Kids Grow Up

Amy Baskin's blog on parenting young adults with special needs

Stranger Danger? Teaching Safety in the Community

by Polycart

by Polycart

I’m at my local grocery store studying a display of packaged fresh herbs. Two other shoppers are doing the same thing.  “That’s weird. I can’t find any dill,” I say.

“That’s what I’m looking for,” says the middle aged guy beside me. He smiles.

The woman shopper points across the store. “There’s fresh dill over there beside the lettuce,” she tells us.

“Great, thanks!” I say. Then the guy and I head off together on our quest for dill. We both bag our herbs and head our separate ways.

So here’s the thing: I didn’t know that guy in the produce section. Nor did I know that woman. They were STRANGERS. But I understood it was perfectly ok to chat with them.

My daughter (age 20 with autism) often wonders when it’s ok to talk to people she doesn’t know out in public.“I shouldn’t talk to strangers,” she tells me. “A stranger is someone I don’t know. They can be dangerous.”

“Actually, people you don’t know might be very nice,” I tell her. “Sometimes it’s ok to talk to strangers. If someone says ‘hi’ to you at school or on the city bus, you can say ‘hi’ back.”

We live in a smallish city, where we bump into aquaintances at the movie theatre or mall or downtown. As a young adult, my daughter is learning to venture out on her own by the public bus. And sometimes that means communicating with people she sees in the community.

How do we teach ways of tapping into our “spidey sense”–our intuition? This sense lets us know when a situation FEELS safe or unsafe. How do we help keep our adult sons and daughters safe in the community without making them fearful?

What are your ideas and tips?


Something to Cheer About: BRING IT ON banishes the “R word”

Photo Credit: Jerry Bunkers via Filckr

When you hear the “R word” in a tv show or live theatre don’t you wish you could do something about it? Read on for my GREAT news story!

I’m sitting with hubby Jack and my daughters at the musical BRING IT ON at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto. Since it’s about high school students, cheerleading and the importance of being yourself, it’s perfect for my high school girl, Talia. In fact, we’re all thrilled by the high energy music, cheerleading flips and the funky dance moves.

And then it happens. We hear two appalling lines of dialogue that make us wince:

  • A math-averse student says he’s a “trigtard.”
  • A main character says to a girl struggling with self-esteem:”There’s a fine line between special and Special Ed.”

Oh no. Talia, who has autism, is in Special Ed. She also happens to be an avid theatre goer and a computer whiz.  And we think she’s pretty special. As we leave the theatre my eldest sums up what we’re all feeling: “The show was fantastic–except for those two lines. It made me sad.”

For once, instead of just fuming, I emailed the show with my concerns. Specifically, I asked them to change those two derogatory and hurtful lines.

Soon after, I received a warm email from Mike Isaacson, Co-executive Producer of the show. He explained that much of the characters’ insensitive language drives the plot of the story. But he agreed that these words don’t really fit with a show that promotes acceptance and inclusion. It seems they’ve been wrestling with this language for some time.

And here’s the amazing part. When BRING IT ON heads to Broadway, the authors will alter those two lines of script. Plus those lines will be changed in any future scripts. (They can’t be changed for the Toronto performances since a full rehearsal would be needed, Isaacson explains.)

Kudos to Isaacson and the BRING IT ON team for listening, for sensitivity and for quick action. With a tweak in the script, this show will make everyone in the audience cheer. If you’re in the Big Apple in the summer or fall, check it out!

Your turn. Have you spotted the R word in live theatre or tv lately?

What do you really want for Mother’s Day?

Ok, Moms. Sunday is YOUR day.  What do you really want this year for Mother’s Day? I’ll show you my list, if you show me yours.

My Wish List for Mother’s Day:

  1.  Breakfast in bed and an hour to read. (I’m almost finished The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton–an engrossing, escapist mystery.)
  2.  A family bike ride on a rail trail surrounded by butterflies, wildflowers and red barns. (Rail trails are mercifully flat.)
  3. A mint chocolate chip ice cream cone.
  4. Homemade lemon meringue pie made by my older daughter Leah. (Since she’s away this weekend, she already baked me one. And we already ate it!)
  5. Another me. This Other Me will help attend parent meetings, advocate and take my daughter to appointments and on outings. She’ll also teach my daughter skills like taking the bus, cooking, laundry and communication.
  6. A guarantee that my daughter will have the supports, friendships and funds to enjoy the full adult life that she dreams about. I dream about it too.
  7. Really, if I could have item #6 on my list, I’d pass up everything else.  Even the ice cream. What do YOU really really want for Mother’s Day?

Do you help with hair washing?

Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget via Flickr

This morning, as I kissed Tal goodbye I noticed her hair looked slick.“Did you wash your hair last night?” I asked while swiping her hair with a brush.

Turns out she did. Completely independently, as a matter of fact. Like many individuals with ASD, my daughter has challenges with fine motor skills and body awareness. So, tasks like hair-washing and rinsing are tricky.

