Believing in Our Children

Advocate, Disability, Down Syndrome, Employment, Parents, Teaching 3 Comments »

As a former teacher myself, I certainly support teachers’ decisions and judgments. However, as a parent I know my children better than anyone else does and when there is a conflict or misunderstanding I value my child’s interpretation of the situation. I have several examples and would like to hear about yours as well.
When my oldest son was in second grade, he had a good, if strict, teacher who expected her students to conform to expected rules and customs. I respected her and was concerned when she called me one morning to say, “Johnny was ‘showing himself’ in class today. What do you want me to do about it?”
I was taken aback and suggested that she leave the discipline up to me; she readily agreed. I thought about the accusation all day and finally had an “a-ha” moment. When Johnny came home, I asked him, “Johnny, how did the kids like your new underwear?” He responded, “Oh mom, they thought it was neat!” Problem solved.
When my daughter was 13 we moved to a new town. She had made a good beginning in playing the piano and we wanted it to continue. In seeking a proper teacher for her, I asked people in the music department of the nearby university and followed their suggestion. Mary was not happy with her lessons, contending that she did not have a good teacher. After hearing this several times and watching her enthusiasm diminish, I went to her lesson with her one day. The teacher was uninspired but attentive; I asked Mary to try harder to work with him. After a few more lessons she confronted me: “Mom, you know that anyone can perform when someone is watching. My music teacher is mean to me!”
We found another teacher and Mary thrived. I wished I had intervened sooner.
My advocacy on Tom’s behalf occurred from my observation rather than his complaint. His sixth grade social studies teacher had asked him to make a series of rather large posters. As I saw him working I failed to see the relevance to his school work but didn’t question it because he enjoyed doing the posters. One evening I walked into one of the local college classrooms where I was taking a course and saw Tom’s posters displayed on the wall. It was clear that his teacher was using Tom’s work as his own. This was a tough one! I knew that Tom could not confront his teacher, nor would he want me to. We talked about the fraudulent use of his posters and finally decided that he should sign all of his work.
It’s more complicated when we are dealing with our children who have disabilities and are not happy in a school or work situation. My son Billy, who has Down syndrome, doesn’t have the vocabulary or the initiative to complain about a relationship or a circumstance. At one time he worked at a fast-food restaurant. He did well at first and then, after a while, his attitude changed. Although he was reluctant to go to work and unenthusiastic in general, he said nothing. I called his employer who said, “I don’t know what has happened to Billy, he just can’t keep up any more.” This didn’t sound like my son and I didn’t understand the whole situation. One day I went to the restaurant, sat at a table near the kitchen, ordered a sandwich and observed the workers. A large crowd came in and Billy’s immediate supervisor began yelling at him, “Hurry, Billy!”
I know Billy: when he is yelled at, he becomes confused and completely shuts down. The issue was resolved in an unusual way. The restaurant was forced to close due to a hepatitis threat. When it reopened, I asked Billy if he would like to go back. He replied, “No, I not like Linda.” This was the first time I had ever heard him express dislike for anyone – he did not go back to work there. His employment record since that time has been stellar, and when he encounters a problem, I have learned that both of us need to identify the situation, talk with persons involved, and work with them to seek a solution.
Do you trust your children? Do they trust you? Have you experienced a “triangular situation” in which you needed to appraise the circumstances from several points of view?

When Snow Comes to Kingsport

Employment, Family Challenges 4 Comments »

We have a steep driveway. When the house was being built, people asked me, “What will you do when it snows?” I replied, “I’ll stay home.” Billy does not like snow because he has a fear of falling, based on an experience when we had a deep snow in North Carolina. Our friend Michael offered to drive him home from work one evening last week when I was unable to navigate our driveway. He put Billy out at the top of the hill; I was watching from the open garage door. Billy promptly slipped and landed on his behind. As he panicked, I suggested that he slide down on that largest part of his body. He slid into home while both of us laughed!

This morning, with renewed snow and impassable roads, Billy and I sat with our coffee watching the snow falling and contemplating our strategy. We finally determined that we would have to call Food City and inform them that Billy would be unable to work today. The phone rings: our friend visiting next door, our friend who has a four-wheel drive car, called to ask if we needed anything since he was going to the store. Billy was delighted to have a ride because he knows they really need him on such a day. Then Jos called to say he would pick Billy up tonight and bring him to the back door rather than the driveway.

So here we are: two rather fragile people with a steep driveway, with remarkably kind friends and family. God is good.

With Billy at work, I have several options. I can finish putting away the Christmas decorations, write thank-you notes, or I can take a nap. Care to make a guess?

FULL PARTICIPATION – Disability Awareness Month

Advocate, Community Participation, Disability, Employment, Parents, People with Disabilities 1 Comment »

The designated month to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness is over today. The concept is a growing one and will continue to attract attention from employers, employees, parents, advocates and the community.

As Ed Moore stated, the community is vital to the acceptance of people with disabilities in the work place. In watching Billy at work for the past eight years, I have seen him and other employees with disabilities interact with the customers who frequent Food City. Since Billy’s disability is quite visible, people sometimes look at him with curiosity or even turn away. That has changed. Now you can hear “Hi, Billy!” as they enter the store, and frequently engage him in conversation. When he and I go to the mall and other places, we continue to hear such greetings addressed to him (I know fewer people than he does). This community acceptance is critical to the achievement of full participation.

Another vital component is the responsibility of parents and other advocates. If we want people with disabilities to be a part of the community, it is important that we help them acquire the skills necessary to do the job required. They have to be dependable, courteous, and willing to work hard. They also have to learn that all people will not treat them kindly; this happens to everyone. Several times customers have been rude to Billy. Sometimes he is deeply hurt and has been told by his supervisor to go outside for a while. I am convinced that as expectations and opportunities continue to develop, full participation will occur.

All of us are part of the process and the outcome.

OPPORTUNITY: Disability Employment Awareness

Advocate, Community Participation, Disability, Employment, People with Disabilities 1 Comment »

When we moved to Kingsport in 2001, an important task was finding a job for Billy. He had worked in a library for 21 years, valued and respected by his co-workers. Our first step was to visit the library in Kingsport, learning that his job was performed by volunteers. The next step was to Vocational Rehabilitation, then to Goodwill Industries, an agency that placed Billy in Food City. Food City is one of a large chain of grocery stores in Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Then we met Ed Moore, the manager of the largest Food City store in Kingsport. Ed gives people with disabilities the OPPORTUNITY to learn, to work, and to be respected. He does not patronize his employees who have disabilities – he requires from them the same skills and behavior that he demands from all of his employees.

After his training, Billy began working at Food City for three days a week. Early on in this position, he got fired for saying a bad word to a customer – an act totally out of character for Billy. Our investigation showed that he was in a situation similar to the episode of Lucy in the candy factory: he got extremely frustrated when he couldn’t keep up with the cashier. He got fired.

We met with Ed, who listened to the story and said one thing to Billy that made all the difference: “Billy, you can ask for help.”

Billy has been working at Food City for eight years. He knows that Ed expects him to be courteous to the customers and to work hard while he is there. He has made friends with the employees and has quite a following of customers. He says, “I love my store.”

There are a number of employees with disabilities at Food City. Some of the disabilities are obvious, some are not visible. You can see Ed walking about the store, greeting the customers, in turn praising and reprimanding the employees, and treating everyone with fairness and respect.

Ed Moore believes that having employees with disabilities is good for the community. He feels that his customers, as well as all his employees, have learned that people with disabilities can succeed if given an opportunity.

Ed Moore and Billy Schulz at Food City
Kingsport, TN

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