Saturday, 23 June 2012

Moving into the unknown - a reflection

A reflective piece on my perceptions on disability, family and community attitudes and where I stand as an adult.

Childhood attitudes

As children, we were often told not to complain with the response from my Mum, ‘Just be glad you haven’t got a hare lip and a cleft palate’. This was generally ineffective, because neither my sister or I had any idea what a hare lip or a cleft palate was and my mum certainly didn’t seem to be in a hurry to explain. What we did learn from that was that to have such a thing (obviously so disastrous that you couldn’t talk about it openly) was to be unlovable, or at least that is how it came across.

My mother was employed as a primary school teacher throughout most of my childhood and teenage years, and inevitably we heard quite a lot about the goings –on of her days at school. Usually she appeared to enjoy her job and it kept her very busy. Sometimes though, it was very stressful for her. In particular, we would hear complaints about the children or child who was ‘creating’ this stress with their behaviour. One child, whom I cannot remember his real name, was described as ‘an out of control garden hose’ and my mother spent many hours debating with my old-school principal step-father about how ‘those sorts of children shouldn’t be placed in regular schools’, because it was too stressful for the teachers.

I also heard occasionally heard my mother, sadly, saying that these children with a disability ‘should have been pillowed at birth’ such was her attitude at the time. I find this really sad to think about now and as a child, such attitudes confused me. I felt in myself that I would have to be perfect to be accepted by my mother, and indeed, at times I came across illness or deformity of any kind (such as cold-sores or a problem I had with my toe growing the wrong way), I felt I had failed her. Luckily I was an avid reader, and my journeys into the worlds in the books enabled me to see the world from the perspective of others, helping me develop a high degree of empathy. A book about the life of Helen Keller, for example, enabled me to get into the mind of a person with blindness, to some extent.

My grandma was a character. She had a zest for life and an active brain, which unfortunately had to compete with the frustrating of a body that was failing her, riddled with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. Her hands folded into themselves, with knuckles inflamed and knees as swollen as soccer balls. She used a walking frame on which she hung her ‘dilly bag’, that she would make jokes about. The most sad thing was that she refused to accept her worsening condition, mainly because of pride. She didn’t want people down the street (she lived in the small Victorian town of Kyneton for most of her life) to see her ‘like this’. She even refused to come to my wedding, as she was too embarrassed. I believe she also had depression, though this was never diagnosed.

Schooling in a small country town

I grew up the small town of Eaglehawk, an outer suburb of Bendigo in Central Victoria. During my school years (1978 – 1990) this town was a mainly Anglo-Saxon, hetero-sexual community with little tolerance for ‘difference’. People who didn’t fit into the ‘norm’ were ridiculed. I did not have any experience of studying side by side with students from other cultures, or with a disability that was ‘noticeable’. At high school, we had a boy with a disability, called Ross, enrol and it was a major effort for the school to accommodate him. I remember the ‘fuss’ when they installed ramps for his wheel-chair and we even had a special assembly before he arrived. My friends and I took little notice of Ross, except to quietly make fun of his speech impediment, and call him (only to ourselves), ‘Roth’. I feel ashamed of this now, but at the time it was what I knew and what I had been exposed to. Interestingly, a few years later I made friends with an Aboriginal family across the road, and soon experienced my first example of the racism and lack of tolerance for diversity, when other students called me racist names and began a stream of hurtful comments and jokes about aboriginals, all aimed at me for being friends with an Aboriginal boy.

Moving towards diversity

As an older teenager, I worked with elderly people, running sing-alongs at an aged-care facility and then moving onto some care aspects such as showering. I volunteered as a visitor for community service in Year 11 and I remember having to work with my feelings of discomfort to be able to do it. I found the smells particularly offensive, though tried to keep this to myself. I also later helped out at a day-centre for adults with disabilities, I didn’t stay long as once again I found it very uncomfortable, especially where language and communication barriers were an issue.
A few years ago, I came across some information about a very rare genetic disease, Epidermolysis Bullosa. I read some books written by the parents of a child who has this disease. These children are often called ‘butterfly children’, because their skin is as fragile as butterflies. I think this was the first time I really put myself in the shoes of someone with a disability. As a social worker, I have come to know a number of children with disabilities, though these have been moderately mild, including autism and intellectual disabilities. I also did some casual teaching at a special school, in both the younger and older age groups, which I found very challenging. I felt a strong connection to the children but found the behaviour management too difficult as an untrained worker. My ex-husband taught in special schools for a few years, and I had some limited exposure on the occasional visits to the schools. He didn’t talk to me much about his experiences.

Where am I now?

So, where do I sit now, in attitude and perspective?

I feel like I have a big gap in my knowledge base about the various disabilities that people have. I also feel that I have had very limited exposure and have not had a chance to get to know people who have a disability. There is still some degree of fear of what to expect, of what to say where there are language and communication difficulties. This could be a big barrier to me being successful when working with clients who have a disability. The fear could get in the way of me conducting thorough assessments, as I might have a tendency to rush them or to get all the information from the carer, rather than allowing the client to be part of the decision making process. It might put me off working in this area, indeed, I think I have been deliberately avoiding this area of work since I began social work.

So how will I address this?

Well, this time I want to face my fears head on. I want to learn more about the various disabilities. I want to get to know the story of people with a disability. What is it like to live with each of the disabilities? What is their experience of discrimination and what has this meant for them? What are their strengths?

I want to get a stronger sense of the ethics behind working with people with a disability too, and move away from my mother’s attitudes, by gaining knowledge, understanding and empathy. To get the most out of my student placement in this area, that is what I aim to do.

