You may have seen my brother Charles walking around Pleasanton with a smile on his face. He walks everywhere because he can’t drive but he loves going places. He is a happy, easy-going guy who loves to watch sports and take my dog on walks.
Charles was born in 1969 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My mom knew there was something amiss because unlike me, when she laid him down in his crib at night, he was in the exact same position in the morning. Her intuition was right and after talking to the pediatrician, he was tested and placed in a special education school at 18 months of age. The school was far from our home and I ponder how he was able to ride in a school bus for 45 minutes at 1 ½ years of age. This was before child car seats, mind you. He was diagnosed as having an Intellectual Disability which previously was referred to as Mental Retardation.
As a child, Charles received physical and occupational therapy in addition to special education. I remember being a little jealous because he had lots of fun play equipment to help him practice his motor skills. He had this huge cardboard tunnel to crawl through and a balance beam to walk on. I didn’t understand that it was work for him to play with the equipment due to his balance and motor difficulties.
Charles also received speech therapy for many years. It took him a long time to develop the oral control to stop drooling and to speak intelligibly. However, once people could understand what he was saying, he wanted to keep talking. As a teenager, he would often approach construction workers and ask them about what they were building and how their machines worked. He still will talk to anyone about anything – sports, headlines in the news, weather, etc.
My mother never compared us growing up so I always believed that she loved us equally. Charles had his needs/wants and I had mine. He came everywhere with the family and my mom always talked to him about what we were seeing and doing. She might say, “Oh look out the car window over there. That is a farm combine. The farmers use that to harvest their wheat.” I know that having Charles as my brother influenced my choice of a profession (School Psychologist) and that of a few of my friends.
My family moved to Iowa when Charles was in high school. After graduating, Charles worked a variety of small jobs. He never was paid much or worked many hours but he enjoyed interacting with his co-workers. My parents continued to stimulate him intellectually by taking him on trips, to fairs, to sports events, and to concerts.
My mom always said that Charles would live with her until she died because no one would care for him as well as she did. She was right but in a certain way, she limited his independence because she did everything for him. She washed his clothes, prepared his meals, and managed his money. He really had few responsibilities. When asked by case workers about his activities of daily living, she would say “He could do that but I do that for him.”
When my mom unexpectedly died at the end of 2014, it was a bit of a crisis since she had not made any plans for Charles’ living arrangements. He came to live with my family in California for 10 months while we planned his future. I knew that I wanted him to live near me but not with me. Even though this would be a difficult time for even a “neurotypical” person, Charles took it in stride and looked at it as new adventure.
After an unsuccessful search for a roommate, we decided he would try to live on his own in a one-bedroom apartment. He began receiving Independent Living Services three times a week, funded by Regional Center of the East Bay. Charles surprised all of us because with help from his ILS worker, he shopped for groceries, prepared meals, cleaned his apartment, and did his laundry. He still has limited reading and money skills but we have discovered ways to work around his challenges.
Charles has developed a full social life in the short two years that he has lived in Pleasanton. He goes all over the Bay Area with Social Vocational Services, participates in R.A.D.D., and goes to Friday Friends at Valley Community Church. He went to camp for 10 days at Camp Krem last summer and recently went to prom (A Night to Shine at the Alameda fairgrounds). I hope that one day soon, he will be able to enjoy the facilities and activities offered by Sunflower Hill.
So if you see my brother Charles walking in downtown Pleasanton, wave at him and say “hi”. He may even stop to talk to you about the weather.
Written by Michele Plunge