The Future Is Not Clear #SoCS

SoCS Badge 2019-2020

Exactly a month ago, I made the decision to start the process of looking for another care facility to live in long-term. I felt, at the time, that it’d take at least two years before I would’ve found a place and I was fine with that. Now, though I am still fine with the fact that it might take years before I’ve found the near-perfect place, my forever home as it were (oh boy, that sounds like the afterlife to me, haha), the path inbetween not being clear, doesn’t sit right with me.

I like to have control. I don’t like to have made my wishes clear and then not hear from the care consultant for months until he’s heard from an agency or something and they want to meet me. I don’t like the fact that a lot might’ve been discussed by those agencies with my behavior specialist or the care consultant or whatever without me knowing anything about it. That feels too vague. Besides, it feels as though I have no influence over it. Which may or may not be true.

In this sense, the fact that I’m intelligent, works both for and against me. My fellow residents, who have severe to profound intellectual disability, don’t even know anything about such big decisions. Yesterday, the least intellectually disabled of them moved rooms and he seemed to have had little say in the matter. That sounds very scary to me. I want to have a say. Yet if I can’t, and things are made clear at my level of understanding, as they were with him, then maybe it’d be easier.

Now, I do intellectually understand a concept like two years or more, but emotionally, it’s very hard to grasp. I wish the future were more tangible in this sense.


This post was written for Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS), for which the prompt today is “clear”.

Making Up My Mind: Why I Want to Live in an Institution

Last week, the behavior specialist for my care home came by for a visit to discuss my housing profile. This is the thing with my wants and needs with respect to a new prospective care home on it. I initially wasn’t too picky, saying for example that I would most like to live on institution grounds but if that isn’t possible, a quiet neighborhood home would do too. Then when I talked to my husband, he said that an integrated neighborhood doesn’t get much quieter than my current neighborhood in Raalte. He also told me I don’t need to make compromises about where I want to live as of yet, since I will be looking to stay in my prospective new home for the rest of my life.

The reason I initially compromised about living on institution grounds, is that my current care agency has only one such institution and that one at least wasn’t admitting new clients back in 2019. I’m not sure about right now or whether not admitting new clients means they aren’t keeping a wait list either. However, I was wary of contacting other agencies due to the bureaucracies involved. Then my husband said though that this shouldn’t be something for me to worry about.

Eventually, after talking about it with my assigned home staff, my husband and my mother-in-law, I decided to make up my mind about my wishes for the housing profile. I said I’d really like to be looking at institutions.

This does mean I had to drop my objection against contacting external agencies. I offered two agencies we could contact other than my current one. One has an institution in Apeldoorn, the city I grew up in, and another in a small town elsewhere in Gelderland, about a 45-minute drive from Lobith, where my husband lives. For reference: Raalte is about a 75-minute drive from Lobith and I did agree with my husband that I won’t be looking at care homes that are farther away. The other agency has an institution near Apeldoorn and one near Nijmegen. I’m not sure the one near Nijmegen was acceptable distance-wise to my husband, but the one near Apeldoorn certainly was.

Both agencies are unlikely to refuse to consider me based on my IQ alone, even though both primarily serve people with intellectual disability. The reason I think so is that both also serve other populations and I have some experience with both agencies.

I do feel all kinds of feelings about the fact that I’ve made up my mind. For one thing, I do feel some form of shame about wishing to live on institution grounds. Back in 2006 and 2007, I wrote agitated articles about the fact that deinstitutionalization was said not to be working by some non-disabled advocates for the disabled, claiming it was poor care, not community living, that was at fault. I meant, for example, the fact that people in the community need more support to go outside if, for example, they aren’t safe in traffic, than they would need in institutions. Then, if that support isn’t provided, it’s no wonder they’d rather go back to living in the woods.

Now one of the reasons I want to go into an institution is the fact that I don’t feel safe leaving my home and the only way of preventing me from leaving it anyway is locking me up. Now tell me again you want the least restrictive environment.

Another feeling has to do with the institution in Apeldoorn specifically. My family home was quite close by that institution. So close in fact that I remember one day when I was eighteen, having an encounter with the police and being asked whether I’d run away from there. I know my parents would feel intense shame if I moved there. Then again, they probably feel intense shame at the fact that I live with people with intellectual disabilities already. Besides, who cares what my parents think?

I do have a few things I need to consider when looking at external agencies. For example, my current agency provides free, pretty much unrestricted WiFi in all rooms of all its homes and it’s available to clients if they wish to use it, which I do. I am not sure the other agencies do, but I will inquire about this when the need arises.

