Friday, November 30, 2007

Mall Strolling and Bowling

I’ve written once before about community-based instruction (CBI) trips that our children with significant disabilities have as part of their educational curriculum. As you can tell from my previous posting, I am not of fan of how the majority of the CBI trips are done.

Today Ashley is going to the Dollar Tree and to McDonalds for lunch. Trust me, Ashley already knows how to shop. She doesn’t need any further instruction in that skill! She also doesn’t eat anything McDonalds has to offer. We’re still working on her feeding program, and unfortunately, that program doesn’t include double cheeseburgers and fries. So what is Ashley going to get out of this particular CBI trip?

Yes, there will be opportunities for practicing language skills – and maybe even some orientation and mobility skills. There certainly won’t be many models for appropriate meal manners. Nothing against McDonalds, but it’s just not a place where most of us learn to use the correct utensil, where to put our napkin when the meal is finished, and how not to gulp our food. At Dollar Tree, she is not going to learn how to find ingredients for a meal she can prepare, nor will she be likely to find any necessary clothing items she may need. She and her classmates will be shopping for classroom decorations. I agree that might be a fun way to spend a couple of hours of her school day, but I believe every hour counts when it comes to actual academic skills for Ashley and her classmates.

One of the largest gaps between education of children with significant disabilities and their regular education peers centers around this issue of community-based instruction, in my opinion. Regular education students may take one field trip a year. Those regular education field trips strongly support the academic curriculum. The students prepare throughout the school year for the trip and normally have worksheets or testing which follow the field trip. Children in special education, particularly those with significant disabilities – those who need the most time on academic pursuits just by virtue of the fact that it usually takes them a little longer to absorb the material – spend hours outside the classroom every week or every other week on trips that do not support their curriculum (or supports it just incidentally).

I researched the Virginia Alternate Assessment Program, and explored the Aligned Standards of Learning, the items on which children with significant disabilities are assessed. I chose several of those ASOLs to see if a community trip could be used to support that curriculum, and of course, I discovered that it easily could. Following are some examples:

E-RW 12 The student will demonstrate comprehension of information in reference materials.
(SOL 2.9) a) Use a table of contents.
b) Use pictures and charts.
c) Use dictionaries and indices.

The library seems a perfect spot for a community trip to support this ASOL.

M-G7 The student will identify, describe, and sort three-dimensional (solid) concrete figures,
(SOL 2.20) including a cube, rectangular solid (prism), square pyramid, sphere, cylinder, and cone,
according to the number and shape of the solid’s faces, edges, and corners.

A museum, specifically a museum with an exhibit of modern art, seems tailor made to support this ASOL

S-R 1 The student will investigate and understand that materials can be reused, recycled, and
conserved. Key concepts include
(SOL K.1) a) materials and objects can be used over and over again;
b) everyday materials can be recycled;
c) water and energy conservation at home and in school helps preserve resources for
future use.

How about a trip to a recycling plant in support of this ASOL?

S-R 3 The student will investigate and understand that plants produce oxygen and food, are a
source of useful products, and provide benefits in nature. Key concepts include
(SOL 2.8) a) important plant products (fiber, cotton, oil, spices, lumber, rubber, medicines, and
b) the availability of plant products affects the development of a geographic area;
c) plants provide homes and food for many animals and prevent soil from washing

A trip to a nursery or farm could easily be arranged to support this ASOL.

S-IE 3 The student will investigate and understand basic types, changes, and patterns of weather.
Key concepts include
(SOL 2.6) a) temperature, wind, precipitation, drought, flood, and storms;
b) the uses and importance of measuring and recording weather data.

Most of the meteorological staff at local news stations welcome visits from school children.

HS-C9 The student will recognize why government is necessary in the classroom, school,
and community by
(SOL 3.10) a) explaining the purpose of rules and laws;
b) explaining that the basic purposes of government are to make laws, carry out
laws, and decide if laws have been broken;
c) explaining that government protects the rights and property of individuals.

Virginia has a beautifully redesigned state capitol and Governor’s mansion that are open for tours daily. In addition, the current Governor of Virginia is very welcoming of people with disabilities. Why not a visit while the General Assembly is in session next Spring?

I really think it is time for teachers to take a fresh look at how to support their students with significant disabilities, especially in the area of community-based instruction. At least in Virginia now, there is a curriculum for those students, and it is time, in my opinion, for that curriculum to move to the forefront of the educational day for students with significant disabilities.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thankful Thursday

Today, on this cold morning with a beautiful sunrise that turned the sky many shades of pink and blue, I am thankful...

  • For all the people who have taught me to be a good advocate for my children with disabilities. I’m winning more battles, and my children are benefiting greatly.

  • For my house with all its Christmas decorations. It’s beautiful, imho.

  • For soups in the wintertime – thick, creamy, well-seasoned soups.

  • That my cat, Kitty Carlysle, is feeling better and recovering from her urinary tract infection.

  • For my son, Chip, who has the uncanny ability to find the Christmas gifts I need to buy at the absolute lowest prices.

  • For my well-shorn and groomed dog, Lizzie, who looks quite fetching (get it – “fetching”) in her Christmas collar. Thank you Miss Amy for tackling the job of dog groomer and doing it so well!

  • For the noise-canceling ear phones connected to my music player at work. I hear my music but do not hear the headache-inducing jack hammering that has been going on right outside my office window for the last week.

