My Experiences with School Aides

I was asked awhile back to write about my experiences with school Aides, so  here is my viewpoint.

My school was 17 miles away from home.  A thirty-five minute drive in my family’s car. However, by school bus it was close to a two hour ride one way!

I went to a school called Holiday Center. The school was created for children who had physical disabilities.  The grades ranged from kindergarten on up to the sixth grade.  Normal classwork would be conducted; while individual students would be pulled out of class, and taken to therapy sessions. The therapies included Occupational Therapy(OT), Physical Education(PE), Physical Therapy(PT), and Speech. I loved PE because it was fun and games with my peers, plus I loved the teacher. However, the other three therapies I gradually grew to resent, because I didn’t much like keeping an eye on the clock so that I could leave a interesting class, to go to a labor intensive therapy session. I was always torn between classwork and therapies; both in which would eventually lend me skills I would need in the future!

Holiday was attached to a grade school. of which we had the use of it’s library, gym, and stage for Holiday’s school productions, (my favorite times of year).  Eventually, my class moved into  the school, so we could fully experience be emerged with other “normal” peers.

I haven’t gotten to the main focus of this post yet, which are school aides.  School aides were the backbone of Holiday. They were the teachers extra set of hands.  They kept the schedule running smoothly. They were also there to assist the students with their personal needs.  Such as helping with bathroom breaks, with lunch, helping us pick out library books, and goodness knows what else.

They became invested in their students lives. Often becoming a sounding board to their students . Once when I was convinced my parents were crazy for insisting I needed to get braces to straighten out my teeth. My school aide picked up something was troubling me, and got me talking. By the end of our conversation she helped me to see the benefits of the torture coming my way, and even how lucky I was to have parents who saw that I needed braces!  To this day, I’m grateful for the aides I had at Holiday Center, for they encouraged me every step of the way.

Maybe at times the school aids were a little too intrusive.  They were in consent communication with our parents.  They knew the contents in our backpacks, so no surprises ever could occur.  Above all that, I was convinced I was an old soul at heart, therefore I preferred talking to my aides and teachers, rather then most of my peers.  This lead to a social awkwardness I still struggle with today!

My biggest goal while at Holiday was to be “mainstreamed” into my neighborhood school system.  This dream only happened after I agreed to stay at Holiday an extra year; so I could be prolific at using the communication device that was determined I absolutely needed to be successful at my new school.  Which, in all honesty, I was nowhere close to being great at.  The device looked like a  calculator.  Every word, phrase, and letter had a three digit code I had to memorize.  It had a male robotic voice, that didn’t jive with me at all.  What was it’s greatest downfall?  It’s lack to store my own phrases, and school work.  If it had those two capabilities, I could have made it work.

My graduation speech should have tipped me off that the device wasn’t well matched to my needs.  I spent about two hours programming the speech into  my communication device.  I was keenly aware of  the fact that if the device were to be.turned off, the speech would be lost.  There wasn’t a lot happening in school that day, so I decided I needed a breath of fresh air, and went outside.  When I wanted back in; I waved  at someone to let me in, and that’s when my hand fell ceremoniously on the device’s on/off switch.  I swore my first blue streak, and ran to my speech therapist who quickly helped restore my speech just in time.

Interesting enough, my two school districts feuded over who had the rights to my device.   Mom calmly but  firmly said, “You promised my daughter she could go to her neighborhood school, if she had this device. She is taking it with her.  We will gladly return the device when she’s no longer using it!”  The battle was dropped.

After my first day at my new school, the second I got off of my quickest bus ride ever; I burst  into  tears.  It was the hardest day of my life!  I had what I wanted, going to the same school my siblings went to, having some of of teachers say, “Say, are  you so and so’s kid sister?”  I literately knew no one.  I endured stares, and awkward moments,  while finding all my classes before the horrid bell rang.  I wanted to give up, and go back to Holiday where everybody knew me, and felt like  family.  However, I could not give up with just one day under my belt!

I only had  an aide a couple of times during the day.  Both were in modified study halls, plus scheduled bathroom breaks.  The rest of the time, I relied on my peers.  They helped me with  getting my books  out of my backpack and to the right pages, taking notes for me, and handing in homework.  They even helped  feed me my lunches.  Knowing myself the way I do, I would have stopped eating the moment my classmates stopped.

