Showing posts with label nowhere near holland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nowhere near holland. Show all posts

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.

April 8, 2014

The Exquisite Joy of Nothing

This week at Support for Special Needs:
This week, we didn’t struggle to understand her, we didn’t have to manage seizures, and there were no bullies to deal with. The Internet wasn’t buzzing with an unusual amount of outrage, and despair felt far away. It was a week where nothing of particular note occurred in relation to Schuyler’s disability. For families of kids with special needs, this can be a rare treat. A week without an easy blog topic is itself worthy of note.

March 31, 2014

The Long-Abandoned Path

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Returning to New England has given me the opportunity to think back on the last 10 years, and to reconsider all the choices that we’ve made, and the paths that we have chosen. That is a foolish endeavor, I know. But just lately, as we prepare for Schuyler to enter high school next year, we are more aware now than ever that the paths we walked down with her did not necessarily lead to unqualified success. It’s hard not to wonder if we could’ve done better for her, which is of course the question that occupies far too much of my mind as it is.

March 25, 2014

Archipelago

Today at Support for Special Needs:
We're already on islands, many of us, but not in a vacation wonderland kind of a way. Our islands aren't floating in a remote blue tropical sea. They exist in plain sight, in the middle of your towns and workplaces and schools. Most of our territories are invisible; you can barely see the fences unless you look closely. And most people don't look that closely.

March 17, 2014

A Genuine Advocate and a Frank Conversation at SXSW

Today at Support for Special Needs:
I’d never heard anyone come out and admit that their company had been spooked by the internal divisions of the disability community and the enthusiasm with which we seem to embrace the concept of the circular firing squad. But it was also deeply depressing to be reminded that the world is watching.


March 10, 2014

Great Expectations

Today at Support for Special Needs:
I’m writing about what I’m feeling here because I think it might be almost as common among special needs parents as that early grieving process. When we buy into a Way That Things Shall Be, it can be hard to let that Way go. Harder than even we realize, because there are so few narratives on which we may depend, and when they disappear, blown away like morning fog, there’s not much in our reserves to take their place. The Way was important, and the Way didn’t work out.

March 3, 2014

Hunting Monsters at SXSW

Today at Support for Special Needs, for those attending SXSW this week and next:
If you were paying close attention back at the top, you saw that I mentioned Schuyler's presence. Yes, Schuyler will be attending both panels, and both conferences. (Only one of them will involve missing any school, in case you were getting ready to deliver a good scolding. A half-scolding will suffice.) Now that she's getting older, when I speak about Schuyler and larger disability issues as well, it feels strange now when she's not there, and not part of that conversation.


February 24, 2014

Help Wanted

Today at Support for Special Needs:
She sees her future work life as an abstraction, probably because at her age, the future seems limitless. She believes that whatever she's going to do with her life is a choice that is firmly in her hands. But for Schuyler, and for kids like her, that future may not actually have that many options.

February 19, 2014

Schuyler's Brain

After Schuyler's most recent visit to her neurologist back in December, we were given a cd with images from her MRI. In what felt like a flashback to 1995, the cd wouldn't open on our Mac, much less the app that displays the images. We picked it up during the holiday break, so I couldn't take it to work and try it there. We'd already received the pertinent information from Schuyler's neurologist anyway, so there wasn't really anything to be learned from seeing the images. By the time the holidays were over, the cd sat on my desk, patiently waiting for me to remember to bring it in to the office with me.

It ended up waiting until this week.

It brought the cd to work with me, along with Schuyler, who had the day off from school. It was President's Day, an important national holiday which she celebrated like a serious citizen by bingeing on unwatchable Disney Channel programs on her iPad and eating all the snacks in the building. As she sat in my office with her iPad, I stepped down the hall and had a friend open the MRI viewing app on her PC.

And there it was, again. Schuyler's brain, ten years older but still looking, you know, brainy. There were two different versions of the scan side by side, one presenting as bright features and high-contrast regions, and the other more subtle, showing the details of her brain, the folds and the blood vessels.

Even at a glance, as I watched the layers go by, I could see the thing that has bedeviled my daughter and shaped her world and her perception of that world since before she was born. Slightly behind her temples, on both sides. It was faintly visible on the more subtle image, but stood out as a white featureless area on the other, in contrast with the rest of her brain.

I texted Schuyler and told her to come to my friend's office. When she walked in and saw what was on the screen, her eyes widened. She knew what it was immediately.

"Do you know what that is?" I asked.

"My brain?" she answered.

"Yep, that's your brain. And what's that?" I asked, pointing to the two bright regions on the sides.

She hesitated, and then said "My little monster?"

Her little monster.

She was both fascinated and a little grossed out by the images, especially as we moved through the scans. ("Look at your eyeballs, Schuyler! Look at your teeth!") She watched for a little longer and then went back to her crappy tv shows, her curiosity satisfied.

I have to be honest. I could look at those images all day. Not for the information they contain; we'd already gotten a rundown of all the news, which wasn't all that much anyway. But exploring the physical reality of Schuyler's brain is to tangibly experience a place that has been the center of our family's universe for the past decade, but in a largely metaphoric way. It's not just Schuyler who sees her brain as a mysterious but cool place where a tiny monster lives and throws chaos into her path now and then. To actually see that place is a little like getting satellite photos of weather patterns in Middle Earth.

