Sunday, February 01, 2015

Super Bowl / Not

"Are you going to watch the Super Bowl today?"

"No, I don't watch sports."

"Oh, right, I forgot, you're gay."


For the record, other than being attracted to men, not women, there are very few things that I do because I'm gay. No, I don't watch the Superbowl. This has NOTHING to do with anything other than the fact that I don't like watching sports. It also has to do with the fact that I'm Canadian, why on earth would I get excited about an American sporting event? I don't know who's playing, I don't know where they are playing, I won't know who wins, I won't care who wins.

I don't like sports.

I am gay.

Those are two separate statements that have nothing to do with each other.

The person who said this to me isn't the least bit homophobic, he's a warm, welcoming guy who is perfectly comfortable with his sexuality and with mine. I like him as a person. He's knows I'm writing about this today. He's good with it. He recognizes that he 'slipped' into stereotypical thinking (which is different from prejudicial thinking) and, for the record, we both laughed it off.

I bring this forward because I've realized that we all have to move away from both prejudice and stereotypes, as different phenomenon, when dealing with people. Also because I was forced to watch hockey and baseball as a child because it was seen as 'unnatural' for me not to be interested in these 'boy' things. I detested those hours for two reasons, first - I don't like watching sports; second it was a clear message to me about how broken I was because I wasn't exactly like every other boy.

Stereotypes hurt as much as prejudice does.


If you run into me today, let's talk about the Oscars.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ruby Gets An F

It was quiet in the front room. Ruby and Sadie and their dad Mike were with us for the weekend and they'd all been in their dad's room watching a video on his computer. I was sitting in my chair in the front room, reading. Ruby wandered into the front room and picked up a book of puzzles that Joe and I had picked up for the girls. Ruby is a kid that likes to exercise her brain. She brought the book over to me, sat down beside me, and asked if I'd do puzzles with her. I told her that I loved puzzles too and that I'd love to spend some time puzzling with her.

We did mazes.

We did word searches.

We did pick out the word that doesn't fit.

We did find the difference between two pictures.

Then Ruby chose one that looked very difficult. It was a puzzle that had a picture of a Rubik's cube kind  of structure with the top right corner missing. Then there were  all sorts of pieces to look at to figure which one fit into the space on the cube. There were at least 10 possible choices. Ruby, sitting beside me, was getting a bit tired, I think her puzzler was sore, and she glanced at the page and said. "F, it's F." I looked at it, saw that it couldn't be F and said, "Ruby, you've got to really look at all the pieces and then look at the pattern on the cube and see which will fit.

"F, it's F."

"You ought not to rush. The fun of these puzzles is puzzling out the answer, taking time to check the options and find the right one."

"F, it's F."

"OK, it time to check the back of the book and see the answer, I won't let you see the answer, I'll just show you that it's not F and then you can look at other pieces."

"You can check the back of the book, but it's F."

I flipped to the back of the book. F, it's F.

How the hell did she get F from just a brief glance at the missing piece and all the options provided? That was one question. The other was, how was I going to tell her it's F? Do I have to tell her it's F, can't we just move to another puzzle?

"OK Ruby, it's F."

"I know," she said, "Sometimes a puzzle only looks hard, you have to see if it actually is hard first."


I think I do that in my life. I look at things and think they are hard, so they are. I need to find out if they actually are hard before putting myself through hours of work looking at all the options when it's just freaking obvious that the answer is ...


Friday, January 30, 2015

Joe And The Right Thing To Say

We see her virtually every day. Either we run into her in the lobby, on the elevator or we meet her as she is leaving and we are coming home. Our schedules must be very similar. On top of that, she like we, hasn't filled her life with rushing and as a result we often stop to chat. So we've gotten to know her more than most other people in the building. She is nice and kind and tremendously warm. We like her.

A few weeks ago she told us, nervously, that she was going to take the test which, if she passed, she would become a Canadian citizen. I asked her why she was nervous. She paused at the question, then told us that some people have reacted negatively when she's told them, they've made comments about her being another immigrant coming in. We shook our heads at this, this was awful and it's unCanadian as far as we're concerned. She said, when she saw our reaction, "I think it has a lot to do with racism." We talked a bit more about the test and people's reactions and then it all ended with us wishing her good luck on the test. I joked that Citizenship should be given to anyone who can make it through a Canadian winter. She laughed, agreed, and the mood was lifted.

A couple of days ago we ran into her again, in the lobby. I was having difficulty with the chair on the winter carpeting, it's different from last year and there are parts that are almost impossible to push over. She stopped and waited for me to get things right and then said, "I thought I should tell you that I passed the test and I am now a Canadian citizen."

Then Joe did and said the exact perfect thing.

He walked over to her, put his hand gently on her arm and said, "Welcome home."

She looked at him, her face beaming even as she cried, and said, "Thank you, thank you so very much."

Joe often knows the exact right thing to say, but at this moment I was not only proud to be Canadian, I was proud to live with a man like him.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

When One Door Closes ...

I'll bet she closed the door behind her.