I didn’t have a female version of Kenneth “Speechless” hanging around constantly to interfere with peer bonding, and that was priceless, and I wouldn’t change it for the world!  However, sometimes I felt like a burden to my peers.  They didn’t walk into school starting 7th grade thinking they would be volunteering to help me at different times during the next six years.  However, I’m so grateful some my peers were willing to help me!  Go, Canby Cougars of 1988!  You rocked!

P,S.  In my Junior year, I ended up giving the communication device back to Holiday Center.  Instead I opted for a laptop computer, and a little device that typed  out ticker-tape messages.  Both devices served me about eight, years until I begrudgingly admitted that technology had improved enough that I felt I could be successful at using.


Health Care: It Should Mean Something To You!

What does health care mean to me?  It means quality of life!  It means being able to go to the doctor and dentist when I need to. It means living in the home I do, and being able to have 22\7 personal assistant care. It means being able receive the tools such as my power chair,  communication device, eye glasses, strategically placed grab bars around the house,  shower chair, and manual wheelchair; all of these things make me as  independent as I am.

It was clear I had a disability from the traumatic birth I went through. The real question of just how disabled I was had to wait and be seen until I grew. However, the doctor told my parents that there was an institution called Fairview that I could go to. My parents didn’t give it a thought, and kept me at home.  All through my childhood my mom was able to get me the help I needed when I needed it. A contact of mom’s got me seen at Shriner’s hospital, Shriner’s sent me to Child Development and Rehabilitation Center, where I received my first physical, occupational, and speech therapies. I was born the year after the Higher Education Act of 1965, and that ensured that I received “financial assistance” for the special equipment I needed to get my education.

I believe that without my family’s support and the timely medical care I received early in my life: I wouldn’t be the person I am today!  I also know that if people are not personally disabled or are attached to a person whom who is living with a disability,  they may  not understand the importance of specialized health care for individuals who have disabilities. Be aware, be involved, be an advocate!


Praise For “Speechless”.

I should have sang this past Fall’s new show on    the network ABC:   ‘Speechless’  way before now. However, the episode I recently watched,  entitled “D-I- ING” had me laughing so hard I was crying and my belly hurt from being in such stitches. I just can’t stay quite any longer!

First off, “Speechless” is a half hour comedy about a family. There’s the parents and three kids. The oldest kid JJ has CP.  The Premier kicked off with the mom announcing to the kids that they were moving to another in a long line of schools. This school was going to be different in the fact that JJ would have a full-time aide who would read his communication board for him, and thus he’d have audible  voice. The thought that ran through my mind was, why didn’t JJ have a communication device that had voice out-put?   I quickly reflected that it’s up to the individual’s preference as to how they want to communicate, and maybe JJ feels more connected and communicates faster when people read his board with him pointing to the words he wants with his laser pointer  Not to mention the fact that JJ uses the laser pointer in numerous ways; he’d be lost without it!

JJ’s family seems over-the-top; especially Mia, his mom.  However, she’s just passionately fighting for the rights and services her child needs?  Parents who have children with disabilities should be praised for knowing their child’s  needs.  Not have the school administrators cringe at the sight of caring parents marching down their halls in determination.

Take for instance, on the kids first day at the new school, Mia was disappointed to find the only entrance into the school JJ could use was a ramp at the back of the school.  Oh, how I can relate; I’ve entered plenty of buildings through egress of back door ramps made solely for the ease of taking  out garbage.  Just after all three of her kids entered the school via the “back door”,  Mia who was complaining her son had to enter school via the garbage ramp, seized the perfect opportunity to teach the principal a lesson.  Out came a janitor (Kenneth) with a cart that held half landscaping supplies and  garbage.  The crazed mom played, Trash Or Person with the principal.  First she pretended to shake Steven Hawking’s hand, then she preceded by holding up objects and asking if they were trash or person.  When Mia asked the principal if she was trash or a person, she was so overwhelmed by Mia, that for a second she didn’t know how to answer.

Things I like about the show;

When JJ’s new aide turns out to not be the “right fit”.  JJ finds someone he likes, gives him an impromptu interview,  and hires him.  His choice of an aide was accepted by everyone involved; much to the chagrin of Mia, who got off on the wrong foot with Kenneth.

