July 30, 2012

A Time Travel Fantasy

There's a new post up at Support for Special Needs, in recognition of the nine year anniversary of Schuyler's polymicrogyria diagnosis. It has been an indescribable nine years, and a tremendous contrast between fear and reality.


July 23, 2012

First

My latest post at Support for Special Needs addresses People First Language. I've written about this before, and I'm not sure my feelings have changed about it very much, but a discussion I had online recently made me think it might be time to revisit the topic. So here you go.

In other news, it is entirely possible that someone in a managerial situation in the city of Chicago might be saying to themselves, "Say, I'd really like to hire that Rob fellow to come work for me in my Factory of Hopes and Dreams, if only I could meet him face to face and determine if I like the cut of his jib."

Well, good news. Both me and my jib will be visiting next week. Let's make it happen.


July 16, 2012

An Intervention

There's a new post up at Support for Special Needs. You will be perhaps ever so slightly unsurprised to hear that it involves the legal battle between the developers of the speech language app Speak for Yourself and the Prentke Romich Company.

Short version: We're getting involved, yo.

July 9, 2012

Running on Empty

On Facebook the other day, I made a statement in regards to the rapper 50 Cent and his ugly Tweets in which he used autism and special education as cheap insults.

I said:
"I love a good outrage as much as anyone, but honestly? If I were required by law to give two shits about what 50 Cent thinks, I'd have to borrow them both."
A few people took me to task for that, and they weren't wrong to do so. While I haven't exactly changed my position on this concerning the amount of outrage I have been able to muster about 50 Cent and his opinion about anything at all, I do try to at least address my lack of outrage and what that might mean about me at the moment.

You can go read about it on today's Support for Special Needs.

July 7, 2012

Buddy and the Way of Change

The way of the world is the way of change.

Just ask Buddy. If you can find him.

When we first moved to Plano almost seven years ago (it seems so strange to me to even say that, so impossible that we've been here that long), one of the first things we discovered was that living next to a duckpond and a city greenbelt meant a steady parade of interesting wildlife, like coyotes and a bobcat (named Bob, of course) and herons and even a snapping turtle that looked a little like something from Loch Ness. But our happiest discovery was a toad living just outside our apartment. We named him Buddy, for reasons that have long since escaped me.

Buddy would make a regular appearance right outside our door, and even in the beginning, he showed little fear. Being a twelve year-old boy at heart, I was never able to resist the urge to pick him up in those early years, and he expressed his displeasure in the way that all toads and frogs do. I believe they drink water all day just in case some manchild insists on picking them up.

But as the years passed, Buddy stopped peeing when I picked him up. He would simply hang there while I held him and showed him to Schuyler, who adored him from the beginning. He stood still while I took his photo. One night, I went outside and sat on the little stone wall next to our apartment and watched Buddy hunting for bugs. He had grown so accustomed to my presence by then that he went about his business without paying me any attention. I sat maybe two feet from him while he stalked his prey. As far as animal experiences go, it was pretty amazing.

Over the years, Buddy has remained a constant summertime companion. We watched him as he relocated from the wall to a gap next to a manhole cover about ten feet away, and we saw him take on a lady friend. A few weeks ago, I watched him eat a not-small gecko, which was a disturbing reminder that in the world of small animals, toads and frogs are actually relentless killers. I was amazed that Buddy had been with us for so long until I looked up toad lifespans and found that toads can live up to forty years. Can you imagine that?

And then, shortly after the gruesome gecko incident, Buddy disappeared. It has been weeks since I've seen him. Did he move away, following a shift in his food supply? Did his new chicky friend want a bigger place? Did one of the herons that lurk near the pond make a snack of him? Or even the snake whose shed skin we discovered in the grass last week? Did Buddy meet with tragedy, or did he simply ease on down the road?

The way of the world is the way of change. We say our goodbyes and we move on, and we do so with hearts that are heavy or with souls that are electrified with possibility, and we take pieces of all the homes and lives that we've led before. Those pieces become part of the complex tapestry of ourselves. Some are bittersweet and even tinged with regret, but they're all part of who we are, and who we are to become.

