7/23/07 - My daughter Emilie Seidel is 21 years old today.
Some of my blog readers know her well, some know her a little, some not at all.
I'm fortunate, I know her a long time and I know her very well. I try to share stories and observations with my readers, hopefully they are thought-provoking or funny or motivational. Here then, is the Emilie update:
This June she graduated from Francis Lewis High School, a NYC public high school. She was in an "inclusion" program, which means she took mostly regular high school classes, and went from class to class on her own. She did several years of "work study", and has worked in Filene's, in an office, and in a school. She was in chorus for 3 years, and sang in performances. In her last year in high school she took the travel training course (an AMAZING program offered to special needs students in the NYC high schools). She did not pass the final exam (she talked to the fake stranger), but she re-took the class, passed it, and now travels on her own. The last few months of school she took the City bus to school and back. This trip included a bus transfer. I had more than one neighbor tell me they saw her on the bus and were choked up. I only followed her the first day, after that I just marveled at her accomplishment.
At the Francis Lewis High School graduation (950 students), she received three school-wide awards:
1. English Department award for most improvement in the English language.
2. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo award for Character, Courage and Commitment.
3. Phys. Ed. Department award for excellence in Yoga.
When we went to the ceremony, we knew she was winning an award, but we did not know for what. We did not know she was winning more than one. Each of these awards were right on the mark. There was a time when it would be fair to say Emilie would not have known this was a big deal. She knew.
Emilie actually went to two graduations. One for Francis Lewis High School, and the other for PS 811, the special ed high school. At the PS 811 graduation, she gave a speech.
At one time Emilie was so afraid of dogs, she would panic at the sight of one. She would scream and jump on a table to avoid one, or run dangerously in the street. We told her that she should try to not be afraid, because she might not be able to travel on her own. She took this VERY seriously, and began to try. It was not easy, as the fear was deep-seated, almost innate. One weekend though, we stayed with friends who have a calm dog. She sat with that dog the entire weekend, and then announced "I'm not afraid of dogs anymore." We then got Dov, http://www.dogster.com/dogs/315816/in/stroll/ and there is nothing better than watching him lick Emilie's face while she laughs.
Emilie is excellent at cooking. She regularly downloads recipes from the internet, makes a shopping list, cooks it, serves it, and cleans up.
Emilie is away at camp this summer, at the Northwood Center in upstate New York. http://www.nwood.com/template/tour_pics.asp?form_tour_id=1372&form_camp_id=6471 It's a "life-skills" environment. The campers live in an "apartment", and learn about chores, budgets, shopping, cooking, repairs, and making social arrangements. This will be her last year at the camp. In September she will look for a job. She has been approved for supported employment, and should have a real paying job. She is happy about this, and ready.
Here are a few things we can all learn from Emilie.....in no particular order:
Fears can be overcome.
Things that happen slowly are often worth waiting for.
Respect doctors and professionals, but don't follow blindly.
Trust your instincts.
If you are supposed to practice.....practice.
Family game night is important.
If somebody doesn't understand you, say it again, clearer.
It's good to remember people's names.
Being embarrassed doesn't help you break through.
It's important to eat healthy foods.
A person should take good care of themself.
If you are not distracted, you can get a lot done......I challenge anyone to do "paint by number" as well as Emilie. She does cool sculptures too.
Being 21 means.....you can go to a casino
A few more things....Emilie has taught me to be very careful about labels and generalizations. She may have some autistic aspects, but there are some things about her that are decidedly NOT autistic:
She is very intuitive about how people FEEL. She knows if I'm stressed or angry or sad, without a word being said. She is like this with everybody.
She likes routines, but at the same time, she is more flexible than most people. She doesn't mind if plans get changed, she just wants to know what the new plans ARE. Hey, I'm like that too.
Sometimes I want to tell people how blessed I feel for all my Emilie related experiences. Sometimes, another person captures just the right words or feelings for something you are trying to say. Many people are familiar with the "poem" Welcome to Holland. http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html The first time I heard it, Emilie was pretty little, and was clearly a member of a club I wanted no part of. I remember thinking "This is a poem people use to rationalize their miserable situations."
I was so wrong.
Nobody on Earth is as joyful to be around as Emilie.