I love that JJ’s siblings are always around and willing to read his board for him.  Also, when his ill-fitted aide questions JJ’s input in his family’s conversation.  His dad off-offhandedly took a second to correct her, that JJ’s comments were wanted and appreciated.

Things I have trouble believing about the show:

I never had my aide come home with me after school or on the weekends, except on rare occasions for some milestone party. The fact that JJ’s school aide helps out at the family’s home is pure luxurious fiction on the shows part!

JJ’s family always seem to be around to read his comm board. My family didn’t do that. However, often when I was totally immersed in typing a school report, or my own personal journal, I would be startled to feel hot breath on my neck as members of my family read my words over my shoulders.

JJ’s family uses his disability as an excuse to act slovenly.  I don’t understand that, at all! My family never did that!

It’s a half hour show, geared for fast pace, funny story lines.  Sometimes it takes me a whole half hour to communicate a thought.  JJ’s rate of .communication is way too fast for someone who accesses his communication device via an inferred laser head-pointer.

However, everyone needs to understand this point; every episode of Speechless has two or more nuggets of truth in them.

In the episode, “D-I- ING”, the family is shopping at a new store for them because its the only store that carries an ingredient that  Ray (JJ’s brother) needs for a graded school project.   Well, as it turns out Ray accuses Mia of dinging the passenger door to the car she parked by, and they’re  thus occupied bickering over that.  Jimmy (JJ’s dad) sets out to prove to Dylan (JJ’s sister) that he can deliver on a promise, and the pair team  up in that quest.  JJ is left alone to gather his portion of the shopping list.

During his time in the store, a number of people asked JJ if he had a license to drive his power chair. Right after the first person asked JJ that question Dylan bet JJ on how many people would ask that same question.  The only person who caught JJ’s eye-roll after asking that question was the guy behind the meat counter.  Then he acknowledges his fop aw, and JJ accepts his apology.  The next second meat counter guy witnesses someone else’s greater mistake.  A fellow shopper, engrossed in talking on his phone, absentmindedly uses JJ’s chair controller to move JJ out of his way.

JJ who suddenly finds the offending shopper’s grocery list in his lap, schemes to be a real obstacle to the shopper. JJ’s antics are totally unrealistic at times, but non-the-less I was right there rooting JJ on. Where was Kenneth in all the mayhem the family was causing? He was there managing to save the day.  Pun intended!  Just watch the show already!

There’s Never Too Many Clothes

Upon seeing my closet, most people might assume that I am a clothes horse. I will admit that the closet is near the bursting point. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m off clothes shopping every chance I get. Sadly, I haven’t the money nor the time it requires to seriously shop for clothes.I’m genuinely pleased to add a new blouse to the collection every three or four months. It just boosts my mood to have something new to wear.

Don’t tell anyone this, but I don’t always weed out old clothes. Especially if the clothes were a gift. I figure when clothes are gifts, it’s a free pass to keep the old. Even if I am the ‘gifter’ on special occasions; like my birthday or for someone’s wedding, or celebrating my 75th blog post… The possibilities of gifting to oneself is endless.

Seriously now, I have a perfectly logical explanation for why I keep my closet so stuffed. I can’t physically stand up to lift the hangers from the clothing rod in the closet. Instead I tug at the sleeve of the garment I want, and hope that it slips off easily. I don’t want my clothes falling to the floor. If they hit the floor, I can’t help but think that they are already dirty. Plus, I don’t want to do the little bend and stretch to pick the piece of clothing up. That’s the beauty of having a stuffed closet. All the clothes keeps the garment I’m after suspended long enough to get a good grip to pull it the rest of the way out.

So, that’s my excuse for having a stuffed closet, and I’m sticking to it!


It’s Voting Time, Yeah or Ney

Here’s a little tidbit for the current voting haze of  today.

The last election, my vote did not count.  I know this because a month or two after the election, I received a letter stating as much.  They rejected my vote, because my signature was not the same as the one I used when I first registered to vote.  This was not news to me, as my signature is never the same  due to having Cerebral Palsy[CP}  Developing my own unique signature was never in my scope of functions.

