says she doesn't want to do it again next year. Schuyler has taken the parts that she's enjoyed, and she's given up on the rest, and I'm saddened for her but also proud of her, for her pragmatism and her unflagging positivity.

A couple of months ago, after her request to move to the second row of girls was turned down, Schuyler and I walked to the car after the game. She down and sighed.

"I wish she would treat me like a real cheerleader," she said. And then she didn't want to talk about it any more.

So. That's cheerleading.

Most critically, thirteen was the year that Schuyler began taking seizure medications. Her neurologist had determined that she was likely having partial complex seizures for some time before, but it was only when the aftereffects of a recent seizure were bad enough to send her home from school that he decided it was time. Her MRI showed changes as well. We didn't disagree with his earlier determination that it wasn't time for meds, and we don't disagree with him now.

She's ramping up to her full dosage; she'll be there in a couple of weeks. So far, she's just beginning to show some side effects. None of them are unmanageable, and she's aware of the changes and tries to compensate for them. She understands that this is all in the service of helping her brain heal and manage itself, and she's game, to the point of clarifying how she feels so that I can get it right for this post. ("Now my brain feels weird and strong, like smart.")

I'm proud of her; she knows that the "brain pills" are fucking with her, but she grasps the big picture and never ever tries to beg off of taking them. We should have a better idea in the next few weeks if this is going to help and if she's going to be able to manage the effects.

So her birthday, and the holidays, arrives at a moment of transition, of a kind of change none of us have ever experienced together. Schuyler's having a bit of a rough time right now, but she's holding things together. She leaves thirteen behind at a crucial time, and she's going to need the love and support and, yes, the patience of every person in the world who loves her.

Fortunately for her, that's a lot of people.

What will fourteen bring? It'll bring high school, two words that encompass all the fear and all the potential and all the excitement in the whole world for her, and for us. Fourteen will include meeting new friends and even new family. It'll be about finding a balance that has eluded her. Balance in how her school implements an inclusive curriculum. Balance in her mysterious brain chemistry. Balance between her dependence on her parents and her desire to take flight on her own. Balance between her natural exuberance and the reality of her world. Schuyler's both younger than her chronological age, and wise beyond her years. That may be the trickiest balance of all for her.

Thirteen was big for Schuyler. Thirteen was unyielding and rough, but it was transfiguring and significant. Thirteen showed Schuyler, in ways it hadn't before, that the world might eat her up if she's not careful, but I think it also might have just introduced her to the empowered young woman she's going to be.

When asked if she had a message for the world, Schuyler said,
"Go see The Hobbit and have a happy New Year!"