“A bend in the end of the road is not the end of the road . . . unless you fail to make the turn.” ~Helen Keller
Whoever said that our support for our children stops at age 18 must not have been a parent. I continue to support each of my three young adult children (aged 21 to 26) in many ways. It can be emotional support, financial assistance, recommendations . . . just about anything, but I continue to support my children.
Preparing for the unknown
As a parent, I was taught that transition for our children who experience deafblindness is a process of preparing them to move successfully from a world they know to one they do not. But even with good transition planning, they (and we) are not always prepared for the unknown, for unexpected bombshells that that seem to come out of nowhere. How can we help prepare them for things that we don’t know will happen?
As parents, we are told to ensure that our children have access to meaningful experiences so they can envision the plethora of options available to them. I took this advice literally. At one educational team meeting when my son was in high school, I remember asking (actually begging) his O&M instructor to purposely allow my son, Hunter, to get on a wrong bus as he was learning to use public transportation. “Get him lost,” I said. When the team members looked at me oddly, I said I was serious and would even sign a waiver, but it was never allowed to happen.
What to do when the unexpected happens?
We recently had a situation when Hunter returned to his university after a holiday winter break. We had dropped him off at his dorm on a Sunday, ready to begin the new semester on Monday. He and I agreed to catch up during the following weekend, so when the phone rang mid-week, I knew immediately that something was wrong. After we exchanged salutations, he dropped a bombshell—the motherboard on his computer had failed. Of course my reaction was, “Why do you say this? How do you know?” He explained that as he was preparing for one of his classes, his computer just went black.
How, I wondered, could we quickly support him when he was almost three hours north of us, in the Pennsylvania Snow Belt, during a snow storm? He proceeded to tell me that he had gone to the technical support department of his university. They verified it was a problem with the motherboard, but all they could do was suggest that he call the manufacturer. So our long-distance support began with me on the phone with Hunter and my husband on the phone with the computer company.
As we relayed information back and forth from the company representative to my husband, from my husband to me, and from me to Hunter, I became aware of how our limited experience with this type of situation, as well as Hunter’s communication methods, were significant barriers. With all of our transition planning, we had never practiced or imagined this scenario. We were not prepared. I also could not help but notice that my son is so hooked into technology that when it goes, it profoundly affects his day-to-day functioning. This dependence scares me as a parent, yet it is hard to imagine what his life would be like without technology. It feels like a deal with the devil.
Our conversations with the computer company lasted a few good hours as we all gave it our best. The end result was that the computer company committed to sending a representative to Hunter at his dorm by the end of the week to replace both the motherboard and battery. Thank goodness it was still under warranty and early enough in the semester to not have him fall too far behind with his school work.
Preparing for "next time"
As I personally unpacked and processed this experience, I realized that it had taken an emotional toll and I shared my thoughts with a few other parents and professional colleagues. When I mentioned to one professional that it had taken a long time for Hunter to read the serial number off of the bottom of the computer with a hand-held magnifier, she asked why he didn’t just take a picture of it with his phone and send it to me? Brilliant idea I thought, but feeling panicked, I/we did not even think of it. Another person suggested that I explain to Hunter that if he is ever on a tech support call and cannot understand the recipient, he should disclose his hearing loss and ask to speak to another representative. Again, something I never thought to teach him, but it was good advice that I passed along to my son. Another friend asked me the golden question: “Do you think that the next time your son would be able to call the computer company and work with the representative on his own?” This stopped me dead in my tracks, because I don’t know. I want so badly to say yes, but the truth is, I do not know.
We have continued to talk about this experience and work out a process of preparing Hunter for “the next time”—To continue to support him to move successfully from the world he knows to a new one he is learning about and experiencing.