I discussed this fact with the election’s officer upon registering.  At that time, it was acceptable to make my mark, and then have someone sign witness by, followed with their name.  i was never 100 percent certain if it had to be the same person who helped me register.  I assumed it wasn’t the case, since I’m never with that person; and they have actually moved out of the state.

When I got the rejection letter, the first thing that crossed my mind was that I wasted a lot of time studying the measures.  It takes detective work  to decipher any hidden meanings.  I think the  writers of the measures quite often try to make them sound so convoluted to get us to vote one way, when in reality if the measure was written clearer, there’s no way people would ever vote for half of what’s on the ballot.  Half the time I’m scared of voting for something I’d be opposed  to, that I almost would rather skip voting.

Then I was mad they rejected my ballot. i started thinking what if the person tallying my ballot didn’t like the way I voted.  What’s to stop them from looking for any loophole to discredit my vote. and found it in the discrepancies in my signatures.  My imaginary conspiracy theory is working overtime here.  I don’t know the rules for counting the ballots once they reach the elections office.  However, I do think that over time people’s signatures do change from a list of different factors.  In that vein, there should be an easy way to indicate rather or not someone is authentic, instead of rejecting ballots because there is a discrepancy.  So what if it takes an extra month to get everything sorted  out.

So, this election I am determined to make my ballot count.  One of my PA’s suggested I take my ballot to the bank I use, and have a notarization done on my ballot.  When we called to set up an appointment, they said they didn’t notarize ballots.  They suggested calling the City Clerk; the City Clerk suggested calling the Elections Office.

We completely flustered the Elections worker by explaining that my last ballot wasn’t counted because of a problem reading my signature, and I wanted to make certain  my ballot was counted.  She said something rather snarky like I needed a signature stamp.  She then hastily ended the phone call. [Maybe she just didn’t fully understand our question.]  We called her right back, and asked if I could go to the Elections Office, and sign my envelope in front of some credible person  there.  She basically said I needed update my signature  each voting period.   So, I will do that with no complaints.

If you find any ballets in this post, rather then ballots, know that I would prefer being at the ballet than blogging about ballots!

To Chase, Or Not To Chase The Mouse

How useful is a computer without a mouse?  Pretty useless, wouldn’t you agree?  In a pinch, you can use the Tab and Enter keys, but it is not always easy to tell where the Tab has moved to, if it has moved at all.

Due to having C.P., I can’t use a standard mouse. I just don’t have the fine motor skills it takes to operate  a mouse. I have had an adapted mouse\joystick that has well placed function buttons under a grid to prevent me from hitting a command I don’t want to make. I had two such joysticks. One for home use, and the other for work.    As it turns out, both joysticks stopped working the same week. What are the odds of that happening?

I suspected the joystick at home was on it’s way out. In preparation, I went to Best Buy, and bought the only thing I thought might halfway work. A wireless Trackball, an upside down mouse, if you can picture that. I knew it wasn’t exactly what I needed, and that it would cause me loads of frustrations, because the buttons were too close together. However, for a quick fix, I told myself I could make it work!

I played a lot of solitaire, just to practice using the Trackball. Strangely enough, I discovered I could control the Trackball better if it was turned around, so that the mouse moves in the opposite direction that it usually goes in. By using it this way, I’m less  likely to press unwanted keys. Within a couple of weeks I was pretty pleased with how well I was using the trackball; I was actually winning some games!  However, when I tried to do some finite work, using the trackball became the most amazingly frustrating chore ever!  I would get the mouse exactly where I wanted it, only I couldn’t depress the right click, or I’d get so excited that I found the mark, that a wayward finger would brush against the ball and send the mouse clear across the screen.

I have a vivid fantasy of picking up the trackball, and flinging it out of my room, down the hallway, and running it over and over and over again until it is crushed into millions of tiny pieces!  Fortunately, for the trackball, it is shaped so irregularly that I can’t get a good grasp on it to throw it. Even if I did manage to throw the trackball, my new power chair would merely push it around until the wheel found a way to skirt past it!  Anyway, crushing the trackball would do no good service to myself. However, the act of describing my fantasy got out my frustrations!  Ah, the power of writing!

To be continued…………



Story Time

i am in a reminiscing mood, and long time ago I promised to write about a vacation that I made my dad take. Oh, it is a great story!

