I’m down with Dear Abby. I know it’s not her, or her sister. Maybe at this point it’s not even her daughter. It might have moved on to a distant cousin that the family only sees at big family reunions and only recognizes because she’s wearing the assigned t-shirt.
Regardless of who’s writing it, however, I was sad to read the letter, and response, that went up on July 15.
The letter reads:
“DEAR ABBY: We have three grandchildren and are due to make our annual visit. Two of the children are easy to plan for, and we have good relationships with them. The third is a 12-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and we struggle with how to deal with him — what to do and what to buy him. Any ideas? — UNSURE IN THE SOUTH”
Part of the response includes:
“The most important thing you can bring with you on your visit is a heart filled with love, and the determination that your grandson will know you love him. Spending one-on-one time together would make him feel special. Every child needs validation and affection on their journey toward adulthood. With the self-confidence it brings, Down syndrome children can live full and happy lives.”
No. No. No. No. No. No….
There are far bigger issues at stake here.
Why *don’t* you have a good relationship with him?
Why do you struggle with figuring out “how to deal with him”?
Yes, it’s all well and keen and good to bring him “a heart filled with love,” but he’s twelve years old. Where has that heart been for the past twelve years? Where has the relationship been with him for those twelve years? Why is this just a question now? And why would you ask Dear Abby instead of his parents? Or him?
I’m really, really hoping this is a ham-fisted fake letter (not that I suspect that people on staff write the letters at time because that would be dishonest, and it would never happen), but why make it out as if this boy is so different?
“Down syndrome children can live full and happy lives.”
Wow. Really, whoever it is who writes for Abby nowadays? They can?
Knock me over with a feather and tell me it’s a tornado. People with disabilities can actually have full and happy lives? This should not be shocking news to the grandparents, and if it is, then I’m even sadder and angrier for the twelve year old.
I talked to some other parents about this particular letter, and they actually felt that it was moving and touching.
Me? Not so much.
This feels like grandparents who haven’t cared for twelve years – who have been more than happy to be involved in the “easy” kids, but who have not even tried to make a connection with a grandson simply because he is not like the others.
How would you feel as a twelve year old if your grandparents didn’t give you the same time and attention as your siblings?
How would you feel if they couldn’t be bothered to figure out what you liked because it was “difficult”?
They may be trying to make up for it now, but as someone who has absent grandparents for her own son, grandparents that seem to be (and have been) involved with all their other grandchildren and great-grandchildren, this letter is a stark reminder that some family members abandon those with any form of disability or difference that makes them uncomfortable.
If you find this inspiring, I’m very happy for you because it probably means that you haven’t seen this behavior within your own family.
As for me, I find it painful and heartbreaking to think that these “family” members have not been treating one child like the others. I find it a reminder of the pictures I see posted online of family time that doesn’t involve my family. I find it a reminder of all the times we have not been invited to gatherings because “Simon might not be able to deal with the noise.” I find it a reminder of all the times that family members refused to even try to babysit, claiming it was too difficult to even be left alone with Simon while he was asleep.
At this point, we’ve had to give up because getting up our hopes that Simon would be included and accommodated have been dashed so many times that it’s just unhealthy and unrealistic to keep hoping.
So I hope that the grandparents in the letter do something, that they do try, that they do succeed, and that this boy is no longer left out. But after twelve years, I worry that this boy is in the same place that Simon is in.
Not too long ago, we decided to start getting regular babysitting, and we picked my father’s step-granddaughter.
She seemed nice and responsible when we met her, but I wanted to get some more info on her, so I called my father.
He talked about her and about her son. He went on and on about how awesome his step-great-grandson is. So smart! So clever! So talented! This little boy was the best little boy in the whole history of little boys!
I stopped my father.
“What do you brag about when you talk about Simon?”
Too long a pause.
“Simon’s very special.”
He didn’t think to brag about Simon’s memory.
He didn’t think to brag about Simon’s smile.
He didn’t think to brag about how everyone who meets Simon loves him and remembers him for years afterward.
He didn’t think to brag about how much Simon likes to read (and how he taught himself to read).
He didn’t think to brag about how good Simon is at horseback riding, bowling, or baseball.
He didn’t think to brag about the how Simon taught himself to float and swim.
Clearly, there’s very little to brag about when it comes to his grandson.
Maybe I should make him a list.
I sit here in the cafeteria of my son’s old elementary school at 6:45 at night. There are three lunch tables set out by a very kind and helpful janitor. There are seats for 12 at each table. There is plenty of room for kids to run and play around the room – there’s even an empty stage. And there’s me.
Why am I here?
I’m in charge of the new parent-led support group. The group that’s meant for parents of children with special needs. The children don’t even need to be in the school district. They can be in any local district. Or a non-local district. Home schooled. Or even too young for school but wondering what will become of their child when that child is school age (which, in the world of disabilities is 3, the age when PPCD starts and ECI ends…and if those initials sounds wrong to you, you might live in a different area or state, but the age is probably the same: it’s when the early childhood intervention ends and the pre-school begins).
So we cast a pretty wide net.
Flyers for this meeting went home with parents about a week ago. I posted in a bunch of FB groups. I even sent a mass email to anyone who gave me that email address at the last meeting or at the school district’s “ability fair” back in October.
And yet…I’m here alone.
I guess I shouldn’t complain too much that no parents showed up.
Our speaker is also MIA. She’d contacted us a few months ago, asking to present to the group. We got her scheduled with the date. Then I gave her the time and the place. Never heard from her. I tried to reach her today for a last-minute confirmation. Nothing.
Which means that I’m sitting in the cafeteria, alone. No parents. No speaker.
If you ever wonder why districts/schools can get away with doing so many bad things, giving students sub-standard services, treating special needs kids so poorly…I can answer the question with my lonely presence here tonight.
People – parents – don’t put in (or can’t put in) the time and effort.
And on one hand, I get that. I really do. It sucks to not be able to find even a single hour to get to a meeting about your child’s future. But, on the other hand, it’s kind of like voting. How can you complain if you don’t show up?
Sadly, I’ve seen this happen before. Many, many years ago, before our school district’s special ed department was as fantastic as it is today, we had to fight with them (getting a lawyer and all) because they were trying to do something not in our son’s best interest. It really wasn’t in any child’s best interest, but it was the easiest thing for them to do. At the time, we tried to rally support in the fight, to get the other parents involved. None of them were interested.
Our effort made a different – our son got a better end result, and we got an absolutely fabulous new head of special programs.
But as I sit here tonight, I try to think good thoughts. Instead, I flash back on an accidental meeting I had with another mother about eight years ago. It still haunts my head.
We were both picking up our then four-year-olds from their afternoon pre-school. Her son seemed to be very high-functioning, so I asked what his diagnosis was – I thought maybe he was Asperger’s.
She looked at me, confused. Then said, “Oh, I dunno. ADD or something.”
Well, the class was only for kids on the autism spectrum, so while her son might have had ADD as well, I suspected that what she actually meant was PDD-NOS. Not that she knew that. I’m still face-palming over that afternoon.
Anyway, the point is: the evening was a bust. And a reminder – I hope – to parents and families to do all they can.
And now I’m at home, posting up this blog, and drowning my sorrows in hot chocolate and popcorn along with a really bad horror movie.