When you are raising special needs children you know how painful it can be for your child to be excluded from other children and their activities. Sometimes your child’s challenges prohibit them from sharing an activity or experience that other children around them enjoy…but other times, it is either through prejudice or mis-information…or, a lack of understanding. No matter the reason, being excluded is not fun and can actually be harmful to your child’s self-esteem and their ability to form positive social interative relationships. Therefore, teaching how to accept and include others is a huge life lesson for families, schools, churches, organizations and agencies.
That is why i love the book called, The Friendship Puzzle. The children’s book is all about helping children to learn about the importance of accepting and including kids who are living with autism. It talks about differences and how friendships are formed once we understand each other. We have to learn to look beyond the surface of who a person appears to be different from ourselves; to see the real them. Then, we must find ways to include each other in our daily lives for a chance to become friends. Sometimes it is easy to misunderstand another person’s actions when we don’t understand why they do or say certain things; or, behave in a different way.
The Friendship Puzzle was written by Julie L. Coe and illustrated by Sondra l. Brassel. The book was inspired by Jennifer Maloni who’s children Dominic and Dylan are living with autism. The boys experienced a similar real life experience that was sad and disappointing. That experience is used in this book to make a difference in how we view people with disabilities. You can learn more about the book and where to purchase it here: http://www.friendshippuzzle.com/ This is not an affiliate link… it is just a book that I happen to adore.
That message, of accepting and including one another, is very profound. We can all apply that message in multiple ways to better the relationships we have with others without regard to abilities or disabilities; it is something that we can all improve on. This book and a recent news piece on an amusement park for those who are disabled reminded me of how often people neglect to include those who are different from ourselves in the things we enjoy; simply out of ignorance of how to do it.
The amusement park I read about is called Morgans Wonderland and it is in San Antonio, Texas. It was built by a father after a failed attempt by his daughter Morgan to interact in play with other children due to her disabilities and the lack of clear communication between the children alongside of a pool. The other children were playing with a beach ball and she wanted to play too…but lack of communication and understanding prevented continued play. This kind of situation can be heartbreaking…but in this case it was the catalyst he needed to dream of a place where special needs people and their families and caregivers could come and be included in all of the activities.
Gordon Hartman was the father and he has achieved his dream. Morgans Wonderland is a 25 acre park that lets the special need individual be themselves and experience the joy of an amusement park just like anyone else. They utilize volunteers at their park and they encourage families to come and enjoy their time together. I love the idea behind this park. If you are interested in learning more about Morgan’s Wonderland and all it has to offer…please click here: http://www.morganswonderland.com/morgans-wonderland-tell-us-about-inclusion.asp Again, this is not an affiliate link…it is just a place where a family can go to relax and have a positive family experience with their special needs loved one.
I just want to thank the Gordon Hartman’s and the Julie Coe’s of this world who realize the importance of acceptance and inclusion.
There is a disturbing story today regarding a young disabled man, with multiple disabilities, who was recruited into the Marine Corps for service. I have to preface this story by saying that I love the Marine Corps. I have many friends and family who have served and I am proud of them and the Marine Corps. However, this story is disturbing because of the potential consequences for anyone unfortunate enough to be in this situation.
The young man’s name is Joshua Fry and he has been diagnosed as Autistic. He was living in a group home at the time of his enlistment; in fact, it is alleged that a Marine recruiter picked him up from the home and took him to the recruitment center to enlist. The background of the story, as I understand it, is that this young man was born to parents who allegedly abused drugs. He was diagnosed as being Autistic, as a young child. Joshua was allegedly abused as a child and he had learning disabilities. He struggled in school and had allegedly developed a relationship with a military recruiter. Joshua got himself into trouble allegedly for stealing and having a weapon; and, he was sent away to a treatment facility for counseling.