My youngest sister and I felt cheated out of family vacations, not that our older siblings enjoyed many vacations, either.  Back when it was just the three siblings and a hitchhiker [Not me.} in mom’s womb, they went to Disneyland. I can only remember one family beach trip, including mom’s entire side of family. I was in seventh heaven being surrounded by all those people who loved me, in a new place!

My dad was a farmer, and a certified home-body. At family functions held in other relatives homes, after we had the meal, mom was lucky  she had a hour to enjoy relaxing with family before he started asking to go home. As soon as she consented, dad would whisk me, the easily to catch one, and we would wait a good half hour in the car before all of my immediate family would trickle out . I would sit fuming in the car until at least three out of the other five of the family unit showed up.

I wrote my dad a letter stating how my sister and I felt we were being deprived of family vacations!  I most likely used quips,  such as;  everyone needs a break from their daily life once in a great while. Seeing new scenery is good for the soul. The fact that it would probably be the last time my sister would be marriage free, and able to take a family vacation with us. And, I probably threw in the fact that only by leaving home for a certain amount of time; can a person really appreciate the joy of coming. Home again!

He agreed to something like a three or four day trip. I was happy for anything he gave us as long as we were away from home, and seeing new sites for at a couple of days!  Our destinations were Crater Lake, Lava Beds National Monument, The Oregon Wildlife Safari, and The Oregon Caves. All of this lead in stuff is really about The Oregon Caves!

At  the Oregon caves, which is a natural wonder;and not wheelchair accessible. Mom made special arrangements with the tour guide, to have my sister help me walk through the first three caves, then walk me out, settle me back in my power chair, then dash back to join the rest of the tour. I was left to entertain myself for an hour.

I was happy with the arrangement. My plan was to find a spot to read the book I was engrossed in. Just as I got my book open to where I left off, which wasn’t easy for me to do, one handed, and with my left arm being the paper weight.  Suddenly I was surrounded by yellow jackets. I was terrified, of getting stung!  I had to move!  I can’t believe I didn’t drop the book during the whole process, of which i had a 50 percent chance of doing.

Against my better judgement, I decided to go meet my family where they exited the cave. Which took me up a hilly path that had no railings. I specifically remember this because as I was driving up the path, I thought very calmly, that if a belt that helped turned the wheels of my power chair slipped off, I would be a goner! {Once when I was wheeling down the street in a kiddie parade; I suddenly lost all control of my power chair, and went careening into a ditch. At first, I was accused of horsing around until it was discovered that a belt had slipped off it’s track.}  Then just as calmly, I thought, I have had a good life up til now, if I die today, I have led a happy, rich life!  But life wasn’t done with me yet!

I drove on the inside, closest to the cave side and not the outer edge of the path. I was doing fine, but when other people came along I startled and that meant my hand came off of the power wheelchair driving control. When that happened my wheelchair would roll backwards a bit. There was this couple who decided that after seeing me startle and roll backwards, that I was not safe to be on the trail.  I did not have my communication device with me and only had my voice to communicate with. When I am with total strangers, I feel my tongue swells triple its size, making communication impossible.

I seem to remember, this couple spoke French, I knew they were upset with me.  They scolded me, and would not leave me alone, they hovered and talked about how unsafe I was.  It felt like I was being held hostage. My sister knew that I would be waiting, so hurried ahead of my parents to meet up with me. She came across the couple and attempted to defend me.  She said she trusted my judgement and driving skills and that if I felt I could do the trail, then she felt I could do the trail. She told them the chair would only roll a little bit if my hand came off the control. The couple had to tell her that I should not be left alone. My sister and I split when our parents came on to the scene, and the couple started in on them. I was steaming mad!  .

My sister and I had to pick up my manual wheelchair from the main lodge of the Oregon Caves.  To get me into a better frame of mind, my sister got into my manual wheelchair and wanted to race me to our van.  We took off in a frenzy, just as our parents and the french couple reached the bottom of the trail.  I’m sure the couple shook their heads, and thought, those out of control American kids!

Author’s note:  I used the Oregon cave story in a recent presentation.  I used my sister’s version, which was less wordy, and less effort to finish my presentation without getting stressed out.