Monday, May 12, 2008

Lesson Learned

Some comments about having a disabled child really, really make me crazy. Particularly those that indicate that God knew that we could handle it so he sent us a special child. Believe me, most of the time I don't feel like I am the kind of parent that any wise God might send any kids at all to. In spite of the fact that all I ever wanted to be in life was a mother, I didn't have a clue. Fortunately I learned how to put good resources in place.

I think that one of the earliest coping skills I learned, was how to get Walker into the best programs available. This was no less than I did for my other children, I just didn't really have friends to provide resources or recommendations for Walker. I was a new member of a club no one wants to be invited to join.

The first few years, we kind of muddled through. We were on the cusp of Early Intervention and were visited by a Physical Therapist and a Nurse Practitioner who were working on their doctorates at the time when Walker was about a month old. Dr. Barbara Connelly and Dr. Faye Russell eventually became lifetime friends. Their words of wisdom guided us through the first months. Even the parent groups, which I had a healthy skepticism about, were helpful.

I never did do some of the more bizarre therapies at home, such as fingerpainting with chocolate pudding or tickling with feathers, but I did learn to expect Walker to grow and develop in a predictable, if slow moving, order. I had more faith in the Physical Therapy exercises because I could see more documentable progress. At one point, I bluntly asked Faye for some indication that all this stimulation would pay off in the long run in a smarter child. She answered me just as bluntly in her Arkansas drawl, that she'd never seen a really smart child emerge from neglect, and that her years of experience supported her theory that we could make a difference.

Choosing a pre-school and elementary school were more difficult. We were fortunate to have Walker placed in The Harwood Center, coincidentally named for a cousin of my future son-in-law, and an excellent program. They had these great two-way windows and pretty much an open door policy so I watched Walker with rapt interest frequently. When it was time for potty training, they sent me instructions, and Miss Jenny Gates spent several days in the restroom with Walker and one or two others. Then they were trained, more or less. I've often thought that there should be a similar program for typical children. Maybe there is now.

Then came the day I had been waiting for since soon after Walker was born. He had an interview with Sister Mary Mark at Madonna Day school one beautiful Spring day. This was an important interview, and I dressed him in his Sunday best. Since he was the size of a typical two year old, although he was almost five, he really looked like an old fashioned doll in his little button on shorts and lace shirt.

The admissions process did not go well. I knew from observing Walker that he knew his colors and shapes and could count to ten. He knew his address and phone number. But Sister didn't use the usual developmental tests. Instead, she sat him on her desk, which was cluttered with lots of enticing office necessities. Walker was so distracted by his access to these goodies that he paid almost no attention to the questions Sister asked. He could have redeemed himself simply by counting to ten, but he absolutely refused. After about fifteen minutes, Sister told me he was just too young. I went home heartbroken, and really annoyed that I would have the hassle of driving him almost an hour each way to Harwood for another year.

By June, I was even more frustrated. Walker had accomplished all the usual things taught at Harwood, and I really didn't want to do the drive anymore. By then Sarah was a toddler, and she invariably got carsick about halfway to Harwood. Life was difficult. So...I called Sister again and this time I begged her to see him again.

Our second visit was a little different. I had prompted Walker to be on his best behavior with the promise of ice cream after the interview. Sister Mary Mark asked me to leave him with Sister Judy for about an hour. Sister Judy got on the floor with him, and put him through his paces. When I returned, she told me that he had done beautifully and would be accepted for Summer school on a trial basis. He immediately piped up to inform me that he did NOT count. Sister Judy passed him anyway, because he had done the much more complicated task of handing him a certain number of blocks repeatedly.

And so our days at Madonna began. It was a school that made serious demands of both students and parents, and I knew that they would push Walker to his full potential, whatever that might be.

One afternoon as the summer session was about to end, Sister Judy came out to my car with Walker in tow. She informed me that Walker had been naughty. He had called her a pig. It was all I could do to stifle a laugh, but this was no laughing matter to Sister Judy it was serious. For the rest of the session, my husband and I coached Walker to mind his manners, and he was admitted.

The next few years flew by. Walker progressed, moving up a "group" every year. Finally when he was about ten, he was promoted to the Junior High, and Sister Judy was to be his teacher again. Once again I began prompting him to be respectful to Sister. He finally assured me that he wouldn't call her ANY animals.

I have trouble controlling my tongue and expressions too. I like to remember that if Walker can do it, I can too.

I hope I will show love and respect to all just as he does.

Blessings, Janie

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