  • For hot cocoa with itty bitty marshmallows floating on top

  • That Ashley has been given the chance to participate in Art class at school. She absolutely loves it and our house is now adorned with several of her accomplishments. They honestly are quite well done, especially considering she is blind!

  • That I have this entire week without a scheduled school meeting or doctor visit. I keep thinking that I am forgetting something…

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm An Addict

Hello. My name is Ashley's Mom, and I am an addict. I am addicted to Dancing With The Stars, and now that the show is over, I fear the withdrawal pains are knocking at my door.

Fortunately, I have a couple of episodes recorded for those times that I can sneak a fix. And, the image of Maksim dancing in his tight pants and chest-revealing shirts is forever etched on my mind, allowing me the freedom to partake of that particularly tasty morsel whenever the addiction recovery process becomes too overwhelming.

I believe I heard the host say that a new round of DWTS begins early next year. I.Can.Wait...I.Can.Wait...I'll just keep telling myself I.Can.Wait.

Guest Blogger #2

David, at the Growing Up With A Disability blog, composed an essay for an English course in which he is enrolled. He chose to write about his early educational experiences. The essay is incredibly insightful. I suggest anyone interested in the education of children with disabilities take the time to follow this link and read David's essay:

Understanding the Less Common Perspective - A Thanksgiving Reflection

Guest Blogger!

My friend, Lynnette (Brooke's Mom), had a wonderful response to my post yesterday regarding appropriate gifts for children with significant disabilities. I wanted everyone to see it, so I have posted it here.

"I certainly wrestle with that one myself. I don't really know the answer to the question but I have come to think of it this way, at least for now . . . there's a little kid in all of us and the world would likely be a happier, less violent, less hurried place if all of us took a little more time to be in touch with our "inner child". I know many adults who parade around quite publicly in Winnie-the-Pooh or other character shirts and clothing, who watch cartoons of one variety or another, or who wear "Bunny Slippers" on a daily basis. My daughter happens to love Blues Clues. When she's 21 she will most likely still be watching Blues Clues and I will still buy her those DVDs if that's what she expresses interest in at that time in her life. In the privacy of her own home she can watch and enjoy whatever she wants, the same way I love watching Maks on Dancing with the Stars! I do my best to provide opportunities for her to broaden her interests by trying new videos, etc. but I will not force my preferences on her. My greater struggle is actually finding more things she can do more independently rather than constantly having mom in her face! As a professional I am supposed to encourage, in fact demand, age appropriateness. But as a mom, I remain torn . . ."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gift Quandry

One of the more difficult things for me during the holidays, and apparently for other families I have heard from who have children with significant disabilities, is deciding on gifts for those children. The yearly debate seems to focus on whether gifts should be chronologically age appropriate or developmentally age appropriate. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a good answer and debate this issue constantly myself.

Here’s a scenario presented by one family – the family has a 21year old son, I’ll call him Michael, who has Down Syndrome. Michael lives at home with his family, is in his last year of high school, and doesn’t have much of a social life outside his family members and their friends. Michael adores Mickey Mouse cartoons. His family knows he would be very happy to receive Micky Mouse DVDs as a Christmas gift, but they are reluctant to buy him something that is so chronologically age inappropriate. In past years, they have bought him clothes, DVDs the whole family enjoys, and music CDs to which the whole family would listen. Michael is happy to receive those things, but it wasn’t really what he wanted.

I have the same dilemma with my oldest daughter. Jessica is 17 years old, but cognitively and developmentally is more like 6-7 years old. She loves baby dolls and Barbie dolls. She also likes getting girly clothes as gifts, and she would also like Disney DVD’s. Like Michael’s family, I don’t want to stigmatize her with things her friends and peers would ridicule, but I also would feel bad not giving her a gift that she truly wants.

How have other families handled this issue? What recommendations would you have for families like mine and Michael’s?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Searching for a Birthparent

In honor of National Adoption Month, I am reposting an article from Karen Ledbetter, the Adoption Editor at BellaOnline. I believe it offers some great advice for adoptees who want to search for their birthparents:

Search and Reunion - Consider This First

First of all, prepare yourself for all possible issues resulting from your search. You can do this by reading about adoption in general, relinquishment, search, and reunion. Don’t forget to read about the experiences of others who have already traveled the Search and Reunion Road.

First of all, do you know exactly why you’re searching? Do you realize that your decision will affect the lives of other people?

Be sure to educate yourself on the various state laws regarding search and reunion. Did you know that in some states, a birth parent can file paperwork requesting to NOT be contacted? If your birth parent lives in one of these states and has filed such a request, are you willing to respect their wishes and end your search?

Do you have realistic expectations of your search results? Hopefully, your search will result in the happy reunion and special relationship you’re dreaming of; but the results may not live up to your expectations, no matter how realistic they are.

What if you come up with identifying information on your birth relatives, only to learn they do not want to be found? Or, suppose you contact a birth parent who asks you not to contact him/her again. Are you prepared to handle either issue in a healthy manner and respect your birth relative’s wishes? Do you know how you’ll feel if you find your birth mom’s name and address, then write her a letter, only to receive no immediate response or to have your unopened letter returned? Do you have the patience to wait and see if she eventually replies? How will you deal with never receiving a response?

What if you do meet your birth relatives, only to find they are not exactly the people you had expected them to be? How will you handle that?

What if, after meeting, your birth relatives decide, for whatever reason, not to continue a relationship with you? Can you handle the rejection?

