ACK! I just realized I never posted this.
At the nudging of my friend Jim, I started writing about the doughnut rather than the hole — that is, focusing on what is good about my life here in Alberta.
So here’s the next installment. Though I have to say — I’m still not sure I’m finished. There’s sooo much to love.
Support for Disabled People
When our daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome in Arizona, we were put on a waiting list for supports like respite. We did get — and are immensely grateful for — early intervention, PT, OT, and speech therapy, starting as early as four months of age. I’m convinced that is precisely why she is so high functioning (well, that combined with a lot of luck in the first place).
But it was nearly three years before we got respite, about the time her care was transferred to the local school district and she started preschool.
We moved to Washington State a few months after her third birthday. In Washington, the school district legally has twenty-five days to decide whether or not the child is eligible for services. That’s twenty-five school days — at minimum, five weeks or more.
Keep in mind — Girly Girl has Down syndrome, and she was already being served by a school district. We brought all her medical records, her IEP, and copies of all the evaluations the Arizona school had just done to establish her eligibility.
Wanna take a guess how long it took the the school district to determine whether Girly Girl was going to be eligible for special education? Go ahead … guess.
I mean, seriously, given her diagnosis and current IEP, I could have made the determination in ten minutes — thirty minutes, tops, if I took the time to actually read all the documentation.
But no. It took them exactly twenty-five days to determine that … Oh! What a shocker!! … yep, she was eligible.
But by then? There were only two weeks left of school. They said she wouldn’t even get the routine learned before the year ended. And Chehalis School District doesn’t have an extended school year, to give disabled children support over the summer. So my 3-year-old daughter with Down syndrome got NO support from April until September. No therapy. No intervention. No education. Nothing.
We were told she was eligible for all sorts of cool things — including music therapy as well as Speech, OT, etc. — but there was no funding. Far as I know, we were still on the waiting list for those when we moved ten years later.
Girly Girl had skills when we arrived in Washington that she gradually lost before September, and it took her three years to regain some of that lost ground.
So … compare that to when we moved to Canada last year. The local schools aren’t open at all during the summer, so they didn’t even know we were arriving until the week before school started.
The first day of school in Canada? When she arrived at school, there was an aide there waiting for her. Granted, things went downhill after that, but compare that beginning to our beginning in Washington. In Alberta, no one ever questioned whether Girly Girl was eligible for special ed. And we aren’t even permanent residents here yet, just temporary workers.
Lots of resources are available to Albertans with disabilities. Not only is there a tax credit (which even we get), there’s funding for all sorts of things from assistive technology and programs to respite for parents. Even transportation costs to therapy is covered. And I’ve already mentioned the doubled tax credit for cultural and recreational programs.
When the children turn 18, there’s AISH — financial assistance to help with living expenses. And there are all sorts of extra perks like the Little Bits Therapeutic Riding program at the Whitemud Equine Learning Centre. And they tell me children with disabilities can swim free with one adult at all the Edmonton pools.
Then there are a couple of amazing advocacy and support groups. We’re working with the Alberta Association for Community Living (an incredible organization focused on promoting inclusion in all aspects of society), but I’ve also heard wonderful things about Gateway Association. We knew of and were involved with support groups in both Arizona and Washington, but nothing like these.
AACL even works with several local colleges and universities to get people with developmental disabilities into post-secondary education. We met a lovely young lady who could never even sit for an SAT exam who is currently studying in the veterinary assistant Program at a local technical college. Girly Girl has said for years that she wants to be a vet, but it never occurred to us before moving to Alberta that she could actually go to college and study veterinary medicine.
The system’s not perfect — for some reason, nobody seems to tell parents about these resources. I heard of one single mother who had three severely disabled, school age children, and she had never heard there was any help available.
But the fact is: the resources are there. Families are not expected to shoulder the responsibility of raising a disabled child alone. And if you have a vision for your child, there are people who will fight to help you build it.
I could just list people for this point: Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and Leonard Cohen. Sarah McLachlan and Amanda Marshall. Cowboy Junkies and Barenaked Ladies. Celine Dion (hey, don’t judge me! She was an amazing singer before Disney got a hold of her: check out her French albums). The Wailin’ Jenny’s. Margaret Atwood, Farley Mowat, Michael Ondaatje, and Yann Martel.
Then there are lots of others who are very famous, but not necessarily people I admire: Pamela Anderson, Keanu Reeves, and Howie Mandel, for instance.