In the meantime, Joshua’s grandmother had custody of him and allegedly told the Marine recruiter to take Joshua’s name off of the call list as he was “not Marine material”. It would have been easy enough to check that out by following up with the school administrators. Those words should have been the end of any active pursuit of Joshua, as a person to be considered as a Marine recruit.
For a recruiter to continue to persue an individual like Joshua; it should be considered a crime. Many special needs people would love to be in the military; however, the nature of the job requires quick thinking, reliable decision making every time, the ability to use good judgement, and, to exhibit character traits that would be of an elevated level compared to the average individual. Some individuals able-bodied or not, no matter how how they try, are not going to be able to perform at those levels and meet those responsibilities. It is important that those in the military be able to do so because lives depend on it!
For many people with multiple special needs…being able to make fast, quality decisions regarding the safety and well-being of themselves, as well as others, is difficult; even under normal circumstances, but if you add into the mix, the stress and chaos of a war situation, it could be a dangerous combination. It is heartbreaking to have someone want to serve who just may not be qualified to do so because of a physical, emotional, or developmental disability. But encouraging that same individual to go ahead and sign up should be criminal…it is not in the best interest of that individual, the military personel who work alongside of them, or the families who love and support them, to the best of their abilities.
It is being alleged that when Joshua got out of the facility and entered the group home; he had re-established a relationship with the recruiter. If it is true that the grandmother had spoken to those at the recruiting station and told them of the problems with Joshua…that should have been the end of any attempts to recruit him. If that recruiter had the knowledge of the problems that Joshua struggled with; he should not have allowed Joshua to sign up.
Joshua’s grandmother had the courts approval to be his legal conservator. Basically, meaning that he was not able to sign most legal documents because he wasn’t able to completely understand the legal consequences in doing so. He had a low IQ, he was diagnosed as Autistic, bi-polar, asthmatic, he had learning disabilities and he had also been treated in an in-patient environment. For all of those reasons and more…he should never have been a candidate for service in the Marine Corps.
Once he got to boot camp, he found himself in over his head. He got in trouble for stealing food, for disrespecting authority, and, he was not following orders. He told those in positions of authority that he didn’t want to be a Marine and told them of his history. They agreed he shouldn’t be there after talking to his grandmother; but, instead of sending him home he was allowed to graduate boot camp. Months later, he was found to have pornographic photos on his cell phone…disciplined and instructed to not do it again. He failed and again was found to be in possession…this time with child pornography. What he did is wrong definately, does he understand that? That is the question…does he know what he did is wrong; and, is he capable of understanding that his actions have legal consequences?
He was arrested and is being held on a variety of charges that he probably does not understand and is incapable of avoiding committing over and over again in the same military environment that he should never have been allowed to enter in the first place. For heaven’s sake, this is an individual that was living in a supervised setting because of issues relating to the impulsive behaviors associated with his disabilities that didn’t allow him to live independently. How in the world is he expected to fulfill his commitment to the military? What will happen to Joshua and others like him? What kind of legal discipline will he be forced to accept? Will he be dismissed from service and returned to a supervised group home setting or will he be in the prison system?
While some disabilities allow individuals to perform many tasks related to military life…there is no guarantee that those are the only situations in which they will be needed to perform in. We have to be very careful about making decisions regarding allowing those with disabilities into the military. Their very lives could depend on it.
Recruiters are expected to persuade prospects to sign on the dotted line and become a member of our military service. However, people with documented low IQ’s, learning disabilities or medical or emotional issues that would prevent them from performing their duties in a safe and timely manner should not be “encouraged to join up”. This feels a little like it is taking advantage of someone’s lack of understanding. It is an unfair advantage to have knowledge that they could be put into situations that are not within their capabilities of handling appropriately; and, still encourage them to join the service.