What if, after meeting, you realize that continuing a relationship with your birth relatives would not be the best idea in the world? How will you explain your feelings to them? Suppose they insist on a relationship anyway. What will you do?

As you can see, beginning an adoption search must not be done lightly. Many issues must be considered in order to protect the feelings and privacy, as well as respecting the wishes of many people. And, anyone searching must be prepared emotionally, mentally, and physically for almost any potential result.

Creature Discomforts

I love these ads that are running in the United Kingdom.

I suggest you take a few minutes to explore the Creature Discomforts website, especially the information about the people behind the characters. The ads are based on the work of the creators of Wallace and Gromit, and the goal of the ads is to personalize the effects of disability discrimination.

One thing I especially like is the sign language subtitles. When viewing the ads on the Creature Discomforts website, click on subtitles and see the little signer in the bottom right corner of the ad.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tag, I'm It

Mommy Dearest at The Quirk Factor has tagged me for a meme. Here are the rules:

  • Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.

  • Share 7 facts about yourself.

  • Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.

  • Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

So here goes…seven random facts about myself:

  1. My favorite sandwich when I was young was peanut butter and pickles on white bread. Of course, the pickles had to be the ones made by my German Aunt Willie. None others would work.

  2. I’m addicted to HGTV and all their home decorating shows. If only I could win the lottery – I would have the most gorgeous house in the city.

  3. Although my favorite color is blue, periwinkle blue, I look best in pink

  4. I love to fish and have no problem cutting bait, taking a fish off a hook, and later cleaning fish (taking the head off, scales off, and cleaning out the guts). But I will squeal like a little girl if I find a cricket in my house.

  5. I hate to wrap Christmas presents. When my kids were little, I told them Santa had so many places to stop on Christmas Eve that he couldn’t wrap all the presents. Now I just tell them that I’m saving trees.

  6. I’m up to level 4 (out of 10) on my elliptical trainer.

  7. I can’t carry a tune at all. God left the singing gene out when he made me. I don’t even sing in church. I only lip sync, and I’ve only been caught at that once.

Now, I’m going to break the rules (so what’s new) and not name specifically 7 other people to complete this meme. But, I invite any of my readers to enjoy the challenge. Please let me know if you participate – I would love to read your seven facts!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Inside Corey's Brain

My 15 year old son, Corey, is diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities. I have spent the last two years ( the time he has been with my family) trying to figure him out. My daughters' disabilities are pretty straightforward – Ashley is deaf and blind and Jessica is cognitively impaired. I can understand those disabilities. But Corey has always been a puzzle. However, I think after observing him this past Thursday, I may have a few more clues to what makes him tick.

Corey was given the job of raking and bagging leaves. He wanted a way to earn some money to buy Christmas gifts, and I had a ton of leaves that needed attention. So Thanksgiving morning, he set out with his rake and box of leaf bags. He started the job in a very lackadaisical fashion, and continued to slow down as he worked. He would rake a small pile, move to the opposite end of the yard, rake another small pile, move to another section of the yard, drag the rake around in the dirt, stop look around for a while, play with the rake for a few minutes, move to another section of the yard, kick the leaves around, move back to the first small pile, and start to put some of the leaves in a bag.

His work continued along that same illogical, unsystematic way for the next three hours. Finally at the end of the three hours, he came into the house, announced that he was finished, and asked for his money. Of course, a review of the yard revealed that he had only gotten about half the leaves up, and he had left the bags that he did fill sitting all over the yard. I was instantly reminded of his school work and home work. He forgets what his assignments are, he sometimes does his homework, but sometimes only does part of it. Usually he forgets to take in what he has done, and I often receive reports from teachers about his inattentiveness in class. He doesn’t seem the least bit surprised when his grades are low, but at the same time, it doesn’t seem to bother him at all – sort of like doing the leaf raking job halfway but still expecting to get paid.

What I learned from observing him is that what I thought was only a problem with school is actually a problem with everything. Corey’s mind works in ways that are hard to figure out. And, it’s probably just as frustrating at times for him as it is for me. What I haven’t figured out is how to provide support for him in such a way that he can cope with the differences in his mind.

It would be easy for me to assume that he is lazy, doesn’t care, or is being defiant. Maybe sometimes he is being those things, but I also think that he is just doing what his brain tells him to do, and those things are not the logical, clear thoughts that most neurotypical teenagers have (if any teenager can be called neurotypical!). He is indeed a puzzle, but hopefully I can continue to work towards putting the puzzle pieces together. And maybe have a really well-tended yard at the same time!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful Thursday

Today is a special Thankful Thursday because it is also Thanksgiving Day. Before starting my kitchen duty, I wanted to list the most important things in my life, things for which I am so very thankful:

  • I’m thankful for my four beautiful and incredible children. Though they can at times pluck my last nerve, they are my heaven on earth.

  • I’m thankful for my wonderful friend, Amy. She is the one who is always available to provide a shoulder on which to cry, a lecture when I need to be told to slow down, and she is always the rainbow at the end of my every rainy day.

  • I’m thankful that I have a job that pays well and allows me to provide a warm, clean home, adequate food, most of the necessities and some of the ‘wants’ for my family.

  • I’m thankful for my twin brother, Carl, and my lovely niece, Melody. They are my connection to our shared history, a grounding force when the world seems to spin crazily.

