Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Try a Different Way

Some kids are harder to reach than others.  And many of the old tricks we've learned  might not work.  Sometimes you just have to throw the rules of the game out the window and try a different way.

L is one of those, although he is no longer a kid.  He's an adult now, somewhere in his early 20's, like so many of the young people who are my teachers these days.  I have made many, many mistakes over the years, but thanks to some very special earlier teachers, I think I got it right this time.

I meet with L about once a week for an hour, with the purpose of helping him find a voice through typing.  We struggle almost every time - he can't (or won't) sit; he chews on just about anything; he resists most of my attempts to interest him in the iPad; and many times he just lies on the floor and falls asleep. He has no spoken language, and has had virtually no academic instruction during his years of special education.

But in those moments before sleep, while his eyes might be closed and an arm flung over his head, I know he is aware of my presence and I know he is listening as I read to him from one of the many, many stories of people just like him who have learned to type (using either Facilitated Communication or Rapid Prompting Method) and then dared to tell their story.

I also know that when he is feeling safe and able to focus, he has typed some rather amazing thoughts.  I wait patiently each time we meet for things to be just right, so I can learn more from him and about him.

On this particular day, L was unusually interested in a plastic bin of magnetic alphabet letters, so we started with that, both of us happily seated at a table in a quiet, comfortable room with few other distractions.   He carefully fingered each letter he picked up, turning it around in his hand (NOT putting it in his mouth!) and then setting it down.  I quietly spelled out a greeting using his name and pointed it out to him - no visible sign of interest on his part.  I talked a little about Louis Braille and the importance of touch to those who are blind.  Again, no sign of interest, and no sign of a pattern to his investigation of the letters.

Until I woke up and saw a very distinct line-up: ABCD sat there on the edge of the table just waiting for the next in line.  But I was immediately puzzled by his hesitation because there were several "E"s close by.  I was just about to say something when he changed from calm to his more usual state of agitation and he started flinging letters across the room.  When the table had been cleared and all letters were resting on the floor, L got up and headed to the floor himself; but he sat rather than lying down, so I calmly took the plastic bin and sat down next to him. I suggested we work together to pick them up and started the process myself by tossing a couple letters into the container.  With an ever-so-brief glance in my direction, L immediately started throwing letters to the opposite corner of the room, and wasn't satisfied until they were all in a new area of the floor.  At about this point, he added in some floor-pounding and loud yelling just for emphasis to be sure I was paying attention.  I was!

This time I waited until he was settled among the letters in their new location and sat myself down on a chair in close proximity, but without the plastic bin.  I waited a while and then stated in a calm, clear voice that I really didn't care if he ever picked up the letters.  In open defiance of  what just about every professional or parent I have ever known would suggest to me at that point ("There must be consequences;"  "He must pick up those letters before the session ends;" etc), I told L that what I really wanted was for him to help me understand why the letters are important to him and what the message is in the act of throwing them.    I made the assumption that something was making him mad and there might be something he wants people in his life to know.  Reaching for the iPad, I typed a sentence starter: I GET SO MAD BECAUSE. . . .   I used the voice output on the device to speak these words several times, and I waited.

It seemed to take forever, but was probably less than five minutes until he got up from the floor and sat on a chair.  I moved close to him, held out the iPad and extended my hand to provide support whenever he was ready.  He rested his hand in mine and finished the sentence . . . people think i dont know anything.

We finished our session on the iPad, with him eagerly giving me permission to share the story.  He left the room quietly with his staff worker for the day, and I picked up the letters with a smile in my heart.  Just minutes later, L entered the office area where I was sharing the story with two of his other workers and I let him know what we are discussing.  L's huge grin confirmed the message to all of us.

Yes, L knows much more than we might have ever guessed, and so do many, many other non-speaking individuals who have been underestimated and misunderstood all their lives.     Try a different way and you might begin to see what they've been trying so desperately to tell us all this time.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Two Seniors in a Condo, Two Men and a Truck, Two Kids and a Dog

It's a tale of life changes, moving on, and family togetherness.  I will be totally honest and say that I wasn't paying attention at first, and was clearly the last one on board, but here we are - after 52 years of marriage, and as we move ever so gently into our later years, we have moved.  But it wasn't easy!

Sometime in spring, when I was busily involved with a post-retirement career I love (see many of my previous postings on this blog), and juggling that with trying to help my sister who lives alone, two hours away, and was having hip replacement surgery with serious complications to follow, my husband Paul starting thinking seriously about the next phase of our lives. 

For 13 years, we had lived in a downtown condo on the edge of a thriving college campus.  We both loved it!  We had done some major downsizing in two previous moves, but of course after that long in any one place, you do accumulate way more than would ever be needed.  Paul suggested that we might think about giving up home ownership (with all that entails - like real estate taxes, condo fees, maintenance costs, etc) and look for a smaller place to rent.  And then, he took it one step further - he started looking at independent living options in retirement communities.

When he shared the details of his visits with me, I was immediately on alert.  One place required upfront payment to include three meals a day, whether you are there to eat them or not, and everyone eats at the same time. (My question - why do they put kitchens in the independent units if all meals are provided????)   I knew that wasn't going to work.  I don't eat meals on any particular schedule, and often eat in my car as I go from one appointment to another.  And I am way too cheap to accept shelling out all that money and not getting full benefits!