We are in a time of war, men and women are needed to serve. However, it is wrong to recruit people who are at a disadvantage intellectually, physically or emotionally. This issue is going to become more of a problem because of some changes being made to the educational requirements across our nation. Many special education students are caught between a rock and a hard place with the raising of educational requirements to graduate. Many of them will no longer be allowed to get a diploma…they will be getting a certificate of completion instead. Some of them will have to go to high school for 5-6 years, as the additional requirements are phased in. This is already resulting in many students either dropping out of high school or choosing to get a GED. Many more will try to seek a position with the military because of the lack of jobs available for special needs persons. Just because someone is disabled or has special needs doesn’t mean that they are not patriotic; it doesn’t mean that they don’t want the respect that being in the military can give them. Many would love an opportunity to be a hero for their country by serving. This makes them vulnerable to outside influences when it comes to signing up.
It is important that the Marine Corps does what is right in this situation for Joshua and others like him. He was out of his element here; and, it should have been stopped by those in a position to do so before he ever signed on the dotted line and spent one day in boot camp. Many eyes will be watching. Parents, agencies, friends and educators…please be aware that your special needs students are vulnerable to the desire to serve their country. It is admirable, but they are also vulnerable to recruiters who need to put people into the service and are more than willing to talk to your students in a way that makes them even more determined to serve; whether they are fully capable of doing the job safely, or not.
What are your thoughts on these issues?
Every family is made up of individuals with wants and needs. Every family is different. Add a person…take away a person; and, it changes the family dynamics. Add a need, or take away a need; and again…the whole composition of the family changes. This is to be expected in the life of every family.
Families that are created out of adoption have a multitude of blessings and challenges. The same can be said of families that have special needs children…whether they are born into the family or adopted. The term family falls under an umbrella of accomodations; each person’s wants and needs are accomodated into the family unit (or should be). Your place in the family is guaranteed out of love, acceptance, encouragement and the occasional nudging towards further personal growth. A healthy family is designed to be a personal support system.
My own family has both adopted children and special needs children. We have blessings and challenges like any other family. Those blessings and challenges aren’t JUST related to being a family created from adoption, or of special needs; it is sometimes a mixture of both.
I grew up in a large family and my husband did as well. We are used to understanding that each person is unique. Each person is an individual, as well as, part of a family unit. Often in my sibling group we had wants and needs that conflicted with one another…my husband’s family as well. We had to work out any differences between family member’s expectations. My husband’s family was impacted by some special needs, my family was not. Neither of our families were impacted by adoption. And yet, because we came from large families…some would consider our families to be special needs just because of the number of children. Each person in a family impacts another; that is typical of any family that consists of more than one person. There is no such thing as a “normal” family!
We are blessed with creative thinkers, business minded or logical thinkers, nurturers, artistic individuals, readers, non-readers, free thinkers, outgoing personalities, highly verbal personalities (how come i didn’t get any quiet personality childen?) LOL, musical, non-musical, conformists and non-conformists, high IQ-low IQ, flexible and non-flexible personalities; you get the idea. We are a creative mix of likes and dislikes. It is a balancing act at times trying to meet everyone’s needs. But, it is done because we want to; we desire to recognize each person’s requirements to be successful, to be healthy and happy.
Each family has a story; it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Everyday we are writing new pages to add to the story. Those stories are of interest to others because we can learn from one another. We can share in the laughter, the confusion, the joy, the sorrow, the sense of betrayal or anger that fills a family with a lifetime of experiences. The stories of your family can mingle with other family stories to create a sense of encouragement,failure, discouragement, success, education, or compassion. Experiences can draw people together or set them apart.
Isolation is sometimes a part of family life when you are raising adopted children or special needs children; just because of the lack of understanding; or, perceived lack of understanding, of those in your social circles or community. It is very important to find support in those times of feeling isolated by behavior difficulties or by circumstances.
We must learn to live in the moment…not be defined by labels or expectations. Each day, each moment is open to interpetation. We can stop, we can reread, we can change directions and we can grow and learn. Sometimes people get a label and try to skip all of the chapters in between the beginning and the end…they just want to go to the end of the book and see how the story turns out. It is in the daily living…getting the most out of each and every moment that we are given to live, that we find fulfillment and joy.