  • I’m thankful for Ashley’s deafblindness. Her disability has allowed me to see and hear the true wonder and beauty this world has to offer.

  • I’m thankful for my faith – the God that is my rock and my source of strength. Though I don’t have a church home for my family, my dedication and commitment remain strong and true – just like my God.

  • I’m thankful for the technology and the freedom I have to share my thoughts. Whether anyone else ever reads this blog, I am fortified and renewed by putting my words out to the world.

  • I’m thankful that the health issues I face each day, though significant, have not impaired my ability to do the thing I enjoy the most – being a mother to my children.

  • I’m thankful for all the people who offer support for my children and me, people who work to help my children reach their highest potential, people who fight for the rights of my children, people who never judge but offer the wisdom I so often need - people like Jonathan, Sophia, Carlye, Mark, Charisse, John, Alex, Mike, Kari, the other Jonathan and Jane. I love you guys!

  • And finally, I’m thankful for roast turkey, stuffing, corn pudding, fresh green beans, sweet potatoes, yeast rolls and pumpkin pie!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Now I understand why the good folks at the SPCA grilled me before allowing me to adopt my cat, Kitty Carlysle. They wanted to make sure that I understood that having a pet was not going to be a cheap journey. Sure, it’s easy not to think about costs when you’re holding a small, purring kitten, but the SPCA staff knows that the future could hold many expenses. Today I proved their point.

Kitty Carlysle, now three years old, had seemed uncomfortable for the last couple of days. She wasn’t her usual haughty, mischievous, camel-cricket-catching self. She also would cry occasionally when using her litter box. The final clue that something wasn’t right was when my perfect little lady of a cat had an accident outside her litter box, and that accident was tinged with blood.

I placed an emergency call to Dr. Lucy, our family veterinarian, and was told I should bring Miss Kitty in right away. I was told to leave her for a few hours so the vet staff could obtain a urine sample (don’t even want to know how that was accomplished!), and could run a few tests. All signs were pointing to a urinary tract infection, but Dr. Lucy wanted proof from her tests.

Two hours passed before I received the call verifying that Kitty had a urinary tract infection. She would need antibiotics and special food – food that would hopefully keep future such infections at bay. Apparently if a cat had one such infection, similar infections will frequently follow. The new food, available only by prescription, would keep urine PH levels appropriate and thus help prevent future days like today.

I was told to come back and get Miss Kitty, and the whole way there I wondered how expensive this would all be. It’s been my experience with past vet visits, that leaving with a bill less than $100 almost never happens. A vet visit reminds me a a shopping trip to Costco, our big box, warehouse style store when things are bought in large quantity supposedly at a lower cost. I’ve always said the store shouldn’t be called Costco, but rather the $100 dollar store because it’s impossible to go in and not spend at least that much.

True to form, the vet bill was $161! Yikes!! That was more than it cost to take my youngest daughter to the pediatrician for two ear infections. Besides the vet time, there was a charge for two diagnostic tests, a charge for the antibiotic (which looks suspiciously like amoxicillin), and a pretty hefty charge for both dry and wet prescription cat food.

So Kitty is back home and resting well. She enjoyed her expensive new food (as well she should!), and has had her first dose of antibiotics. Have you ever had to get a syringe-full of liquid medicine in an unhappy, squirming animal that has razor blades coming out of its feet? The next medical visit will be fine, I fear

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Human Atrocities

I watched a story on NBC News last night and cried. Actually, I was sobbing. I had been avoiding the news story for days, since it broke and hit the airwaves last week. I knew that finding out more would cause me great distress, but I couldn’t ignore the story any more. I was drawn to it like a moth to a porch light.

The story I am talking about has to do with the abuse of people with disabilities in Serbia. Anne Curry from NBC News visited Serbia and saw first hand the horrors experienced by the children and adults confined to Serbia’s institutions. Also, the scenes of horror are chronicled in a report released last Wednesday by Mental Disability Rights International, a U.S.-based human rights group that alleges systematic abuse of mentally disabled patients in Serbia's psychiatric hospitals and social care institutions.

As I watched the news story, as I reviewed the report, I told myself that such atrocities could surely not exist in the United States. I had to believe that as my absolute biggest fear is what will happen to my children with disabilities when I am no longer able to care for them myself. But a little more research proved me wrong. The United States was also guilty as chronicled in the report “Christmas In Purgatory”.

The pictures in both reports are disturbing, disturbing beyond words. But, they should be seen by everyone who considers themselves a part of the human race. It is incomprehensible to me that one human being can do this to another. The world community must see and acknowledge and must then demand an end to such torture and abuse.

I would like to write more, but this subject still sickens me - physically sickens me. My wish is it will do the same to everyone else that takes the time to explore the story.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holiday Hints

Lynne Edwards, LCSW, from Coordinators2, the post-adoption support agency which provides an array of services to my family and other adoptive families, suggests the following hints for a reduced stress holiday. I don’t know about you, but reducing stress is always welcome in my world! Thanks, Lynne!

  • If this is your first holiday with your children, they may
    need an explanation of the holiday rituals, what they can expect and what you expect of them.

  • Remember that holidays sometimes provoke thoughts about birth
    families and other past caregivers. So before the holiday, talk with
    your children about this. You could either share a variation
    of "I've been thinking about….and I wonder if you have" or ask what's on their mind as the holiday approaches.

