In addition to being a wife and the mother of three sons (and 2 dogs), Dr. Amy Mulholland has 20 years experience as an educator. Her middle son is on the spectrum and in an effort to figure out his life and learning experiences she sought to understand the emotional, social, and educational needs of children that learn differently. Amy has taught preschoolers, middle schoolers, and college students. Additionally, she worked as a parent educator, helping parents understand the unique needs of their children. Amy received her Doctorate of Education in Curriculum and Instruction (Social Education) from the University of Houston in 2009. Most recently, Amy works and volunteers for several local nonprofits that advocate for vulnerable children.
This week was huge in our household. After moving Daniel into an apartment last month, we moved Nathan off to college for his Sophomore year last weekend. We are officially empty nesters. Our oldest, Thomas, gets married in October, which only solidifies the notion that we have adult “children”. The house is quiet.
We are wondering what to do with ourselves after 25 years of managing the lives of 3 busy children. I think it is only natural to look to the future and to be reflective.
Our family conversations have changed lately. Individually and as a family we are all talking more about future goals and what it means to live a happy life. Not that any of us were unhappy previously but we seem to be at a natural point where that is a topic of discussion.
While in graduate school I read Happiness and Education by Nel Noddings. This book and her ideas have been much on my mind lately. The basic premise of the book is part of what we need to learn, as children, to be happy and healthy, are the components of a fulfilled, happy, life.
The idea of universal accessibility in public spaces is often thought of with wheelchairs and stairs. However, there are many different abilities that are often not visible and could create hardship for those who do not necessarily “fit the mold” of the environment they are in. Universal accessibility should be broadened to consider those with different abilities that are often not visible, especially in public service environments such as hospitals or schools.
It is not enough to tolerate difference – this is to merely allow it to exist. We must also welcome difference.
I remember the day someone first said to us that our son might be Autistic – have Asperger’s Syndrome. Daniel was in the 5th grade and my husband, Mike, was attending his annual Special Education ARD (Annual Review and Dismissal) meeting. I was in the car driving to my graduate school class when my husband called – confused and unsure of what the SPED staff was talking about.
Daniel received private speech therapy. Then, when he entered school he received speech therapy and for a time occupational therapy. We knew that he had social and communication challenges but up to that point we just thought of it as Daniel’s quirky personality. On some levels it was a relief to give it a name but it also brought so much fear and uncertainty.
Looking back, I think it was in some ways a blessing to give a name to his unique qualities relatively late in his development.
We were able to treat the challenges that came up as specific issues that needed to be addressed. When he had trouble relating to or communicating with children or teachers I would problem solve each incident with no expectation that he could not respond in a more “neurotypical” way.
The diagnosis did provide us some benefits. It allowed us some extra protections and accommodations that allowed Daniel to grow, explore, and participate in school in ways that would have been difficult otherwise. The diagnosis served as a protective shield when teachers and the school culture were not accommodating.
Daniel desperately wanted to participate in the Audio-Visual program at his high school.
When you raise children on the spectrum (and with other challenges) life is full of unknowns and uncertainties. Our son, Daniel, was not officially diagnosed until the 5th grade. We knew the way he reacted to situations and approached learning in school was not typical. Every year, as he moved through Elementary School, I would talk with the teacher about his differences.
I tried to make the teacher aware of his challenges and offer my support. The teachers were generally dismissive – I always had the feeling that they felt I was being too protective and was over involved; a helicopter parent.