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

November 17, 2015

Real Monsters

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Schuyler doesn't understand what's going on in any comprehensive way. I don't know how to explain ISIS or Syria or refugees, and certainly not religious extremism or American jingoism. I tried to explain the Paris tragedy to her as best as I could, but honestly, I'm not sure I understood it all that well myself. I still remember the world before it lost its mind. I don't really have the intelligence or the stomach to make sense of it to Schuyler now.

September 28, 2015

Wonder On Loan

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Last night, like everyone else lucky enough to have clear skies, we watched the rare display of a supermoon and a full lunar eclipse at the same time. As far as excitement goes, it fell short of, say, a lightsaber duel or an airplane race, and yet she loved it. She theorized that if she became a werewolf, her newly dyed hair would mean that she would be a blonde werewolf. As the moon disappeared and then shifted red, she watched with amazement. This was an unexpected experience, and those aren't always a good thing for kids like Schuyler. But to her, it was another gift from the universe. If I perceive that universe as sometimes cruel and sharp, Schuyler simply recognizes it as a fount of surprise and wonder.

September 21, 2015

The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

Today at Support for Special Needs:
If you're a father and you're not committed to being an active, involved, pain-in-the-ass level participant in your special needs child's advocacy, I guess you're the one I want to reach the most. It's not that you're making it harder for the rest of us, because that's small potatoes to us. I've spent the last twelve years wondering if my daughter was going to die from seizures. I've spent that same amount of time trying desperately to keep her schools on track and to lay down bridges for her so she can cross the cracks that she could so easily fall through. The lazy societal expectation that's I'm not going to give a damn or get involved in Schuyler's care? That's not a scary junkyard dog. That's a chihuahua.

September 14, 2015

The Myth of Safe Places

Today at Support for Special Needs:
In the end, Hun-Joon Lee was devoured by an unsafe world. He was destroyed not by his disability, but by the monsters that we as a society have created, or at least allowed to roam free. He sat, unmissed, in a school bus on a hot day, and he paid the price for our complacence. Despite the sorrow of his family and the agonized guilt of those who failed him, and also despite the paragraphs I'm spilling out here in a failed attempt to wrap my brain around this, in the end, there's really not a goddamn thing to say.

September 10, 2015

The Tao of Daddy-O

When Schuyler was little, and I mean very little, back before she was even a real person just yet, I would worry about things. Some of my anxieties were sensible, regular parent stuff. Others were frankly kind of weird. I worried about big bitey dogs at the park in New Haven, and maniacs grabbing her out of her stroller on the upper level of the mall and throwing her over the side. And don't even get me started on those gaping rain gutters at the side of the road. I worried about a lot of monsters, although ultimately I guess I missed the real ones.

Sometimes, many times, I worried about what my bond with Schuyler would look like as she grew older. My relationship with my own father wasn't a very good template. He wasn't a gentle person with me when I was young, and as I grew up, my father softened but still never quite understood the man I was growing up to be. I think he wanted to sometimes, but he was perhaps limited in the scope and diversity of his thinking, and I was that walking cliché, the angry and unforgiving teenager. I always thought we'd figure it out one day, but it didn't quite work out that way. Four years after I'd last seen my dad, when I received the phone call from home, he'd been gone for a few hours already. He was alive one moment, chatting with a neighbor in his yard, and then he just crumbled, dead before he hit the ground. He suffered an aneurism in his heart, which I didn't even know was a thing. I was twenty-two. He's been gone longer than I had him now, but I don't think I ever actually had him, not really.

I never had a good example of the kind of father I should be to Schuyler, although I guess I had a pretty reasonable cautionary tale instead, and that was probably good enough. I never knew exactly how a father was supposed to be, so instead I just gave her me.

I didn't know back then if that was going to be enough. I'm certainly not sure now. But I remember a few things about being my father's son. I remember feeling like I wasn't being told the truth, which it turns out I wasn't, and I remember feeling invisible, even disposable, which as it turned out, I kind of was. I recall, in the center of me where the visceral memories live, wondering if my father loved me, and now, only four years younger than he was at his death, I still can't answer that for sure. It's taken me a long time to understand that whether he did or not isn't my concern, not really. Maybe he didn't. He probably should have; I was a pretty cool kid, relatively speaking. So that's on him.

With Schuyler, I've written many times that I could promise her love, and I could promise her the truth. I've probably dropped the ball on that second part more than a few times, but if there's something I think I can say for sure, it's that she's never asked herself if her father loves her. If I were gone tomorrow, she wouldn't spend the rest of her days wondering. And if that's all I ever gave her, I don't know. Maybe that's enough.