  • Help your children find ways to include members of their past
    families that they miss into holiday activities. They could include
    them in their prayers, write a poem, draw a picture or make an
    ornament or other decoration in honor of someone special to them.
    You can also create some new family rituals that include the memory of past family or caregivers.

  • If you or the children feel sad or need to cry, go ahead and
    do it. Watch a sappy movie together, give few extra hugs or just sit and listen.

  • Build in physical exercise for you and the children. Take a
    walk to enjoy the change in seasons or holiday decorations. Play a
    game outside or, if the children are old enough, encourage them to
    play an active game outside.

  • If spirituality plays a role in your family, emphasize the
    spiritual aspects of the holiday. And plan ways to observe these and teach the children about them. If your children are from a different race or culture, be sure to share if and how the holiday plays a role in their culture/country of origin. Add to your family rituals by incorporating some of theirs.

  • Provide opportunities for the children to give of their time
    and themselves. Encourage them to make gifts for friend and family, to volunteer with you in the community or donate clothes or toys to others.

  • Keep the holiday as low key as possible. If you are spending time with several different people, try to spread the contact out over a few days. Having two holiday celebrations on two consecutive
    days can work.

  • Set realistic limits for spending and stick to them. Even if your children haven't had much in the past, don't go overboard-keep it simple.

  • Remember the holidays are stressful for everyone in the family. Give yourself a break and do something relaxing.

  • Have fun!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Motivational Words

I think I've finally discovered one of the motivating techniques used by my school district. I believe the following posters are displayed prominently in a secret location in each school building as well as at Central Office, and that school district employees are required to review them prior to each IEP meeting:

But just for the record, I've got a motivating poster of my own. I hope my school district realizes the entire iceberg is waiting should they choose to not provide what is appropriate for my children:

Disability Awareness Done Well

Favorite Adoption Quote

"A mother is likened unto a mountain spring that nourishes the tree at its root; but one who mothers another's child is likened unto a water that rises into a cloud and goes a long distance to nourish a lone tree in the desert."

The Talmud

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thankful Thursday

If you read yesterday's post, you know that coming up with a list of 10 things for which I am thankful is going to be difficult this week. But, I'm going to start the list and see where it takes me...

This week I am thankful...

  • That it is no longer Monday

  • That Ashley has an infection in each ear. I know that sounds strange but at least now I know why she has been *difficult* all week

  • For antibiotics that cure an ear infection, even two ear infections, very quickly

  • For the beautiful bright yellow leaves falling from the tree in my front yard. Several leaves have even stuck themselves to my windows - Mother Nature's version of window clings

  • For Edy's peanut butter cup ice cream at the end of a particularly difficult day

  • For Amy and her friend Sara and the portable wheelchair ramp they are building for my house

  • That when I had to replace my hot water heater last year, I chose a really large one. Even with four teenagers in the house, there is still enough hot water for me to soak in the tub.

  • That my four teenagers actually take daily showers

  • That all the good (i.e., chocolate) Halloween candy is finally gone. I just don't handle temptation well

  • That this week's list is done!

A Weak Week

Sometimes by noon on Monday, I just know I am facing a difficult week. Unlike the weeks where the difficult times sort of sneak up on you on a Wednesday afternoon, the really bad weeks announce their presence first thing on a Monday. This is one of those weeks.

It’s usually not just one thing that puts me on high alert – it’s the combination of things, coming one right after the other. The car’s check engine light comes on during the morning commute. My youngest son forgets to tell me about a physical form that MUST be completed by Tuesday morning. Someone is in my reserved parking spot at work. The cat has thrown up in the middle of the night – I know this because I step right in it when I get up in the morning. Amy, Ashley’s aide, is significantly injured by another child at school and now has her hand in a cast. One of the main computer servers at work crashes and all eyes look to me to fix it – a job that takes approximately two hours, but a job that everyone wants done in 30 minutes. And this all happened before lunchtime on Monday.

I won’t even start a list of Tuesday and Wednesday, but just for the record, things didn’t get any better. It’s now Wednesday night, and all I can think about is that Thankful Thursday is going to be a challenge this week…

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Helping a Foster Child

Have you considered becoming a foster family and decided that it really is not for you or your family at this time. Yet, you still want to help kids in care. Here are 9 ways to do just that.

  1. Go ahead and get your foster care license and provide respite care to other foster families or do emergency foster care. Emergency care can mean having a foster child in your home for a short period of time. An emergency placement can last anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days.

  2. Drive! Many agencies need people to drive children to various appointments. Appointments could be visits with birth family, medical or dental visits, or to a new foster home. Some trips may entail long distances. Call your local agencies and see if this is a need in your area.

  3. Become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate/CASA worker. CASA workers are volunteers that work with the court and the foster homes to see that the children are not lost in the system and that their needs and wants are heard.

  4. Become a Big Brother or Sister. Spend 3-4 hours a week with a child and make a difference. Have fun! Teach them a new hobby or learn about theirs. Not every child in the Big Brother Big Sister organization is a foster child, but many are. Help make a difference by taking time for a child. Find out more at the Big Brother/Big Sister Web site.

  5. Provide a job and give a chance to learn and grow. Many youth in the foster care system have a difficult time finding work due to the stigma of being a "foster kid". You could help by reaching out to these young people and providing them with their first work experience.