So, what’s your family’s story? How was your family created? Is your family life the way you expected it to be? If yes, why? If not why? What would you change if you could? Can you change it? Can you change how you think about it? What impact does your family have on each other; what impact does your family have on others around you? What does family mean to you? What do you love about your family?
My husband and I are the proud parents of six adopted children. We have 3 girls and 3 boys. Each person has their own gifts and blessings. Some of those children are special needs children; and some are not. We have children with special needs issues ranging from bi-polarism, to ADHD, to learning disabilities, to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, some have behavior related issues. One is homeschooled, one is in special education classes, one should have been, and some have benefitted from regular educational services. Some are adults living their own lives very successfully. Others struggle in some areas of day- to- day activities. A couple have to be supervised or encouraged every waking moment of the day to help keep them focussed on being the best person that they can be. They are all loved, supported and have brought much to our family.
Each person has their abilities and their challenges. None of them did anything to deserve the life they were born into; they had no control over the very beginning of their life. Yet, each of them must strive to have a loving, healthy, productive and happy life. It is possible. Some adaptations may be required for some of my children to have an independent life; but, it is possible. Since it IS possible, we will do whatever we can do to help make that happen.
Adoption is a complex thing. It serves many purposes and yet…it has an ability to wound, to heal, to lift up, to destroy, to save lives, and to shuffle lives. There are always imprints of a life that was supposed to be; melded into the life that is gifted and aborbed into another family. There are moments of: celebration, sadness, regrets, and purposeful choices; adoption is a wonderfully, painful mixture of the emotional buffet of life! It is a parent’s responsibility to seek excellence for the quality of life for their children.
Our family is special and unique; I bet your family is too! We have had many successes as a family; as well as, some twists and turns that were unexpected. The dream of a new parent doesn’t usually include the expectation that things could turn out differently from the dream of a picture perfect family. A birth family or an adopted family does not get to choose from an ‘ala carte menu, of challenges it may or may not face. As most parents would say, we live and breath for our children; and yet, we are not ashamed to say at times…we wonder…did we do the right thing? Our children didn’t get a choice in life in which family they would grow up in. There are shades of grey for each person…balancing the pros and cons of adoption.
Whether a child is brought into a family by birthing it into the family, or by adoption…the child is received with awe, with excitement, and with hope for a beautiful future. There are unexpected situations at times regarding health issues, behavioral issues, attachment issues, emotional issues and even loyalty issues. Those things and more can affect the foundation of a family.
Many families are jolted to learn that their child has special needs or that their adopted child has issues that will affect them and their family for years to come. It is a difficult time for parents and other siblings to struggle to learn about the issues facing the family…because…none of us go it alone.
Family is a support system all unto itself…but, sometimes the issues can seem overwhelming. That is the time that families need to reach beyond their boundaries that are self imposed, because many do not understand what we face as families with challenges. Don’t let that stop you from reaching out. You just might be surprised by the impact that you could have on another…or vice versa.
Really, for many people going through the shattered reality that their family is not following the dream of perfect completion…there is a sense of isolation and a perceived lack of understanding from others who have not walked in the same pair of shoes.
So, is there a need for support and information for families who have experiences that can mirror each other? Is there a wealth of understanding that is untapped because we have not had the opportunity to join forces and absorb techniques and encouragement from one another? I think there is. I have heard so many comments that would break your heart. Families that are under so much strain that they threaten to break and disintegrate under the pressure. If one person or family can benefit from sharing and encouraging each other here; then, the blog will have served it purpose.
Do you know someone who has things to share? Do you know someone who could benefit from a little support or information? Do you know someone who is facing a future with a special needs child and is struggling? Do you know someone with rose colored glasses that is thinking about adoption; but, isn’t willing to accept anything less than perfection? Bring them to a place that will enlighten them, encourage them, and embrace them! Families should be celebrated and enjoyed…not everyone is blessed with people to share their love with.