I got the email this morning. A woman I worked with many years ago, a woman who taught me one of the most important lessons of my working life, has died. I hadn't seen her for many years, I occasionally heard of her from staff who I'd run into at conferences or lectures. She is one of the many people who's name always brought a smile to my face. I'm not doing that 'the dead are suddenly saintly' thing that people do - her name, her memory, always lifted me and gifted me.

She had been referred by a frustrated group of staff. She was 'aggressive' and 'destructive' and 'impulsive'. I was fairly new to being a behaviour consultant and reading these descriptors had me on edge. I was surprised at how small she was in real life because believe me she was writ large in the minds of her staff and care providers.

Sitting to meet about her I listened about her obsession with the door of the how, with any door, any where. If someone was leaving the house, she'd leap up and run as fast as she could to the door and grab the handle and open it wide. If someone knocked at the door she'd run as fast as she could, pushing staff out of the way, to get to the door - she's open it and hold the door open with one hand and swing the other open in a wide gesture of welcome.

This was 'reinforced' by people who came in by saying, 'Wow, you are a real welcoming committee aren't you.' or 'What a great way to be greeted at the door.'

They lived in a smallish town and she'd do the same when out, when seeing someone approach a door, she'd rush to open it for them. Give them a grin and wait for them to go in. She never ran across the road, she wasn't so impulsive that she forgot the rules of the road, nor was she so impulsive that she knocked people over as she rushed to the door. The 'aggression' seemed to happen at home, if staff were in the way when she wanted to get to the door, or if staff tried, as they had, to stop her from her 'inappropriate behaviour.'

I went on a trip with them to the nearest city and had the delightful experience of watching her discover automatic door openers for the first time. She laughed so delightedly, as if she'd discovered the most wondrous of things and couldn't contain her joy! So, learning how they worked, made trips to the city such that she'd need to push those buttons for people.

After my observations had been done and I sat down to write the 'behaviour programme' I realized how nice it was to be working on a behaviour that wasn't about 'hitting' or 'spitting' or 'kicking' or any of the other kinds of aggressive behaviour that I was used to working with. Midway through the programme it struck me that this behaviour was a 'gifting' behaviour. It wasn't aggressive, it didn't have the goal of intentional hurt.

I threw out what I wrote and set about writing a teaching program for staff to accept the behaviour as an expression of her wish to welcome, her wish to assist and her wish to be helpful. Those are all wonderful qualities. We should be encouraging not eliminating these behaviours.


That's what I wrote.

And that's what I got yelled at about when I presented it to the staff.

But, that's also part of the job - dealing with staff aggression.

Once they got it, really got what I was saying, they learned to see the behaviour in a new way. We noted that she wasn't taking away anything from others in the home, none expressed any interest in answering the door or opening ti for others who left. She only pushed in rushing, she never pushed in anger. Staff needed to get out of the way, invite her to get the door, and let her give what she had to give.

Simple, easy.

I came away from that with the vow to remember that sometimes what we see and what we think we see are different things.

I am convinced, convinced, that as she left us for heaven she closed the door on one world and raced to open the gates of the next.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Diversity Done Right

You've all seen those pictures of kids with disabilities sitting way off to one side when the school photo is taken. You've all read about the lack of diversity, well, everywhere. How about let's take a look at diversity done right. It's fun, it's inclusive and, I don't mean to go all Ellen on you, it's gonna want to make you dance!

for those who cannot see the video, here is the link:

There is no dialogue, the teacher and students are dancing to a song called Uptown Funk.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Conference Information: Trauma Informed Care

For those interested, Vita Community Living Services is hosting an exciting and powerful conference on Trauma Informed Care.

March 24th 9:00 to 3:30

Cost: 50.00$

Trauma and People with Intellectual Disabilities: Support Strategies for Healing and Recovery through Trauma-Informed Care

Traumatic events can happen to anyone; they are part of the human experience. Sometimes the impact of these events does not diminish over time but can result in long-lasting trauma. Some survivors may develop harmful or negative behaviours in an effort to cope with the emotional and psychological impact of their experiences. Research shows that people with intellectual disabilities are at higher risk of abuse than the general population and have often experienced events that can result in lasting trauma through frequent and/or unexplained moves, extended hospitalizations, invasive medical procedures, bullying, institutionalization, separation from primary relationships, physical restraint or punishment at various times in their lives.

When supporting someone who has experienced trauma it is important to understand the impact trauma can have on a person and their behaviour, and to provide supports that promote healing without unknowingly triggering further trauma responses. Incorporating a trauma-informed approach into services that support people with intellectual disabilities is essential to promote healing and recovery for the people we support.

Participants will develop an understanding of trauma, the impact trauma can have on individuals with intellectual disabilities, and the principles of trauma informed care. Concepts of assessment, support and treatment will be explored through lecture, video, group discussion and activities and will be further illustrated by the story of one woman’s journey through developmental and trauma services. Specific tools and support strategies will be reviewed and participants will have the opportunity to try out several of the tools/strategies while relating those to specific individuals they support.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this training participants will have the knowledge and tools to be able to:

Understand the prevalence and impact of trauma in the lives of people with an intellectual disability

Apply a trauma lens to their understanding of, and response to, challenging behaviours

Incorporate a trauma informed care approach in their daily work with people who have been impacted by trauma.