But the point is, there are some amazing people here.
And that brings me to my final and most important point. Albertans themselves.
You’ve probably heard that Canadians are nice, and it is true. People here, in general, treat each other with kindness and respect. If you turn on your turn signal, a space magically opens for your car (usually). People hold doors open for the stranger behind them. If I have two items in the grocery line, the woman with the loaded cart in front of me will step aside.
Last month, for instance, I popped into an auto glass dealer in St. Albert to see about repairing my windshield, and I noticed they also do residential service. I asked if they service my area (a good thirty-minute drive away). He said no, with some regret and an apologetic tone.
I shrugged and said I hadn’t really expected them to. I told him I’d called (literally) five different glass companies in Edmonton, trying to get a broken window replaced in my house. Most of them didn’t bother to return my calls. One said they’d come out to see it, but not for a couple of weeks — and they never showed. “Doesn’t hurt to ask though,” I added.
“You know, it’s our slow period,” the guy said. “I could probably come out one of these afternoons and do an estimate. We’d have to charge more for the labor though because it takes so long to get there.”
He came out the very next day, and wrote an estimate I was quite happy with. Very nice, no?
But it doesn’t end there. When he was done, he got stuck in our driveway. We hadn’t noticed how much snow had built up, and he had rear-wheel drive on his van, and he dug his wheels into the snow trying to climb the rise. We tried shoveling it out, spreading straw to help with the grip, and pushing. Nothing worked.
I walked next door, where someone is building a house, and asked our new neighbor if he and his friend could help push. Instead, he drove his tractor over to my place and pulled the van out.
None of men even commented on the fact that it was our neglect — our failure to clear the driveway — that caused the problem. And in fact, when I tried to apologize, the guy at the glass company insisted it was the van’s lack, not mine.
But the best part is that after the guy from the glass company drove away, our neighbor plowed our driveway. When I brought him a thermos of coffee the next day, as a thank you, he seemed embarrassed and didn’t want to take it — because, after all, he didn’t think he’d done anything special.
Like I said, deep down, goodhearted people.
It’s a little tricky actually. In the US, the only people who are nice to you are the ones who like you, so it’s easy to tell who your friends are. When everybody’s nice, it’s problematic, at least for me. I just don’t have to radar to know who to trust.
After that last meeting with the school administrators, when I was blind-sided by people I thought I could trust, that I thought were friends, I got a little paranoid. I started thinking that maybe lots of people aren’t trustworthy just because I’d met a couple who weren’t. Then, when we announced in September that we were planning to move into the city, several people I had thought would be lifelong friends dropped us cold. I responded by pulling back, by reducing contact with everyone except those I either had to deal with or that I knew could trust.
Then we had our first karaoke party Dec. 1. A year before, I would have had a much longer guest list. I would have invited all our neighbors, for instance, and lots of people at church. But feeling paranoid and gunshy, I didn’t. I only invited the people I love the most*. People I always enjoy seeing. People I can relax around, and be myself. And I worried that no one would come.
But the day arrived, and as the afternoon waned, people began to call. “We are coming,” they said, one after another, “But we wanted to know if you need us to bring anything out from town.” Five or so different people. One of our dearest friends even came early, specifically to help with whatever needed to be done.
Then they began to arrive, and I was shocked to realize just how many friends I have here. Dear friends. There are at least two I think would take a bullet for me, and several more who would go to great lengths to make my life easier.
Good, good people.
I looked around and realized that while my circle of friends is much smaller here than I had in Washington, it’s much tighter than any circle I’ve ever had, especially after living somewhere for less than two years.
Yes, it might be hard to tell who among my acquaintances is trustworthy. But that’s about me, not about Canada, and I’ll learn.
And those who are worth trusting? I’d trust them with my life.
Heck, I’d trust them with my children’s lives! And that’s a much bigger trust.
The truth is, Albertans are just incredibly good people. Not all of them, of course — humans are humans. But many, and probably most, are kind and compassionate, thoughtful and respectful. Incredibly loyal and committed friends. Full of integrity.
And yes, polite.
*There was one person I love dearly, as much as anybody here, who I intended to invite to our karaoke party, but somehow didn’t get it done. The invites were very low key — most of the people I ran into or talked to during the month previous, but I happened to not see this person during that period. I intended to call, but I’d get busy and forget, then remember only when I was driving or showering. So if you were surprised not to be invited to my party? It was probably you.