What plant am I?

What plant am I? 

1. I often wear a dress of bouncy green hearts.

2. Wild swine like to dig at me.

3. My most delicate and beautiful feature (my petals) are bent outwards or up, are sometimes twisted and connect at the base in a cup-like shape.

4. I have been known to help the healing process of cataracts, sunburn and gout.

5. I often begin flowering in autumn, and have a dormant period over the summer.

6. I am a native of Europe and the Mediterranean region east of Iran.

7. Symbolically I have been associated with resignation and goodbye.

8. I am a popular house-plant and my petals grow in red, pink and white.

Answer: I am a cyclamen!
Sue Oaks, Copyright 2012.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Stolen - a prayer

Dear God,
Please forgive me for stealing.
Over my life I have stolen a number of things, some big, some little.
I will list them below:

·         My book –club money (I spent it on lollies from the corner shop instead)
·         Some toilet paper from an old lady’s house, when I ran away (I didn’t know she would miss it that much until she started bashing my legs with a broom as I tried to get away under her fence)
·         A handful of shells from that tourist shop at Apollo Bay (my friends were so embarrassed they didn’t speak to me for the rest of the camp)
·         That stretchy belt I nicked in the 80s…. it was too easy to walk out of the shop wearing it, the perfect match for that cute ra-ra skirt I had in my wardrobe.
·         The black-mailing photos … was it our fault our photography teacher had some photos of the spunky male P.E. teacher having a shower tucked away in her filing cabinet? We felt morally obliged to remove them.
·         Collywobbles … you came to my door, ate the food we gave you and I thought it right that you were to be de-sexed. It only crossed my mind later that I had probably stolen someone else’s cat.
·         Okay, the wine was in the cupboard, right? Pretty accessible for a teenager, and how was I to know it was a bottle of Santenay 1972 Jean Jacques Castel Magnum that would now be worth over four hundred dollars? I didn't really taste it after we smashed the top off the bottle.
So God, I have been pretty naughty on the theft front over the years. I might have omitted a couple of things, but nothing that I can recall right at this moment.  Could’ve been a lot worse, I think, so do you think you could forgive me? I think it’s time I forgave myself, that’s for sure, and you know I sure don’t plan to do it again.
Thanks God, you’re a ripper!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Understanding what your dog is telling you - Guest Post

Your dog doesn't speak English, but he can still tell you how he is feeling. His language is his facial expressions, his body posture and his tail position. Many of his body movements are subtle and barely noticeable to us, but others of his species will recognize them. With practice, you too can learn to work out what he is trying to communicate to you.
Your Dog's Head
The first thing you should do when you are trying to understand what your dog is thinking and feeling is to look at his head. Erect ears held forward indicate that he's interested in what's going on around him. That's easy to see in prick eared dogs, but if your four legged family member has floppy ears, look at the position of the base of his ears. A confident alert dog will also have a direct stare and he will often hold his mouth closed.
If he holds his ears low and back, he is feeling anxious and a little bit frightened. Wide eyes, perhaps with a little of white showing, are also a sign of nervousness in dogs.
It's easy to decipher your dog's intent when his lips are curled and his teeth are bared. Watch out! Loose lips with a gently lolling tongue indicate he is relaxed and comfortable, while tension at the corners of his mouth suggest he is keeping an eye on things.
Your Dog's Body
A confident dog that watchful and alert is will hold his body stiffly, while a nervous pet will stay close to the ground and may even roll onto his back.
The hair along your dog's back is worth watching, as when he is excited, it will stand on end. This is known as having his "hackles raised"
Your Dog's Tail
A wagging tail is purely an indication that a dog wants to interact with you in some way. That interaction could be fun, or it could be unpleasant. A tail held high is an indication of a confident assertive dog. On the other hand, if his tail is held tightly between his legs, he is showing submissive behavior.
It's important that you become skilled at recognizing dogs' body language. It may save you from injury, as a dog will rarely bite without giving plenty of warning. If you can't identify those warning signals, then you are at greater risk of being bitten.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a friendly dog that wants to meet you will have a wagging tail, his mouth will be open and his tongue will often be lolling out of the side of his mouth. He may look almost like he is smiling. His ears will be held forward, and his body will be relaxed.
Don't forget the play bow - when your dog lowers himself onto his elbows and holds his rump in the air, with his tail wagging, he is inviting you to start a game with him.
Take some time regularly to watch your dog's posture and work out what he is feeling. It's a great way of improving your communication and therefore your relationship.

Susan Wright, DMV has dedicated her professional life to caring for domestic animals as a veterinarian, author and dog training collar expert.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Tribute to an old friend - rest gently.

When I heard the news I couldn’t believe it.
It didn’t seem real
How could it be that you were just here,
But now you’ve gone?

Soon I felt numb,
Tried to get on with my day to day work,
But I couldn’t stop thinking of you.

I tried to explain it,
But there was no explanation.
I tried to find a reason.
But there was no reason.

I cried.

Then I remembered
The fun we used to have
Your cheeky grin,
Your quirky sense of humour.

I smiled.

When I last spoke to you
You had hopes and plans.
I was going to come and hear you play,
And have a chat again, like old times.

It wasn’t to be.
I guess you had a lot more pain
Than I would have ever known.
Pain that can’t be explained,

Like a rubber-band around your heart that can’t be unwound.

No-one should have to feel like that.

You were our friend,
An amazing person,
Talented, gentle and generous.

May you rest gently in the knowledge that you are loved.

Sue Oaks, 2012.