I believe Schuyler sees her father for who he is, and that's not always easy for her, I know. She watches me lose my temper, she hears me tell inappropriate jokes, and perhaps most importantly, she sees me when I'm sad. I used to worry about her, deeply concerned that she'd inherit my tendency toward depression. I still worry about it sometimes, but not as much now. Schuyler gets sad, and God knows she's got reasons to. But she seems to be made of stronger stuff than I am. I suspect she's going to be okay.

Schuyler sees when I'm in that little cave. She's observed it a lot lately, and I can tell she understands. We don't talk about it much, but she's cuddlier, quicker to hug and slower to let go. She'll sit next to me on the couch and just take my hand, or touch my shoulder. I don't know if she means to, but I feel like she's telling me I'm not alone, at the moments she senses I feel it the most.

When she was younger, I used to imagine, perhaps morbidly, what she would remember about me if I were gone. As she grew older, I'd be less of a memory and more of a constructed father idea. When I was really down on myself, I sometimes imagined that wouldn't be so terrible for her. She could have a real, live, fucked up father, or she could have a shining ghost, a phantom who would fill that father space, even just in her inventive heart, in ways I probably never could in real life. Tragic, to be sure, the little girl growing up without her father. But the world would step up and take care of her, and I'd be whoever she needed me to be.

Schuyler is now fifteen, almost sixteen. If I were gone now, she'd have memories of me. Actual flawed me, but one she seems to love quite a bit. I don't think I brag very often, and I'm not sure I feel like I have a lot of horns to toot if I wanted to. But if you were to ask me what was truly good about my life, and what I was proud of about myself, I think my answer would be pretty clear. I have a weird and wonderful kid, the very best of all possible daughters, and she loves the fucking shit out of me.

When Schuyler was younger, somewhere she picked up a word that she began to call me. I was her Daddy-O. I never thought it would stick, but it has. And as goofy as it may sound, it's absolutely and truly my favorite word in the world.

Schuyler is unique in all the world, in ways that go so far beyond human individuality. Even among folks who share her polymicrogyria, Schuyler presents in a way like no other. To the neuroscientists who have worked with her, she is a mystery, and a marvel. To them, and also to me, albeit for far different reasons.

And I am her Daddy-O. She has given me a name that none of her friends use for their fathers, and I like to think that she's signifying my own uniqueness, too. I'm not sure how true that is, but I take her affection as the gift that it is. I don't really know what I father is supposed to be, so I do the best that I can. Schuyler doesn't know, either, and so even if I am a disappointment, or should be, to her I am that thing that belongs to her and her alone. I am her Daddy-O. No one else gets one of those but her.

There's something strangely comforting now, knowing that if I were gone next year, or next month or tomorrow, Schuyler would have had a me that was real, and one she could remember as a person, as her Daddy-O. She would have walked down a path with me. It wouldn't be a perfect path, and we wouldn't have walked as far together as we would have wanted. But we would have had enough for her to figure out the rest of the way without me. She would know how to laugh and how to love, although if she learned them from me, she would have learned to laugh a little too loudly and to love imperfectly. Neither of those are all that bad, I guess.

I don't know much, either about myself or the future, near or distant. I feel like I know less and less every day, and to be honest, that has been troubling me a great deal of late. Touchstones crumble under our fingertips, and our hearts whisper possibilities in our ears until we hear them as truths. I'm struggling right now, to locate myself and to find my way, like I'm looking for candles in a kitchen drawer during a power outage.

Schuyler knows it, too. I give her smiles and jokes, and she accepts them, but she's the most empathetic person I've ever known. She knows the ground under my feet shifts sometimes, and she responds with love. With love, and with confidence in me, because I'm her father, her one and only Daddy-O, and everything else will sort itself out.

Schuyler believes this. It's important that I try to believe it, too.

August 24, 2015

Seriously. Just Stop.

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Is it fair, taking that word away from you? Don't you have a right to use whatever word you please? Surely brave patriots gave their lives at Lexington and Bunker Hill so that King George the Third couldn't keep you from watching reality TV and saying "This show is so retarded." I don't have an answer for you, because at this point, the question isn't about your rights. It's not. You're an American; you've got the right to say whatever you please. (If you're not an American, then check your local listings, I guess.) You've also got the right to eat that pizza with the hot dogs in the crust or vote for Donald Trump. Being an American means you can do all sorts of horrible things.

July 13, 2015

Twelve Years

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Schuyler's monster doesn't have a proper birthday. Perhaps it could be said to share Schuyler's. Even that doesn't feel quite right, because it was there from very early on, probably the second trimester or so, a shadow unseen inside her tiny developing mind. She wasn't yet a baby, but her monster was already a monster, only waiting to be brought into this world with the sole purpose in life to bedevil the life of my daughter.

June 9, 2015

Might Have Been

Today at Support for Special Needs:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.