  6. Volunteer at a children's home. Children's homes are usually one of the first stops on the foster care journey for many kids, or it could be a stop in-between foster homes. Children's homes are often looking for volunteers to do many different duties. Some may include wrapping Christmas/Birthday gifts, sorting through donations, reading to the children, or even playing games. Find out what your local children's home's needs are and see what you can do to help.

  7. Donate items to children's homes or foster care agencies. Many need school supplies, shoes, clothes, or even toys. Suitcases or bags of any kind are often needed. Did you know that many children go from home to home with their belongings in trash bags? Make sure you donate items that are in good repair. If you wouldn't let your own child wear it, don't send it on to agencies or homes. Some places prefer new items so call ahead.

  8. Capitol One offers a scholarship program for children in foster care or who have aged out of the foster care system. The scholarships will help foster children get into colleges, universities or trade schools. For more information on how to give to this program visit Capital One's Fostering a Future Web site.

  9. Buy a necklace! Yep, it can be that easy to help out a foster child. Net proceeds from the sale of the Tangled Heart Necklace supports the Tangled Hearts Scholarship for children from the foster care system. The fund is administered by the Orphan Foundation of America (OFA).

Information for this list was provided by the website

Monday, November 12, 2007

Chip's Story

My 17 year old son, Chip, entered the PTA Reflections contest at his high school. This year's theme was "I Can Make A Difference By..." His essay on that theme won honorable mention, and I am proud to share it with all of you!

I have two sisters and one brother, and they each have special needs. My sister Ashley is twelve years old and is deafblind. She was adopted into our family when she was two years old. Her birthmother was an alcoholic, and Ashley was born 14 weeks early. In addition to being deafblind, she has epilepsy, ADHD, and has had two brain tumors removed. She was recently diagnosed with three more brain tumors.

My sister Jessica is 16 years old. She was adopted into our family when she was nine years old. She had brain cancer as a baby, followed by two years of chemotherapy and radiation. Those things left her moderately mentally retarded and with limited use of the left side of her body. She is also diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder which means she has outbursts of aggressive behavior. She is on a lot of different medicines to help her try to control her aggressive behavior.

My brother Corey is 15 years old. He joined our family when he was 13 years old. Prior to that, he had lived on the streets of Baltimore with his mother. His mother was an alcoholic and a drug addict. Corey is diagnosed with ADHD, but he is also pretty far behind on a lot of his academic and social skills.

Even though each of my siblings has a lot of special needs, they lead pretty normal lives. They like a lot of the same things I do, and we always go everywhere as a family. My sister, Ashley, loves the beach and roller coasters. Jessica loves to go shopping just like all the other teenaged girls I know, and she has a crush on her teacher. Corey likes sports just like I do, and this year is in the JROTC.

Even though my brother and sisters have special needs, they each make a difference every day in the lives of many people. They have a lot to offer this world, and they all want to be treated just like everyone else. I can make a difference by helping to tell their story and the stories of other people with special needs.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Zahina's Story

Esbee from the Life In Forsyth blog shared this heartbreaking story of one adopted child's 'voice' with me. Just from this short story, it doesn't seem like the post-adoption support services we in the United States have such easy access to existed in the United Kingdom where this mom lives. At least, I would rather think they didn't exist then to believe the mom just refused to pursue them...

I Didn't Like My Adopted Daughter So I Gave Her Back

Tell Me A Story

Do you have a child who was adopted and who would like to share their story? Does your child have a voice they would like heard, anonymously or not? If not a story, does your child write poetry or plays or essays relating to their adoption experience, their life as an adopted child/sibling, their hopes and dreams for the future, or their daily struggles? If so, I would like to hear from them.

Again to celebrate National Adoption Month, I would like to publish your child's writing. I don't care if it is happy, sad, angry, or any other emotion. I just believe it is very important for our children who have been adopted to have their voices heard. Or, do you have birth siblings who want to have a say about having siblings who have been adopted? I would like to hear their viewpoints also.

Please encourage your children to contact me via the email address on this blog. I will only share as much information as they and you want shared. So much attention is paid to supporting parents who adopt, and I believe it is just as important to attend to supporting children who have been adopted. I look forward to hearing from you and your children!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for...

  • Being able to sit on my front porch on one of the last warms days of fall, and waving to my neighbors walking through the neighborhood.

  • Leaving work early and surprising Ashley when I meet her school bus in the afternoon.

  • the functioning heating system in my house. Last night it was 27 degrees.

  • chocolate croissants

  • friends like Amy who will devote an entire day to helping my rearrange my house in anticipation of bringing my oldest daughter home from the residential placement in which she has been for the last 3 years.

  • my sons, Chip and Corey, who agree with my decision to bring their oldest sister home, and are making sacrifices themselves to support that decision

  • a cup of hot cocoa on a cold Sunday morning

  • Christmas, which is just a little over 6 weeks away!

  • my adoption support group

  • the quiet in my house, with all my children tucked into their beds, while I read a good book, and sit wrapped in a down throw in my favorite chair

A Study of the Adoption Experience

Have you ever wondered how an adoption experience would affect your family? Have you considered adoption but been afraid because of some of the stories that you hear or because of the high-profile stories that have been in the press? I believe most families considering adoption would answer yes to both those questions. However, a landmark study of 600 families by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Twin and Family Research, gives is shedding some light on the adoption experience.

Information about the study can be found here, but some of the more interesting and significant preliminary results show:

1. There is virtually no difference in psychological functioning between children raised in adoptive families and those raised in biological families. In measures of delinquency, antisocial attitudes, aggression, substance abuse, and other problem behaviors, the differences between adopted children and children being raised by their biological families were insignificant. Measures of well-being, identity, academic achievement, and other positive characteristics were also virtually identical.

