Editor’s note: “Hand in Hand with Elayne” is a new column that offers useful advice, encouragement and hope to families with special needs associated with mental and/or physical challenges.
Hello! I’m the new “Hand in Hand with Elayne” columnist for the Tooele Transcript Bulletin. I’m a family/disability advocate, motivational speaker and dedicated parent of Heidi Ann Pearson.
Miss Heidi is 27 years old and has a pure soul. She also happens to be dual-diagnosed with Down Syndrome and autism, along with vision impairment, hearing loss and balance issues. Heidi has experienced chemical allergies, gastro-intestinal disorders, and significant sensory sensitivities as well.
We’ve done it all, from pre-op blood draws, tense school meetings, to long, sleepless nights. But there has also been great joy, profound appreciation, and personal growth in everyone around her.
What about your family? Do you have a loved one with special needs? It’s much more common than people guess. For example, according to information from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, about one in six children in the U.S. had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments, to serious developmental disabilities such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy and autism.
If that ratio also holds true for Tooele County, there are many local families that have special needs children in their homes. We need to support them and one another whenever we can.
My husband, Rod, and I have walked hand-in-hand on this path for nearly three decades (God bless him), and we’ve learned a ton along the way. Our lessons were gut-wrenching to heart-warming, and our family is rock-solid today as a result. Through this column I want to share those lessons and offer tips, tools and techniques that are common sense and doable.
I’m a woman who wears many hats, both figuratively and literally. I’ll mention 10 of them from my costume closet and how they relate to me.
1. My little gray wool beret, which I tilt slightly to one side, makes me proud of my Scottish heritage of hard-working, penny-pinching immigrant ancestors. I enjoy thrift store shopping for unique and fabulous finds. I believe in fixing broken things (even poor health and faltering marriages) and enjoy mending clothes.
2. Pioneer bonnets from past parade floats remind me that even the pioneers paced their journey across the plains and stopped after 12-15 miles each day to rest animals and make camp. They found new energy by singing, dancing and visiting around the campfire. Today, homes with complex challenges caused by special needs must balance the many responsibilities with fun — or they eventually break down on their long journey.
3. A beautiful black silk hat adorned with flowers, pearls and ostrich feathers, reminds me of community theater productions. I wore the hat in “The Music Man.” Occasional musical programs and plays helped lift my heavy heart from Heidi’s constant challenges with autism. I played Marion (the librarian) who helped River City become open-minded about “Professor” Harold Hill. Likewise, after Heidi was born, our family planted seeds of “Handicapped Awareness and Achievements” in school, church and civic areas to soften hearts so she and others could grow up connected and protected. Those seeds of compassion eventually harvested love.
4. A little hat the character “Mrs. Anna” wore when I directed “The King and I” reminds me that it’s OK for a lady to politely disagree with a king (or officials like principals, government leaders or doctors) and stand her ground for the sake of children.
5. A classy 1940s fedora hat evokes Americana elegance, traditional values and integrity from the World War II era. I believe that patriotism, marriage and good, hard work at home truly supports our nation. What a thrill it was for Rod and me to give a keynote address at an autism seminar in Chicago, speaking on strengthening marriages in a special needs home.
6. One of my favorite “hats” was wearing the Mrs. Utah-United States crown from 2000-2001. I loved serving organizations from Logan to St. George, speaking on stress management, and helping families to reduce, recharge and reconnect.
7. Our cowboy hats remind me that riding horses and caring for animals is therapeutic for people with disabilities, addictions and special needs. Miss Heidi, even as a young adult, finds peace and friendship with her pets.
8. Currently, we grow berries and fruit trees, so I wear my wide-brimmed straw hat while weeding. Our goal is for everyone to eat or make juice from fresh, organic veggies. Almost a decade ago our family opened a health food store, because we believe in wholesome herbs, vitamins and chemical-free products.
9. Rod and I own various ball caps and enjoy wearing them for raking leaves, tending our grandchildren or watching their ballgames. Heidi truly changed my focus from winning to encouraging fun, exercise, making friends and becoming well-rounded.
10. My newest hat is a big, green hardhat with a light attached. I volunteered to become CERT (Community Emergency Resource Team) certified. I’m passionate about safety and preparing for any emergency in our home, neighborhood or region. Those of us with loved ones who have limited mental, physical, social and emotional capabilities must focus on this vital area.
I’m fond of hats, and I tip them all to persons and parents with special needs in their homes. I look forward to walking hand in hand with you as we explore ways in which to relieve concerns associated with special needs. Let’s stay in touch. Take care, and God bless.
Pearson and her husband live in Tooele Valley. She can be reached by sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at www.keepitupmom.blogspot.com.