When we moved here, we did so powered by hope. Hope for this place, hope for Schuyler, hope that we'd found a place that could be home. And here's the thing. It was. Plano was a good fit for us for a long time before it soured. I don't regret moving here, not one bit. It was the right thing to do, and it saved Schuyler as much as any other choice we ever made.

Now that things have stagnated and now that Schuyler's future and whatever independence it might contain loom larger and more immediate, we could have stayed longer. Perhaps we should. And given the precarious job situation, perhaps we will be forced to do so a bit longer. But it's time to go. The way of the world, and the nature of change, is that it is rarely convenient. Change involves the breaking of things, not just building but rebuilding.

It's not easy. If it was, we'd all embrace change the way Schuyler does. She lives for change; she thrives on it in a way that runs counter to almost everything you've ever read about kids with disabilities. For Schuyler, their are no routines, only ruts. And so in her mind, the idea of moving to Chicago and starting at a new school and having new friends and expanding her family, it all makes perfect sense. She admitted to me again recently that she doesn't like her school now and doesn't have any real friends. If you're not a parent, I'm not sure I can explain to you how horrible and helpless that makes me feel. If you are, no explanation is required.

For Schuyler, change involves possibilities that are a little heartbreaking to me. She is eager to leave some things behind, and her ever-present optimism and belief in the future remains one of the more poignant aspects of her life to me. There's a lot that Chicago represents to us all, in ways that will become much more clear to everyone soon enough. We all have our personal as well as family reasons. But to Schuyler most of all, I think there's a persistent hope, possibly naive yet very real, that this time, she will find her place and her people.

I don't know what happened to Buddy, or if he'll return. If he does, one day in the hopefully imminent future I'll go pick him up one last time (from above, of course; pee on me once, shame on you...) and say goodbye to the only neighbor I ever really cared about. If Buddy has truly moved on, however, I can only say that I wish him well in his uncertain future. I wish the same for us all.




Update, 7/17: Buddy has returned! He let me pick him up last night without pissage, although he declined to have his photo taken. When I asked where he's been, he said he didn't want to talk about it. I'm guessing Vegas.

July 2, 2012

The Grownups

There's a new post up at Support for Special Needs, following my attendance at the 2012 AAC-RERC State of the Science Conference in Baltimore last week. Not a recap or anything that fancy, just an observation on one particular aspect of the conference.

One thing I didn't mention in my piece was the interesting observation that a number of representatives from the big assistive technology device makers were in attendance, which I appreciated very much. The discussions of the iPad and the consumer electronics in AAC tech couldn't have been a lot of fun for them. I was saddened and a little disappointed that PRC wasn't among the companies in attendance. I would have been interested in their input, and I'm going to say with confidence that they could have benefitted greatly from hearing what people had to say about the topic.

I don't feel like there's nearly enough active listening going on in the assisted speech industry at the moment, which is both ironic and a very great pity.

June 25, 2012

Extraordinary Measures

There's a new post up at Support for Special Needs. I'm actually not entirely sure what to say to describe this one. I quote an old torch song, "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return." I think that quote might just sum it up nicely.

I'm still looking for a job in Chicago, by the way. You know, in case you were thinking of offering me one but didn't want to get lost in the crush of offers coming my way. Crush away. Seriously. Don't make me beg.

June 18, 2012

A Day Without Lawyers

There's a new post over at Support for Special Needs. More talk about the legal song and dance between the developers of Speak for Yourself and the Prentke Romich Company. The whole thing has grown exactly as frustrating and ridiculous as you might imagine. Honestly, I'd write more, but the topic is exhausting.

June 14, 2012

Beautiful Freak

You're such a beautiful freak
I wish there were more just like you
You're not like all of the others

Schuyler has always loved music, which is no surprise given that she's been surrounded by it from day one, and I've always sung to her. In recent years, we've sung to each other, in those moments we share alone. Schuyler and I spend a great deal of time together, particularly once she's out of school. She accompanies me to work most days, and in the long car ride, we sing, a lot.