Effectively use a number of strategies to support people with intellectual disabilities in their journey of healing and recovery

Presented by

Melissa Otter is a Self Advocate and Trauma Training Facilitator who has presented at numerous conferences and workshops for staff and self advocates across Ontario. She is a member of the Trauma and Developmental Disabilities Committee of Central West Region and is a co-facilitator of the peer support group The Wonder of Me. Melissa is passionate about sharing her experiences to help others in their own journey of healing.

Cathy Kuehni is an Intensive Behavioural Consultant for Family Counselling and Support Services in Guelph. Among many things, Cathy’s role includes, walking alongside families and individuals with developmental disabilities who are in crisis, developing and practicing coping strategies with all involved; transitional support; and trauma training.

Donna Lee is a Behaviour Therapist with over 20 years experience working in the fields of developmental services and mental health. Donna has a Master of Arts in Critical Disability Studies and teaches online with Ryerson University’s Disability Studies program. She currently works at Dartmouth Adult Services Centre, as the Client Support Specialist providing behavioural support and staff training.

For the complete conference description, learning objectives and registration information please contact Rose Castronovo at

The Bus Stop

We first spoke when he asked me a question about my chair. I thought, at the time, that his purpose in starting the conversation wasn't so much to get information about the chair, it seemed as if he saw me as another other in the coffee shop near where I live and that he wanted contact. It was like a moment of solidarity. We both are different, we don't have to be different alone. That he had an intellectual disability and I a physical one was of no importance.

Since then I've seen him on several occasions as he waits for the bus at a stop that I routinely pass a couple times a week. We always wave and occasionally, if I'm not rushing, we have a brief chat. It's a nice bit of connection. For both of us. I like the neighbourliness of it.

Then, a couple days ago, I was rushing to an appointment and I saw him standing at the bus stop. He wasn't alone. There were a group of kids in their early teens beside him and behind him. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I could see that he looked distressed. He was IGNORING them and the way he ignored them gave them so much encouragement. That's the problem with ignoring - it's a visible response that says 'I NOTICE YOU AND I DON'T HAVE ANY OTHER WAY OF DEALING WITH YOU.'

The internal tussles, I need to admit to, of "should I or shouldn't I" and "I don't have time" lasted only a couple of seconds. I slowed up. I caught his attention. He waved as he always did. I came over to him, asking the kids to move so I could get my chair past them and stop beside him. I asked him casually how long he'd been waiting for the bus, he said that it had been about five minutes. The kids sized me up and down, decided that I wasn't an easy adversary. When they heard me say, "Well, why don't I wait here with you and we'll just chat," they took off.

I don't know what their aim was.

I don't know why they were swarming him.

I don't know if anything really bad was going to happen.

But I do know that I have a responsibility to care for the people in my neighbourhood, disabled or not. That's what "neighbour" means, at least in my dictionary.

The bus came only a couple minutes later. He thanked me for stopping to chat. I took the thanks and rushed off. I was only a minute or two late for my meeting. Which meant I was there before anyone else.

Bullying can't happen when people of good will step in and step up. Bullying can't happen when people see and take action. Bullies depend upon the inattention and the inaction of others.

It only takes a moment, sometimes, to be part of the solution.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Ride Home

I hopped on the subway, heading home. The moment I entered the car two out of the three people who were sitting in the parking area for wheelchairs got up and folded up their chairs. The third, the one at the end, did not. She was sitting in the primary seat that allows access to the space, with her there, even with the other two empty, I cant get into the space. I ask her, nicely, if she could move so I could use the space. She takes her ear phones out, looks at me, puts them back in and stays seated.

I roll back and hold on to another rail, extremely aware that I was a bit unstable and that I was in the space of a lot of people. Fortunately for me, not her, the energy and focus in the car was directed towards her sitting in that seat. Suddenly, she began to cry, not loudly. She wiped at the tears on her face looking extremely embarrassed. We came to the next stop, I had to scramble to get out of the way of the door to allow others out and others in.

At this point a woman sitting in the next row got up, reached over to her, tapped her on her shoulder to get her attention and then pointing at the wheelchair symbol, prominently displayed, and then indicating that I needed that space. She got up quickly and moved. I moved into that space, it felt good to have a good grip and to be out of everyone's way.

I felt terrible when I saw the woman sitting there crying. I had no intention of upsetting anyone. I hadn't been rude, I hadn't made comment to her, I just moved to another space.

Joe said that he thought the tears had nothing to do with what happened.

And even though I don't understand what happened, I think that the tears were a result of our encounter, my request, her refusal.

Sometimes I want to simply ride the subway. Get on, get into the designated space for wheelchairs, and ride. Too often needing specific space, even space clearly designated, brings with it interactions. Some requiring and deserving thanks. Some requiring a bit of assertion and conflict. Some, like this one, that are just baffling.

All I want is to ride, like everyone else, in silence and anonymity.

That's all.