2. Sibling relationships appear unaffected by adoption. Relationships were equally close and loving among all kinds of sibling pairs (adopted-adopted, adopted-bio, and bio-bio).

3. In parent-child relationships, researchers identified some differences between adoptive and biological families. Parents and children felt as attached to each other in adoptive families as in biological families, but adopted children reported more conflict with parents than did biological offspring. This did not, however, result in greater behavior problems outside the home, as might have been expected.

4. Despite the absence of genetic links, adoptive siblings are psychologically similar to one another in some significant ways. As would be expected, siblings by adoption showed no similarities in the kinds of personality traits that psychologists know to be largely genetic in origin, such as being shy or outgoing. In two areas of behavior, however, researchers identified surprising similarities among adoptive siblings. First, in academic achievement, adoptive siblings turned out to have comparable IQs (although not as similar as those of biological siblings), as well as similar academic motivation and achievement levels. This is likely attributable to parental influence. Adoptive siblings were also alike in regard to problem behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol use, and disobedience. Having an older sibling with problem behavior was highly predictive of such behavior in younger siblings. Thus, the research suggests that problem behavior is less a matter of parental influence than of sibling influence.

My experience as a mom to both a birth child and children who have been adopted has had its ups and downs. I don’t believe many of those ups and downs are a direct result of the adoption experience however, but rather to the lives my children lived before joining my family. But even through the difficult times, we have been and always will be a family, first and foremost.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Aretha Franklin sang “You make me feel like a natural woman…”. Robert Redford revealed his baseball talents in the movie The Natural in 1984. The word natural conjures a picture of innate, special abilities – something that arises easily or spontaneously. One definition in the dictionary states that natural means having or showing feelings, as affection, gratitude, or kindness, considered part of basic human nature. The word natural is a warm, fuzzy word, a word most people would never believe could be harmful or hold hurtful memories. But it can.

In September, at the start of every school year, I must fill out information forms for each of my children. I’ve never understood why the information can’t be stored in a database somewhere and just printed out for verification each year – but that’s a topic for another blog. The thing I find most offensive about the information forms I fill out is the way I must designate my relationship to my children.

After entering my name, I must choose my relationship. The choices are ‘natural mother’, ‘foster mother’, ‘legal guardian’, or other. What happened to just ‘mother’. What I normally do is check ‘natural mother’ for all my children, whether they are birth children or children who joined my family through adoption, and then put a little asterisk that points the reader to the bottom of the page for another note. In that other note at the bottom of the page, I write “Yes, I am a natural mother – knew from the time I was a child myself that I would be a natural mother”.

So, since this is National Adoption Month, and since I really, really don’t like some of the terms I hear used in reference to adoption, today I am sharing positive adoption language. Please take a moment to consider how just a simple change in language can have a major positive effect on a child. Words not only convey facts, they also evoke feelings. When a TV movie talks about a "custody battle" between "real parents" and "other parents," society gets the wrong impression that only birthparents are real parents and that adoptive parents aren’t real parents. Members of society may also wrongly conclude that all adoptions are "battles."

Positive adoption language can stop the spread of misconceptions such as these. By using positive adoption language, we educate others about adoption. We choose emotionally "correct" words over emotionally-laden words. We should speak and write in positive adoption language with the hopes of impacting others so that this language will someday become the norm.

Positive Language (Negative Language):
Birthparent (Real Parent)
Biological Parent (Natural Parent)
Birth child (Own child)
My child (Adopted child)
Born to unmarried parents (Illegitimate)
Terminate parental rights (Give up)
Make an adoption plan (Give away)
To parent (To keep)
Waiting child (Adoptable child; available child)
Biological or birthfather (Real father)
Making contact with (Reunion)
Parent (Adoptive parent)
Intercountry adoption (Foreign adoption)
Adoption triad (Adoption triangle)
Permission to sign a release (Disclosure)
Search (Track down parents)
Child placed for adoption (An unwanted child)
Court termination (Child taken away)
Child with special needs (Handicapped child)
Child from abroad (Foreign child)
Was adopted (Is adopted)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

I watched a lot of home improvement and home makeover shows on HGTV this weekend. I got many wonderful ideas about what I could do to my home, but unfortunately, I didn’t win the lottery Friday night to provide the funds for those renovations and decorating. But one thing I kept hearing repeated on most of the shows and which surprised me was that personal pictures, for example pictures of one’s family, are usually not displayed in the living room. Rather, they should be relegated to the bedrooms and sometimes to the family room or den. The more formal areas of one’s home should contain ‘art’, not personal photos (unless of course the ‘art’ was an oil painting of a family member, hung usually over a beautiful fireplace). Sorry, but I don’t agree with that.

The photographs I have of my children are ‘art’ – much more beautiful to my eye than traditional art such as paintings of landscapes, seascapes or more modern abstract art. In my living room is a large photograph of Ashley. The photograph is in a lovely gilt frame and shows Ashley soon after I adopted her and in a kneeling, prayerful position. Hung next to it are two pictures – a collage of my oldest son as an infant, and a collage of Ashley and my oldest son engaged in play. On another wall in my living room is a beautiful black and white composition of Ashley, Chip and Jessica, and on the antique sideboard positioned under the picture are more black and white photos of my children. Across the room, on my mother’s antique drop leaf table, are more groupings of photos, this time with Corey included.