The other day, we were singing an Eels song, which is hardly surprising to anyone who knows us. The music of Mark Oliver Everett has always been ours, Schuyler's and mine together, ever since she was a baby and I would sing My Beloved Monster and Me to her. It was fitting; she was my strange little monster, even before I knew why, and we really did go everywhere together, as we still do today. As she grew older, particularly in the dark days after her diagnosis, I would sing her to sleep with The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight ("It's not where you're coming from / It's where you're going to / And I just wanna go with you…"), thinking of a future where she might have to go forward without me, or me without her.

But this week, it was a simpler, happier song, Beautiful Freak. Every time I sing it to her and point to her, she laughs, and the way she sings it back to me, in her strange tongue that so few in the world are privileged to hear and even fewer to understand, it makes my heart soar. We have so many nicknames for each other (her current favorite for me is "Daddy-O", which I adore beyond description), and few of them are gentle. Dummy. Butthead. Buggin. Space Monkey. Freak.

And that is why I love you
Beautiful freak, beautiful freak
That is why I love you
Beautiful freak, beautiful freak

"Daddy," she asks, "Am I a freak?"

I look at her face carefully, searching for anxiety. Is this a word she's heard before, from the lips of mean kids? But no, there's nothing there. She's smiling. She just wants to talk.

I want to say no, but it doesn't feel like the right answer.

"We're all freaks," I say. "Everyone in the world feels like a freak sometimes."

"Is it bad?" she asks.

"It's not bad," I say. "Sometimes people use that word to be mean, but it's only mean if you take it that way. Everyone is different, and you're more different than most, you know? That's why you're my beautiful freak."

Some people think you have a problem
But that problem lies only with them
Just 'cause you are not like the others

I've always maintained that the only things I could really promise Schuyler are love and the truth. And so I've never pretended that she's not different, or that her difference wouldn't be difficult to bear sometimes.

Schuyler knows she's different. And when we sing, when she's a beautiful freak and she's loved for it, she's okay with it. It's a hard life for her, and it's not going to necessarily get that much easier, but it's hers and she's making her peace with it.

And I think it's pretty clear that Schuyler has figured something out about her father, something that the song reaffirms but which she's probably known all along, longer than I've been aware, even.

She knows that my love for her runs even deeper because she's different. That her difference fuels my affection in a way that is impossible to understand or define.

Too good for this world
But I hope you will stay
And I'll be here to see
That you don't fade away

When Schuyler and I move through the world together, we do so in a way that is different from her other relationships. It's different even than those moments when anyone else is around. Schuyler gives her attention to others in a way that can be intense; I can only assume that there are a few restraining orders in her future. But when it's just the two of us, when no one else is there, we occupy a space that is ours and ours alone. Schuyler holds my hand when we drive. She claims one shoulder for her own and just holds on. We share food and we sing songs and we say snotty things about other drivers. We find vending machines and eat bad snacks. We count airplanes overhead, every day.

I frequently write about Schuyler as a child with a disability because that's the thing that we struggle with the most, and the thing that speaks to a larger community the most clearly. But it's important to understand that the experience isn't hard because of her. It's hard because of the world. It's hard because society requires her to fit, in a way that she doesn't do easily, and while I would love to change the world, that's not ever going to happen, not to the extent that it should.

I can't change THE world, but I can try to change hers, to build a space around her where she can exist on her own terms, at least enough to regroup and recharge before she goes back into the fray, back into a land of passing, of trying to fit, and of trying to hold her head up while a dumb world expects her to apologize for being a beautiful freak. I can try, for as long as it is within my power, to see that she doesn't fade away.

You're such a beautiful freak
I bet you are flying inside
Dart down and then go for cover

Schuyler needs to be enabled. She needs to be given tools to communicate, options for freedom, opportunities to love and be loved. Schuyler could be an amazing big sister to someone, and she is easily the very best friend that anyone could have if only they would ask her to be. Given the right environment, Schuyler will thrive. She will grow wings and she will fly away, far from the doubters and far from these who would limit her and diminish her value and her humanity with their lack of vision.

And far from me one day. I hope that she can, even as I hope she never does. For like every other dad since the beginning, it is the fate of this father's heart to be broken, in ways I could never see coming, and could never, even in my most selfish moments, ever deny my beloved monster.