If I’m home when Tal showers, I often poke my head in to help her to rinse her hair. But since I was out for dinner last night with some Autism Ontario moms, I wasn’t home for shower duty.

Tal was happy to have me out of her hair. “I need privacy, Mom,” she says.

She’s right. Proud of her independence, she doesn’t want stalker-mom lurking in the shower. So, my daughter is off to school with sketchy hair today. And likely school staff will wonder why MOM didn’t wash her daughter’s hair last night. I didn’t because my daughter washed her OWN hair. By herself. And the skill of hair-washing is a work in progress.

And there’s the rub. It’s always a fine balance between helping our adult children and letting them be independent.  And that goes for everything from hair-washing to making a snack. Often, I know I need to back off. Our sons and daughters deserve the right to have a bad hair day. Just like anyone else.

Do you help your son or daughter with self-care skills? Any tips or ideas for increasing independence?

Guelph Glee: A New Music Program for Adults

Kirby Photo Archives via Flickr


On Saturday at noon, I picked up my daughter from Guelph Glee– a NEW choir/music group for adults with special needs. “I need to bring a tambourine next time,” Talia told me. “It will help me stay focussed.”

“Ok, Tal. We can get one,” I said. “But you’re really focussed when you sing and you have a beautiful voice.”

She does. In fact, Tal loves singing everything from Somewhere Over the Rainbow to Fearless by Taylor Swift. That’s why we were so concerned when she aged out of the children’s choir a few month’s ago.

Here’s the background: For the past few years, my daughter has enjoyed a weekly choir for kids and teens with special needs. Facilitated by a music therapist and offered by a children’s treatment centre, it’s an excellent program. And Tal adored it. She also loved seeing her music friends each week.

When she turned 19, Talia was no longer allowed to enrol.  Poor Tal kept asking when she could sing with her friends again. Heartbreaking. Through emails, phone calls and meetings, I asked (well, begged) that my daughter be allowed to continue in the program.

Long story short–I struck out. Talia was still barred from choir because of her age. Now, here’s where the story’s happy ending kicks in. After trying to change a system that doesn’t bend, I decided to get creative instead. So I asked the children’s choir director  if she would teach adults. Her answer? “Yes!”

Together we tackled barriers like finding a suitable space and finding other participants. A friend created a gorgeous Glee flyer for us. Through word of mouth, Facebook and email lists we distributed the flyer.  And my daughter (a social media guru) Facebooked her friends with the good news.

Now Guelph Glee is going strong. I’m thrilled. And so is my daughter. In fact, Guelph Glee is so popular it may be offered at two different times.

It’s frustrating when we see gaps in services, supports and opportunities. But when we join together–our sons and daughters, families, and community members–we can dream big and create what we want. Do you have a success story to share? In your community, did partners work together to create something new and innovative?

Does your son or daughter want a summer job?

Photo Credit: puuikibeach via flickr

Have you figured out summer yet? When my daughter Talia (with autism) was younger, summer planning was a breeze. Really, we had a smorgasbord of inclusive and special needs day and sleepover camps to choose from. But now that Talia is 19, it’s tough to plan for a 10 week summer break from school.

Like most teens, my daughter wants a summer job. At high school, she’s had work placements with the help of a job coach. And she’s loved them. Favourite jobs have included setting tables at a restaurant, walking dogs at a university research facility and running Bingo games at a senior’s residence. Unfortunately, these job placements don’t continue through the summer.

Some communities offer innovative summer job programs for teens/young adults with special needs. Check out this video about Summer Transitions, offered by Community Living Sarnia. This program pairs young people with and without special needs in paid summer jobs. (Bet you can’t watch the video without crying–the participants look SO happy.) If only these kinds of job programs were more widely available. That’s the issue. So much depends on where you live.

Honestly, thinking about summer brings me to a vulnerable place. As a young adult, my daughter has aged out of many programs that she enjoyed. She no longer qualifies for support from agencies serving children. So, I’m starting to feel like we’ve been cut adrift.

I know we’re not alone. Many “special needs parents” describe their child’s transition to adulthood as “dropping off a cliff.” My daughter still has two years of school remaining. But the summer gives a taste of life without the structure and social life of school. Together, with our daughter, we have to plan ahead.

And hence this blog. Kids with autism and other special needs grow up. They have hopes and dreams for the future. And so, of course, do we. In this blog, I’ll explore issues and joys we face while our kids transition to adulthood. And I’ll fearlessly scour the planet (or at least the internet) to connect with individuals, families and innovative supports for young adults. I’ll share ways that young adults with special needs are working, playing, learning and thriving in their communities.

Sure, the economy is tight. No worries. That only means that we and our adult children need to get creative. And we need to band together to share ideas, strategies and successes. So, let’s get this conversation started!

Your turn. What’s your son or daughter up to this summer?

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