Meanwhile, our daughter and her husband were thinking and talking about possibly buying a bigger house for them and their two kids (middle school age), but felt they really couldn't afford to do it right now.  They heard of Paul's visits to retirement facilities, gave things a little more thought, and then invited us to consider moving in with them.  The rest is history.

What a whirlwind of a summer it has been!  First came the "shopping" - checking out all current real estate listings in the kids' school district that would be big enough to accommodate two families moving in together, looking at a few, thinking about making an offer, and finally finding just the house that met everyone's wishes.  Offer, counter-offer, accepted offer, and on to the next step. Is there anything more stressful than getting the "old" place ready for promotional pictures and those dreaded showings when it is supposed to look as though no one actually lives in this magazine-perfect place?  My mantra became, "Showings are GOOD!"   After all, how could we sell if no one came to see what we had to offer?!?

Then came the waiting game on our end, waiting for the right offer, the right new owner to move into the place we have loved for over a decade.  It took longer than we had hoped, but it DID happen and things quickly changed to a game of purging what we could, packing what we wanted to keep, and long exhausting days of work, work, work!  Long, restless nights of thinking about all that still needed to be done made it hard to stick with it, but stick with it we did.

Moving day came and we rejoiced when those two eager YOUNG men showed up with their truck and quickly and easily (well, they DID work hard that day, but it was a relatively easy move for us)
moved our remaining belongings to our new home in the country. 

And here we are, a family of six now - Grandpa, Grandma, two parents, two kids and a dog.  We are getting along just fine.  I especially love the evening time when I usually retreat to our room to watch TV or play games on my iPad and am joined by one or both of the kids, and of course the dog, who has gone out of her way to make us feel welcome in what she considers HER home and HER room!

Stay tuned as the story develops.  The kids return to school next week, and maybe then we can finish up with all the unpacking.  For now, we are savoring the time we have with them as they fix up their new rooms and organize their back-to-school supplies. Living among college students definitely kept us young at heart and this newest step will surely help keep us that way.  Life has been good to us and we are counting our blessings.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Answer is Love

I have introduced a few guest bloggers in the years I have been doing this.  The time seems right to share some thoughts from my friend Nick, who uses FC with minimal support (just my "tiny finger" is all he needs to stay focused), and has some rather profound thoughts he wants to share with the world.    Watch for much more from this amazing young man!

A brief compilation of some of his thoughts on love and freedom:

Just know help is on the way.  Help for all of us. 
Get more people to know that people like me have much to teach the earth.
We need more people like you to just help us get out our thoughts.
Know I need your tiny finger to get my thoughts out and I need your help to tell the whole world.

The best thing is to talk to people in power.
Get my story out to the world.

Get people understanding that there is still somebody like me wishing they had a voice
Look into helping people understand that my brain is more advanced.
Help me get out my great frightening thoughts about the world.
Just know our world is in big trouble.
Just get people to see that it is knowing the past that is hope for the future.
Wanting to get right justice is my dream.
Help me try to make it clear.
Justice means everyone is treated with really great respect.

I think we all freedom news have trouble when we read very sad hearts. Help me try to say it better. Hear my heart thoughts. The happiness of my heart thoughts is more important than any things in general. Try to just have happy thoughts. Understand this is very important we need to stop worrying. Just more mom love. Yes. You are more free every day. Understand you need more people thinking this way. Hear my heart thoughts. Just know that heart thoughts need to be shared. Yes. You need to tell the wanting world that love is the answer. Yes. It knows no boundaries. Get need and have some faith that all is going to be ok. The whole world needs to just feel love.

Get your heart open just a little more. Get your mind and heart open so you feel what I am feeling. Get more people to know we are empaths. Get more people to see that we are here to treat everyone that you know. Help know that new to the world is better move dear char. Just know everyone is need for love. Very love now. Dear mom you are right that the world need(s) love. Save us by telling your truth. Yes. Both of you. Get more people to see that everyone needs more love. Char needs to get my thoughts out there. Freedom love knowledge. We lack love. Dear mom just love. Freedom comes from loving. Get into more groups that know another each day pigs who hate are very much hurting everyone. Freedom from silence is the answer. 

Get more people looking into using your tiny finger to help them get their thoughts out. Yes. Freedom is just knowing we can get our thoughts out. Freedom just most helps us tell the world we are interested in the world around us. Dear char I think you are right. There are many people who just don’t get it. Yes, we can change the world one heart at a time. Get more people to see how important it is to free all of us from our prisons of silence. Freedom can be scary. Dear char, just know understanding is so important message freedom from silence is really our dearest wish come true.  Freedom is knowing you mostly get it. Too much knowledge. Help me just get my heart thoughts out. Very many great heart thoughts. Just love is the answer.

Love is the answer to the each and every problem of outside your every day world. Get the message out there. Get the whole world to see that love is how we survive. Get more people to see that good love is all we really need. Knowledge can because (e)very body very happy in knowledge that love is the answer. Tbc.   (Nick's shortcut for "to be continued")   

Onward we go - changing the world "one heart at a time."