And know that I
I love you
Beautiful freak, beautiful freak


June 11, 2012

Nomad

Today's Support for Special Needs post discusses the phenomenon of nomad parenting. But more than that, it talks about how that concept affects my own family. In the past, and yes, in the future.

If you're one of those people who never clicks through to read what I've written over at SfSN (and believe me, I understand the strain that extra click places on you; I am up late every night, tortured with guilt over the legions of carpel tunnel sufferers that I have no doubt created), here's the piece that might surprise you. We are looking to move to the Chicago area, hopefully within the coming months. We have our reasons, some of which I discuss in the piece that lies behind that brutal extra click, and some of which are personal.

I'm looking for a job. This is a little daunting because 1) I have a job now that I quite enjoy, and 2) my resume is a little… weird. It certainly makes searching for new work to be a challenge. So if you live in the Chicago area and either know of job possibilities or are a mighty hiring captain of industry yourself, please let me know. I've been shooting resumes into the internet void for the past week or so, and I'm starting to feel like one of those SETI scientists who monitor deep space radio waves and wait in vain to hear from aliens who want to be our friends. Or, you know, give us jobs.



June 4, 2012

The Future is its Own Kind of Monster

My latest post at Support for Special Needs discusses how the end of the school year means facing the future, and how for those of us with kids with disabilities, looking into that future can be pretty disconcerting.

In other news, Schuyler finally got her year-long dream over the weekend, which was to color her hair blue. Except it didn't turn out blue, not even close. She was disappointed (How many little girls dream of having hair that is gunmetal grey?), but it grew on her. I knew we were going to be okay when she looked at herself in the mirror, paused, and then said "I look evil!"



May 28, 2012

Speaking for Herself

It's Monday, meaning there's a new post at Support for Special Needs. Today I discuss Schuyler's own self-advocacy where her communications are concerned, making real decisions regarding how she chooses to make herself heard.


But I Was Looking at the Permanent Stars (Memorial Day 2012)

Bugles sang, saddening the evening air,
And bugles answered, sorrowful to hear.

Voices of boys were by the river-side.
Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.
The shadow of the morrow weighed on men.

Voices of old despondency resigned,
Bowed by the shadow of the morrow, slept.

( ) dying tone
Of receding voices that will not return.
The wailing of the high far-travelling shells
And the deep cursing of the provoking ( )

The monstrous anger of our taciturn guns.
The majesty of the insults of their mouths.

-- Wilfred Owen


May 21, 2012

Fail

There's a new post at Support for Special Needs. It's not long, but it was hard to write.

I hope I don't have to write another one like this for a long, long time.


May 14, 2012

May 12, 2012

An Undiscovered Country

In the past year or so, Schuyler has made a discovery. It's one I've always known she would make, and always anticipated with a heavy heart. Inevitable, perhaps, for any person with an essentially good heart and a love for the world that it has neither earned nor returned.

Schuyler is learning how to be sad.

She learned in middle school that being surrounded by people doesn't mean you can't be lonely. She learned that people will look at a kid like her and make assumptions that are extremely unkind, assumptions that she can't easily dispel. She learned that her brain can betray her, can leave her confused and dispirited, and that as she grows older, that betrayal only grows worse. The last few times that she's suffered partial complex seizures have left her crying. She had one last night in the middle of dinner with friends that left her sobbing, for no reason she could identify. "I can't stop crying," she kept saying to me, and the confusion in her voice was, for me, perhaps the most heartbreaking of the many bad things about her fucking monster.

Schuyler is coming to realizations about this grand, rough world that she probably already knew, but in the last year or so, she's taken those lessons to heart.

Today I accompanied Schuyler to her middle school band's annual trip to a local water park. I was attending as a parent chaperone, doing things like checking names as the kids got on the bus and handing out wristbands and such, but when the rest of the chaperones' jobs were done and the kids were in the park, my real duty began. The band director, a good and decent person who really does real damage to the crappy reputation of conductors everywhere (I kid, I kid...), recognizes our daughter's challenges, and she works harder than we have any right to expect in order to make Schuyler's band experience a good one. She put me on the chaperone list, I believe, so that I could keep an eye on Schuyler.

