One of many lessons she taught me was not to accept on face value the opinions of so-called experts. Back in 1963, my brother Stephen was two years old and not speaking. Naturally my parents took him to various doctors who said he was “emotionally disturbed” and that they should put him in an institution. My Mom and Dad refused to do this cruel thing and took their son home and raised him as best they could.My Mom would give us both household chores. She would see what Stephen could do and that would be his chore. For example after dinner I washed the dishes and Stephen dried them. In the 1960s nobody knew what Autism was — not even the doctors, and most parents did put their children away; however, both my parents felt Stephen could learn and they valiantly searched for a school that would accept him.Finally they got him into the Life Skills School. My parents decision to keep Stephen home was validated when Geraldo Rivera exposed the Staten Island Willowbrook Institution. Creedmor was also a den of inquiry where like Willowbrook developmentally disabled were beaten, tortured and left in their own filth on a regular basis. Horrible!Children like Stephen were warehoused and very badly treated. Mom taught us to be neat, clean, behave and work hard. She never gave up on Stephen and did a remarkable job considering that in the 1960s/70s there were no programs or services for families with developmentally disabled children.Lesson: Never give up disabled children. Let the diagnosis be a pathway to guiding them into their full development. Do not let labels be restrictions. Of course like anyone else Stephen has his limitations. He has speech limitations but he can communicate. His brain just works differently.Since 1989 Stephen has lived at Queens Centers for Progress located in Queens, New York. He has been a consumer with AABR since the mid-1980s and during this period of time the dedicated staff of both QCP and AABR have brought him to the point where now he does kitchen work, janitorial services as well as working in the thrift shop. I attend as many of his update/progress meetings where his teachers, managers, and directors all give him glowing reports!!When you get a chance please put in the keywords FMLA, Autism or Stephen into the search box of my blog Espiritu en Fuego and you will see all my Autism Activism and Advocacy. Like Mommy I will never give up on Stephen and will fight for him with every fiber of my being. The below NY Times article is just one of my many efforts which resulted this year in Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing the Paid Family Leave Law which takes effect Jan. 2018. Gov. Cuomo read my article about Stephen and me.
If you’d like to celebrate your mom during Mothers’ May, please click here.