It's easy to forget that all the challenge and all the wonder of Schuyler, the parts that are broken and the parts that are inexplicably working anyway and the things that are the perfect center of my life, it's all there, in that little ball of meat and electricity. Just a simple thing, and yet the most complex organic structure in the world. For Schuyler, more complicated even than most.

Schuyler's brain is malformed, and significantly so. It has changed a little, but not in a way that concerns her neurologist. The regions affected by her polymicrogyria remain essentially unchanged since 2003, as they will remain unchanged for the rest of her life. Those parts aren't doing nothing, and much of their impairment seems to have been taken up by other parts of her brain. But how that rewiring happens is a mystery. Schuyler's original doctor admitted that where the brain is concerned, even the most advanced medical giants in his field were not much more knowledgable than ancient village shamans. We know what Schuyler's brain is doing, but we have no idea how.

Schuyler's brain is where her monster lives. That's what she says. She embraced the metaphor from the title of my book, and she took it to heart. She imagines her monster, tiny and bug-eyed and fierce, sitting in its little comfy, overstuffed monster chair, and it watches her. It pushes buttons on its big monster console and creates the fog that impairs her thinking. It presses another button and disengages clarity in her speech. It pulls a lever and conjures earthquakes now and then. She doesn't like her little monster, and on the hard days she comments that it doesn't like her, either. She never says she wants the monster gone, however. She accepted long ago that she and her little monster are going to be engaged in this uneasy, awkward dance for the rest of her life.

Schuyler's brain is where her world is constructed, like a template that sits atop the boring one the rest of us occupy. Her world contains big monsters, too. Some of them consist entirely of shadows that only she can see, with the aid of her special goggles (left over from her Amelia Earhart costume from a few Halloweens back). Her world is one in which lights passing overhead in the night sky might belong to airplanes, but are just as likely to be part of a spacecraft bringing aliens to our midst. It's a world where her father might just be a werewolf, which suggests that as my daughter, she might just have some howling and adventure ahead for her as well. Schuyler isn't delusional; she understands that these are constructs. But even now, she brings her world of play wherever she goes, and the invitation to visit her there always stands, for anyone willing to put on a pair of monster hunting goggles and join her.

Schuyler's brain is a place full of contradictions. In that brain, the people she meets are potential friends, and she constructs those friendships mentally long before she makes them. But that brain has a difficult time building those friendships, and so she stumbles, is socially awkward, because she doesn't quite know how to bridge that gap, the one that her monster excavated and the one that she probably just comes by naturally, too. Schuyler is both boisterous and shy. One day she'll make some forever friends. One day she'll find that forever boy, or forever girl, and when it happens, it'll be because that person will see Schuyler's worth, and so he or she will do the work that comes with communicating and negotiating and working out the mysteries of Schuyler's brain.

When I look at the pictures of Schuyler's brain, I see a universe contained inside a perfect little girl's head. And I see the very center of my own world. It's a puzzle and a perfect vacation spot and a remarkable learning lab and a battleground. When I think about that brain, in all its corporeal mass and its indescribable spiritual vastness, I can only say that I love it, with its imperfections and all its beauty and its immeasurable possibilities. It is in fact my very favorite place in all the world.

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.

February 3, 2014

You're worth what you're worth.

Today at Support for Special Needs:
My fears for that future, and they are legion, have little to do with what Schuyler will be able to do, or what her worth to the world might be in measurable values. My fear is rooted squarely in those who hold her future success and those of her friends in their hands, and whether or not they truly understand the value of what that means.

January 27, 2014

Transitions

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Special needs parents and their support professionals frequently talk about transitions. They are wildly important. It’s maybe the hardest part for a lot of our kids, and it’s the one that we know they can’t escape. The thing is, it’s the thing we can’t escape, either. Change is coming, as it always is. Sometimes stealthily as if on cat’s paws, but lately, more like a howling wind that drives everything before it.

January 20, 2014

Here Be Dragons

Today at Support for Special Needs:
For the parents of special needs kids who have developmental and communication impediments to independently moving through the world or reporting the troubling things that happen to them, the map of our world is crowded with monsters and terrors and fears. We’d gladly take on all the dragons and the krakens of the ancient world instead.

January 13, 2014

The Simple Story

Today, at Support for Special Needs:
The thing I find sometimes is how much there is to learn in the simplified version she gives back. She doesn't take something complicated and dumb it down. Often, she distills it, tries to break it down to its most elemental parts. When she gets those parts right, it feels like a tiny triumph, not just for her but also for me. Schuyler teaches me to communicate, even as she works hard to learn those skills for herself.

January 8, 2014

On Competency and Agency

One of the concepts you see referenced frequently in disability writing these days is to always presume competence. It's a straightforward enough principle, and in the world of disability, it goes back farther than you might think, back before most of us even think of disability advocacy being A Thing.