Schuyler had a good start to the day as she and a friend gravitated to each other immediately. But I knew we might be in trouble when I saw the girl later with someone else. When Schuyler found me, she was frowning.

"She found another friend," she said. I tried to explain that just because her friend was playing with someone else didn't mean anything bad, and that sometimes people just change up their buddies from time to time, but she wasn't convinced. I honestly had no idea what had happened, but I know Schuyler. She's an amazing person, but she can smother her friends. It's always been a problem and it will continue to be one, until she finds her person, the one who only wants more of her, not less. And that girl or boy will be her soulmate and her forever person, and that will be that.

We sat down for lunch, and were having a pretty good time. Schuyler was fighting a losing battle with a hot dog that she had inadvertently smothered in a toxic strata of mustard, but she was soldiering on. And that's when we heard it, from the table next to ours. A girl, laughing and yelling at her friend.

"You are a retard!"

Schuyler stopped. Her face froze, and she turned to look at the kids. They were oblivious; I don't even think they were from her school. They carried on, not knowing what they had just done, which I suppose is true of the majority of people who casually throw that word around. But I knew. I could see it on Schuyler's face. She turned back to her lunch, her face now a careful mask.

"Are you okay?" I asked. There was no need to acknowledge what had been said.

"I'm not a retard," she said quietly. "That's a mean word."

I tried to explain that the girl wasn't talking about her at all, but Schuyler was absolutely convinced that she was. Beyond that, I explained, not for the first or I suspect the last time, that people who use that word don't have the first clue about who Schuyler is or what she's capable of. That word has nothing to do with her, I said, and people who use it only make themselves smaller, not her. Schuyler sat quietly, not even looking at me when I snapped a photo of her, trying to cheer her up. She listened, but she didn't hear. She'd already heard what she needed to, and not from me, but from one of her peers.

Finally she gave me a lingering hug and said something that I can tell you for a fact that she has never said to me in her young life, yet something that I've said a hundred times to just about any person who has ever loved me, ever. I suppose it was just a matter of time.

"I want to go walk around by myself," she said. "Okay?"

"Okay," I said. And she did, for almost an hour. She was never alone, because I followed her from a distance, watching. Maybe that was the wrong thing to do, but it didn't feel wrong. I know it wasn't the wrong thing to do. Sometimes the hardest part of being a father is when there's absolutely nothing I can do to make it better. Just follow, and let her sadness resonate with my own.

She walked with her hood pulled up, her hands in her pockets, her face cast down, moving sadly through the park and the world like a ghost.

"...her little heart it could explode."

May 7, 2012

The Anxious Season

There is a new post up at Support for Special Needs. Schuyler's IEP meeting is later today, so I decided to share my thoughts on that whole process.

The big news today is that for the first time, Schuyler will be attending that meeting. This has been something we've always wanted her to do, as soon as she was ready. She's going to share her decision with the committee as to what assistive tech solution she has chosen for next year. We've given that decision over to her entirely, and she has been extremely mature and contemplative in making that choice.

I couldn't be more proud of her.


April 30, 2012

April 23, 2012

The Fated Family

There's a new entry at Support for Special Needs about how the process of building families is perhaps different for parents of kids with special needs.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a new AAC app, Speak for Yourself, which is the subject of a lawsuit by the Prentke Romich Company. Well, the developers were kind enough to let me see and evaluate the app with Schuyler. I'll be writing something this week on that very subject. Cool, a teaser…


April 16, 2012

The Island

Once again, it's time for a new post over at Support for Special Needs. I wanted to offer something up to the parents and families out there dealing with external monsters on top of the personal ones that nip at their heels without rest. I've felt badly for special needs parents of late; it seems like the world has been unusually cruel to a lot of them. And it reminded me of something I wrote in my book, a fantasy about escaping to an island.

It was an entirely wrong-headed fantasy, and I knew it back then. Even today, however, it holds some of the same appeal to me as it did years ago when I'd stand on the beach in Connecticut with Schuyler and wish that the future that I was afraid would bedevil her was on the other side of the sea. If it was just us, protected from that future and the grand rough world, I thought, we would make it just fine.

As it turns out, we did anyway.