In the room leading into our family room is a piano on which sits more nicely framed photos of my children engaged in the things they enjoy most – Chip, rock climbing; Ashley at the beach; Corey in his JROTC uniform; and Jessica mugging for the camera. Their pictures continue down the hallway and into my bedroom. In our family room are framed works of their own art – art projects completed in school, matted and framed to perfection. And then scattered throughout all the rooms are photographs of beach scenes taken by my brother, a professional photographer.

My home is full of art – maybe not what decorators would consider appropriate – but to me it is art in the truest sense of the word. According to, ‘art’ is defined as “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” My children and the rest of my family are indeed beautiful, appealing and of more than ordinary significance. They are each and every one works of art!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Two Sides to Every Story

Yesterday afternoon I sat in a meeting with a behavior specialist, a case manager, day support staff and group home staff – all to discuss my daughter, Jessica and her ongoing and increasing aggressive and negative behaviors.

Jessica’s negative and aggressive behaviors are not new. Every since I adopted her eight years ago, she has displayed outbursts of rage and aggression. She is diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a disorder that is common in children who have spent many years in foster care. While in foster care for 9 years, she learned that trusting and attaching to adults more often than not resulted in emotional and physical pain. Her response to that was to refuse to attach ever again. Whenever another person starts to get too close to Jessica, for instance a permanent ‘Mom’, she will rebel as hard as she can. And, it’s not only Mom. She ‘protects’ herself from letting anyone get too close, and to do that, she feels she must control every relationship and most situations. Some of the more common symptoms of reactive attachment disorder are:

Lack of Conscience Development.
Superficially Charming.
Lack of Eye Contact (except when lying).
Inability to give and Receive Affection.
Extreme Control Issues.
Destructive to Self, Others, Animals and Property.
No Impulse Control.
Unusual Eating Patterns (hoarding, gorging, or refusal to eat).
Unsuccessful Peer Relationships.
Incessant Chatter in Order to Control.
Very Demanding.
Unusual speech patterns, mumbling, robotic speech, talking very softly except when raging.

Unfortunately Jessica displays every one of them, but only some of the time. When Jessica is not in the middle of a rage, she is the sweetest, most loving, well-mannered child you could ever meet. She is helpful and doesn’t complain. She smiles and makes everyone around her smile. She seems to be one of the happiest people in the world – until….

The ‘until’ is what our group yesterday was trying to figure out. What are the triggers that send Jessica over the edge and into an abyss of aggression? And once triggered, what makes her voice change – actually change and get several octaves lower – her exorcist voice as we call it? What makes her much stronger than normal, and why must she physically hurt someone before she can become ‘Sweet Jessica’ again?

Living through these episodes and living with Jessica, never knowing what to expect is very difficult. Everyone around her must be constantly on guard, and that is exhausting. Every precaution must be taken to ensure she doesn’t have access to something that could be used as a weapon, and always having to think along those lines does not make for a very happy household. But, it also doesn’t make for a very happy Jessica, and that is the main reason we need to figure this out.

It did make me sad yesterday to spend an hour and a half painting a picture of a very troubled child, a child who routinely and significantly hurts others. I want to work together with this group to help Jessica, but it’s very important to me that during the process we don’t lose sight of the positive things about her. I don’t want her defined only by those moments of rage. I truly believe that in her heart, she is a loving person who only wants love in return.

Recovery from the trauma symptoms of reactive attachment disorder more often than not isn’t successful. Like many mental illnesses, people aren’t cured, but they do learn to cope. In addition to Jessica’s mental illness, she is also diagnosed with a cognitive disability. That cognitive disability makes it difficult to learn new coping skills, but I refuse to give up. I will continue to try, and I will insist that the people who provide support to her continue to try.

The abandonment and the abuse Jessica suffered before joining my family were not things she chose. Adults, adults in positions of responsibility, used their power for evil. Jessica was the unwitting victim, and will suffer for the rest of her life as a result. I can’t do anything about what happened in her past, but I can ensure that in the future she is given the support and chances she deserves. She is my daughter, and I will take care of her.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Looking for Roots

To celebrate National Adoption Month, I will be periodically posting articles and stories about adoption. Some of the postings may be about my experiences, or the experiences of my friends, and some may be stories I have found in the press that are especially interesting to me. Today's posting is an article from the New York Times which tells stories of searching for a child's birthparent, especially a birthparent from another country. It really opened my eyes....

Looking For Their Children's Birthmothers

*special note* You may need to set up an account to view the NYT article. There is no charge to do so, and I have not gotten lots of 'junk' email as a result of having an account.

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for:

  • The cutest little skunk (and his mom!) that ever came trick or treating at my house!

  • The beautiful sunrise this morning, framed by whiter than white cirrus clouds

  • The smell of wood smoke hanging in the air on a cold morning. It reminds me of pulling into my parent’s country home many years ago.

  • Crockpot stew, a fresh salad, and homemade biscuits for dinner

  • My very soft, fluffy socks with the non-skid disks on the bottom

  • A cup of chamomile tea late in the evening

  • Making plans for Thanksgiving dinner

  • The calm that takes over when I pet my fat, purring cat

  • Being able to go for walks on my lunch hour and not worry about getting too hot

  • Carved pumpkins with a candle burning inside