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An Ordinary Life for an Extraordinary Person

In March of 2012 I attended a weekend Leadership get together with the Canadian Association for Community Living and Community Living Ontario. It was a weekend for families to get together from Ontario to discuss the family role in conjunction with the agency role. It was an amazing weekend and the group still connects through email. At the end of the day the family has the ultimate responsibility for their child. But we need to dream bigger and give our children the gift of independence and citizenship.

My daughter, Jenny, is now 27 years old. She has been part of her community since birth. She went to her local school with her brother and sister. She was part of the street gang, children played on the street, both girls and boys running around playing capture the flag

through the backyards. We were lucky enough to live with a ravine in our backyard. Our house was generally filled with children. She went to the regular parks and recreation programs and I would usually hang around if she needed help.

By Jenny being part of the regular community she had to learn what was acceptable social behaviour as did all the rest of the kids. She also learned some unacceptable behaviour and some words that secretly made us laugh. Here was a kid who used a combination of sign, gesture and a few words, but could say the “bad” words loud and clear.

As teenage years came, we detoured from this path and followed the advice of many that Jenny should now be in a segregated setting as it would be safer for her as she was now

becoming a young woman. She went to a segregated high school and I started searching for “programs” for her. She grew to hate school, and to this day if you mention school, she will tell you “school finished”. Her artistic side was put on hold for many years as she “hated crafts” – meaning if I colour another easter bunny or santa claus I am going to scream.

She seemed to be at a standstill or worse going backwards in her development. When school

finished, I found a day program for her and after several unsuccessful attempts with several programs, we realized it just wasn’t working. She was becoming quite depressed and didn’t want to go out or do anything. She had given up – which was totally unusual for her.

 

Luckily a volunteer opportunity came up for her and with a lot of trepidation on my part, we decided to try it. This started our journey back to the community and doing what everyone else does.

When I went to the leadership  series we were on the outskirts of our community, on the cusp of being part of society, but still holding back for fear that “something“ would happen, the WHAT IF that stops us from doing anything. So with our help she shakily put her toe back into the neighbourhood and decided to go with it.

We found a fabulous facilitator who has helped Jenny make connections and she now has more volunteer opportunities in her neighbourhood. We now have many, many eyes and ears out there to keep her safe and at times I have received phone calls from the people who know her to check if something is ok.

She never would have had that in a segregated day program!

Bonnie Heath lives in Toronto, Ontario and is the proud mother of three adult children, each with their own learning differences. She is also the equally proud grandmother of two beautiful grandchildren.

This story originally appeared in the Coming Together newsletter. Download this and other issues here