Susan's Blog

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

DayHab: different and yet the same

I remember visiting the classroom they intended for Nat, when he was 3.  This was the first classroom, general special ed or some such oxymoron.  It was not autism-specific.  But what did I know about autism, anyway?  All I knew was that by sending Nat to this place it would mean that he was, indeed, special ed.  It would be more than a label:  it would be an entire cloak.

When I saw that classroom I felt choked with despair.  It wasn’t the room, brightly colored and filled with art that it was; it wasn’t the energetic, smiley teachers.  It was the other kids.  I looked at the other children and I did not see Nat there.  No kid reminded me of Nat.  They mostly seemed spacey and weird.  Yet Nat was also totally spacey and weird, but that fact made me hate that classroom even more.  Nat did not belong there!  That’s what my heart said; that’s what I said, but in the end we sent him.  And not only did he belong there; he needed even more than they could offer.

I thought about that day after visiting a DayHab, the first on a list we were given to visit.  The DayHab is where the significantly disabled often spend their weekdays.  The hours are 9-3, like school hours.  A van brings them there.  They have a list of personal goals to work on.  There are therapists that come in and out.  There are shelves of brightly colored toys and games, a computer or two, and staff walking around assisting.  Not all that different from many special ed classrooms.  But with adults.  I was prepared to be depressed.

But where once there were children that made me sad, there were now adults that did not, which is odd because kids are definitely cuter.  Yet is no longer hard for me to go and hang out with highly disabled people — because I’m used to it.  My way of dealing with hard events is to plunge in, my belief being that familiarity breeds enjoyment.  This is also the way Nat comes to enjoy things, too.  Exposure, repetition, familiarity — these build a repertoire to draw upon.  So I have always visited Nat’s classrooms — all my sons’ classrooms — and gotten to know the teachers and other kids; I force myself to get comfortable.

Nat’s classmates and roommates have, by and large, always responded well to me.  It’s the same principle as I follow with Nat.  You go in thinking the best.  You fill yourself up with hope and a sense of lightness, you surround yourself with a bubble of confidence that suspends you above harm.  And the other person feels that, and wants to grab on. The moment that circuit is complete, strangeness starts to fade, you lose your inhibition, and you can connect. Simple human nature.  Learning this has given me immense comfort and strength to walk into a room full of rocking, hooting people and say hi and feel interested in getting to know them.  Now, I have to say, it’s fun to do that, because for the most part, Nat’s housemates and the disabled adults I’ve met are eager for interaction even if they’re clumsy at it.  They are really glad to see new faces, even if they can’t talk to them.  And if you treat them with interest and openness, they will warm to you very quickly.  But this is true with any person. anywhere.

Back when I visited Nat’s preschool classroom, I didn’t realize that these classmates were other people’s children.  On some level, I didn’t even realize they were people.

The world, especially this corner of it, is full of people who really have very exacting requirements of what a person has to be like.  But you don’t have to.

I think that Nat says it best:  “It’s a different that’s okay.”


There’s a group home not far from the mall in town – to the N – and they are always in the mall. I hate it. I hate the fact they are there. Not that they are disabled, but that their isn’t the activities for them. That they are allowed to wander. I dislike being approached by anyone and the who… being there, looking and thinking is this us… Oh, it really bothers me.

Then the guilt starts b/c I know one day it will be us.

To the W is where we are headed. Different county, better programs. Adult day programs, small businesses that they work at through the Community Living. Purpose, job, place to live and people that care.

We belong to this one already being one of their “children”. When he turns 13 I plan on going to board meetings and getting myself involved. Being left to wander is wrong. Everyone needs something to do and somebody to care.

I hope you find him such a place.

— added by farmwifetwo on Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Today it was not quite the place for him, but the next one I’m visiting is all about community work and meaningful activity.

— added by Susan Senator on Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Susan, your honesty in the way you perceive things and the way you write is what keeps me coming back for more. I have felt these same feelings and emotions myself many, many times, since my son started a “special needs” preschool when he was three. And yet, it still doesn’t get any easier for me as he grows older. When I first visited the classroom he would be attending after 5th grade and saw several children his age in wheelchairs, my first thought of course was “my son does not belong here.” And yet, the teachers were so welcoming, telling Matthew how thrilled they were to have him and all the wonderful things they had planned for the school year, after awhile I calm down inside and think (for the thousandth time), he does belong here and he will be okay. I end up hating myself for it, but my heart again pains because I want him in the classes studying math and science and literature with the other children his age. But, when he comes home and tells me his day was “good” then I am again grateful for what he does have, a happy and productive day.

— added by Sharon Jones on Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

Good luck in your search–you will do a fantastic job! There are some great programs out there that do a really nice mix of recreational activities and work. I think JCFS (main office in Waltham, others in Roslindale and Dedham) and Beaverbrook (Waltham/ Belmont) are in your region–definitely check them out!!

— added by Jen on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 10:54 pm

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