Think of the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Sullivan's success in helping Keller develop the means to communicate with the world hinged on one simple thing: the presumption that Helen Keller's problem came from not having a practical and efficient way to communicate. Introducing her to the construction of language was the key. Given those tools, Helen Keller demonstrated that she had competence, the presumption of which hadn't occurred to many of her earlier teachers.

Presuming competence is the beginning, particularly where education is concerned. For teachers, the presumption of competence should be the Golden Rule, or the Prime Directive, or Square One. When we presume competence, we start off by assuming that a student has the intellectual capacity to participate in the world around them, and to be educated in a meaningful way. We assume that even the most physically and/or intellectually impaired student has needs and thoughts and experiences to communicate, and that even the most inscrutable actions and utterances represent forms of communication.

It can be difficult for teachers to embrace presumed competence because doing so places the responsibility for finding ways to reach those students squarely on those charged with educating them. Faced with large class loads and challenging students, it can be tempting for teachers to declare that some individuals simply cannot learn, and whose limited participation in the world is self-imposed. I've heard some very good teachers make those statements before. I've watched otherwise professional people decide that they've found that ceiling, and who are confident enough in their own teaching abilities that they believe further development can't happen.

The issue of presumed competence is something that every special needs parent runs into, and not rarely. It's tough, but it's important, maybe the most crucial piece of the very complicated equation. And it informs everything we do in our quest to correctly implement inclusive education. We don't set out to discover who is capable of learning or participating. We instead search for how that can be done, for every student. For every human. It all starts with the presumption of competence.

The tricky reality of presumed competence has come up over the last year in regards to Schuyler's school environment, but lately I've been thinking about this because of something that happened outside of the sphere of her education, actually.

The short version involves someone who was, I don't know if "offended" was the right word, exactly, but certainly troubled because when discussing Schuyler's possible future relationships, I referred to "that boy or that girl". (All hypothetical; as far as we can tell, Schuyler currently seems to be fixated on boys, albeit some punky ones.) The commenter asked, wouldn't supporting Schuyler if she did ultimately decide she wanted to date girls be another way of making her life more difficult? And in the subsequent discussion, the same commenter mentioned her concern that Schuyler's religious beliefs "mirror" those of her parents.

Leaving aside the twin bugbears of homophobia and religious intolerance that the discussion summons (being the Internet, it feels almost inevitable that they should make their appearance), the thing that bothered me the most was this idea of presumed competence, and of Schuyler's ability to take agency over things like her spirituality or who she wants to date. (As if her sexual orientation is something that she'll "choose" one day, but OH MY GOD, DON'T TOUCH THAT DOOR, WE'RE NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT THAT HERE, EITHER!)

Schuyler is developmentally disabled. You can word that however you like, but it's her reality. It makes some things hard for her. It necessitates her taking more time in school, and it also requires her to take some complex concepts, and I think dating and religion qualify, and simplify them to some extent.

That doesn't change much, though. It is very clear that Schuyler knows what she believes. If her beliefs mirror ours (and that presumes that my wife and I believe the exact same things, which we do not), I'm not sure what that says. It certainly isn't because we tell her what to believe. We've had long discussions about what other members of our families believe, too, so she knows that her parents' beliefs are exceptions among both the Rummels and the Hudsons.

Furthermore, she attends school in one of the most conservative and bechurched cities in the country. I'm proud of Schuyler for declaring she doesn't believe in God, not because that's what we want to hear from her, but because she has the confidence to say so in defiance of what so many around her believe. If her parents influenced her, I suspect we did so chiefly in demonstrating to her that it's okay for her NOT to believe. That can be hard for a kid, particularly in such a predominately Christian society.

And if she changes her mind, which as a fourteen year-old she is almost certain to do at some point, I will be equally proud of her.

We will always try to guide Schuyler towards making good choices, but there are things we won't decide for her. We won't be the ones to tell her whether she's straight or not. She'll tell us. We won't be the ones to tell her what to wear or what movies and tv to watch or what music to listen to. She makes odd but great choices in that regard already. And we won't be the ones to lead her to her own great spiritual epiphanies, either. Those belong to her as well, along with all the other pieces of who she is that she's only just now beginning to discover.

Because Schuyler is competent. And every day, in ways both large and small, we watch her take more agency over her life.

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 23, 2013

Christmas Eve Eve


Today at Support for Special Needs:
I mentioned this last year, but one of the things I value the most about a site like this one is how we can come here and be weird. We can find others whose holidays are as atypical as our own, and other families whose traditions are as driven by circumstance as ours. We know the obstacles, and we know how much work has gone in and how much is still waiting in the future. And we understand, in ways we can't describe to typical families but don't need to describe to each other, how deeply satisfying the love we work for and nurture really can be. It's a hard love, and it's the very best love.

Best wishes for the very happiest of holidays
to you and to those you care about!

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!"

December 16, 2013

The Buccaneer Life

Today at Support for Special Needs:
The thought of striking out against that, of hoisting a flag of defiance and breaking down some of that restricting world’s walls? That’s some powerful fantasy material for those of us trying to navigate the sweet spot between this rock and that hard place. You don’t have to ask us twice if we would like a turn at the cannonade. Our flintlocks are already loaded.