This Is “Profound Autism”?: Reframing the Discussion Around Complex Care Needs

A few days ago, there was a discussion on the Autism Science Foundation’s Facebook page in which parents of autistic adults with complex care needs were describing their children with the hasthag #ThisIsProfoundAutism. I asked to reframe the discussion to include people with multiple disabilities including autism in general, because it is rarely (but not never!) autism, no matter how severe, alone that causes a person to be completely dependent on caretakers. I then explained that due to the combination of my disabilities, I need 24-hour care, including one-on-one for most of the day.

Not surprisingly, I was quickly met with the question whether I was saying I needed 24-hour help with basic tasks such as eating, bathing, dressing myself, etc. Well, the Autism Science Foundation page is a public Facebook page and I didn’t want the people on my friends list (including immediate family) who don’t know this, to judge me for it, but the short answer is yes. While I, like presumably most “profoundly autistic” people who don’t have physical disabilities, am physically capable of eating and dressing myself for the most part with some difficulty, my executive dysfunction means I still need help with them. As for bathing, well, I basically need someone to wash me, because, while I can physically hold a washcloth in my hand, I don’t have the organizational skills to actually work out the ritual without a ton of supervision and even then it’d lead to a lot of meltdowns.

I did, incidentally, point out that I recognize intellectual disability as a valid additional disability that needs to be taken into account when I asked to reframe the discussion. After all, that’s most likely what’s causing these autistic adults to be unable to understand instruction and to be completely dependent. For me, it’s a combination of executive dysfunction, which is a direct autism symptom, blindness, mild cerebral palsy, and other things.

I also do recognize that the need for support with severe challenging behavior is not the same as the need for help with basic personal care. One does not exclude or necessarily include the other and one is not more valid than the other. I, for one, am somewhat more independent in terms of eating, dressing and bathing than my severely intellectually disabled fellow clients. I am a lot more dependent where it comes to the effects of my challenging behavior.

I also do not mean to say that autism on its own cannot possibly cause a person to need a lot of care. It can. I am reminded of a girl I read about on Dutch social media many years ago, who indeed had hardly any functional communication skills but did have an IQ above 85. She, unlike me, didn’t have any additional disabilities. She was completely left behind in the care system: she was too severely disabled for traditional child and adolescent mental health services, but her IQ was too high for intellectual disability services. Really, I should not have called for reframing the discussion to include those with multiple disabilities, but those with complex care needs in general.

That being said, I strongly disagree with those people who say that just because I can write, means I should have ignored the conversation, since it clearly wasn’t meant for me. The fact that I can write, does not make me not dependent on care providers and does not mean policy or lack thereof won’t affect me. I am autistic and that, along with my blindness and other disabilities, causes me to need the extensive care I get now.

Time-Out Rooms, Comfort Rooms, Snoezelen® Rooms: Special Care Rooms in Mental Health and Disability Services #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

Today, I’m not feeling too inspired. The optional word prompt for the 31-day writing challenge is “Comfort”. For some reason, probably the fact that I’ve been experiencing a lot of flashbacks to my time in the mental hospital lately, I was immediately reminded of comfort rooms. Then I thought, maybe I could use this post to raise some awareness of the different kinds of special care rooms used in mental health and disability services.

Back in my early days in the mental hospital in 2007, seclusion or isolation was pretty commonly the only intervention used, maybe in combination with forced medication, on disruptive patients. I was initially admitted to the locked ward only because the open ward had no available beds. During my first night in the hospital, I heard a lot of screaming and was later told that the staff “handled it appropriately”. Another patient told me that the screaming patient pretty much lived in the seclusion room. I was pretty scared out of my mind.

Once moved from my parents’ city hospital to my own city’s locked ward, I again experienced seclusion as a witness repeatedly. The ward I stayed on, was the less restrictive locked ward, so it didn’t have isolation rooms. Rather, ours were called time-out rooms, but that didn’t make them any better to be honest.

I experienced one hour forced time-out once, three months into my mental hospital stay. After that though, it was used as a threat repeatedly. This, for clarity’s sake, is illegal: seclusion can only be used to avert danger, not as punishment.

About three years into my mental hospital stay, some wards, particularly locked wards, started deconstructing their seclusion rooms and repurposing them as “comfort rooms”. A comfort room in theory looked nicer, as it had soft toys in it and maybe some special lighting. However, them being repurposed seclusion rooms did mean they still had the vibe of isolation about them. Indeed, the few times I was sent to the locked ward for a time-out once at the open resocialization ward, I spent my time in the “comfort room”. This did not feel comforting at all.

