Well, 2018 is here and I haven’t posted an entry since August 2016. My apologies. For the past 2 years, I’ve been doing my very best to keep my head above water. Without going into any details – I’ve basically been dealing with the challenge of aging parents and the need to keep my focus on their care and well-being. That means I’ve been going home to Wisconsin (from where I live in Florida) for at least 1 week a month to be with mom and dad. So one week a month for the last 2 years, I’ve not been in Florida doing my weekly therapy sessions.
Professionally, I support a diverse group of adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD). I’ve always believed that to be an effective, worthwhile therapist, I needed to build a trusting, meaningful relationship with each of these adults and their families. As a result, I’ve been invited to family birthday parties and weddings. I’ve sat in hospital rooms and attended family funerals. The families and adults with I/DD have shared their struggles and sorrows with me, as well as their triumphs and joys.
So, during this phase of my life, these families all know what is going on in my life. My experiences resonated with all of the families and the adults with I/DD. They too are aging and are facing the challenges of a child-parent relationship that is changing. Parents are worrying about the care of their adult-child with I/DD after they are gone; and the adults with I/DD are concerned about the aging, illnesses, and death of their parents.
Discussing aging and death with adults with I/DD was never something I was prepared to do. And I haven’t intentionally made it a topic of our therapy sessions. But, everyday, I’ve been grateful that I’ve had adults with I/DD as conversational partners. The relationships that we’ve built have been meaningful to me during this time of my life. Every time I come back from a trip to Wisconsin, I can count on Duncan asking me about my parents, particularly my dad. And Robin will ask about my mom and sister. Faye is always offering prayer and spiritual support. And Jonah and his mom continually remind me to “take care of your parents and don’t worry about us.”
During these 1:1 chat times, my adults with I/DD have listened without telling me what I needed to do. They have allowed my tears without making me feel embarrassed. They have told me to take care of myself (e.g., Duncan told me to go home and sleep because I looked tired.) They have used their AAC devices to pray for me and my family (e.g., Ken said God could hear him in his mind, but I needed to hear the words too, so he used his AAC device.)
I want to start 2018 acknowledging the power of being in relationships with people who are open, honest, accepting, and trust worthy. I have that with my family and friends, but also with the adults with I/DD who spend hours and hours with me every week. My advice to any other professional working with adults with I/DD is simple: build a trusting, meaningful relationship with the adults that you support. The benefits to you will enrich your life in surprising ways.