My last psych ward, which I spent four years on between 2013 and 2017, had both a comfort room and a time-out room. This comfort room was indeed actually comforting. There was an essential oil diffuser, a CD player, comfy couch and a few other things. What made it different though was the fact that you couldn’t be locked up into it. If you were to be locked up, it’d have to be in the time-out room.

At the end of my psych hospital stay, I first learned about snoezelen®. This, like I’ve explained before, is a method of helping people with significant intellectual or developmental disabilities by modulating their entire sensory environment. I wanted to experience what a snoezelen® room would be like. My psych hospital had an intellectual disability unit with a room like this, but my psychologist refused to let me visit it, claiming I’m far too capable for this type of activity. I stood my ground and got a place at my first day center with my current agency, which did have a snoezelen® room.

When I was at my first day center with my current care agency, the snoezelen® room was sometimes used as a time-out room for me, in that I was forced to go in there when I was irritable and not allowed to come out. Though the door couldn’t be locked, it did feel intensely triggering to me. It is one reason I still struggle to be in my current day center’s snoezelen® room if no staff is present.

Of course, I must say here that an old-fashioned time-out room has hardly any furniture: just a bed and a stool, both attached to the floor, as well as a toilet made of metal. The seclusion room the screaming patient from my first night in the hospital was locked into, was likely even worse. Comfort and snoezelen® or other sensory rooms are much better. Still, the idea that someone can be put into solitary confinement against their will, is rather disturbing if you ask me.

Independence

In last week’s Sunday Poser, Sadje asked what independence means to you. Her question was related to Independence Day in the United States. Of course, one can view independence and freedom in light of one’s national political situation. For example, the Netherlands is a pretty stable democracy. The country has been independent in its current form ever since 1815, though Wikipedia even lists 1648 as the Netherlands’ independence year.

I for one, however, tend to apply independence and freedom much more personally. By independence, I refer to the skills I can do by myself, ie. self-reliance. This includes eating, toileting, dressing myself, writing my blog, etc. But it also includes the skills of self-determination.

I think self-determination is particularly important. By this I mean the ability to know what you want and make it clear in some way or another. Everyone, the disability rights movement assumes, has this capacity. Yes, even people who can’t talk and are labeled as profoundly intellectually disabled. However, it is so commonly overridden by well-meaning family or “helping” professionals.

I remember a client at the first day center with my current care agency for people with intellectual disability I attended. This client had severe cerebral palsy, was profoundly intellectually disabled, couldn’t speak, had epilepsy and was blind. However, somehow, the staff had figured out that bergamot essential oil was her favorite scent.

The same client was also sometimes called “spoiled” when she cried and then was quiet once the staff put a vibrating hose around her body. I’d say she was making known what she wanted. She was using her independence!

With respect to independence as freedom, I, for one, think that self-determination is more important than self-reliance. For example, I get help with my personal care. I myself asked for this after I noticed that it cost me a lot of energy to do it myself. Even though I could, with a lot of verbal instruction, take care of my personal hygiene independently if I really needed to, I decided this isn’t a priority for me. My staff, thankfully, agree.

What is important to you where it comes to independence?

I am also joining MMA StoryTime’s Word of the Day.

First Impressions

I’m rather late to write today. I wasn’t sure what to write about, if anything, for all of today. Then I came across
Fandango’s provocative question for this week. This definitely inspires me. Fandango asks what impression you think you make when people first meet you?

Well, let me start by saying it depends. The factor that makes the difference is largely whether I’m using my white cane. When I am, that’s obviously the first thing people notice. Then most people will immediately know that I’m blind and their further impressions of me will be as much based on me as on their views and prejudices about the blind.

When I’m not using my white cane, people will usually still immediately notice that I am disabled, but be unable to tell what my disability is. This surprised me for a long time, as I always thought the fact that I’m blind is obvious from the way my eyes look. Apparently not, at least not since my cataract surgery in 2013.

In fact, I didn’t know that it’s not obvious somehow until I attended my second online cerebral palsy meeting. In the first, I had mentioned my additional disabilities immediately, but I had no reason to the second time around. Midway through the meeting, I got to mention it and the people who hadn’t attended the previous time all said they hadn’t known.

Generally speaking, I allow strangers and near-strangers to make their own judgments about me and my disabilities based on the first impression, be it that I’m blind or that there’s something “wrong” but they cannot be sure what. Sometimes I correct them, but less and less so. I mean, I could correct taxi drivers that it’s not obvious that all blind people live in care facilities, but why should I? I don’t think I have an obligation to justify why I need 24-hour care and people who are just blind don’t. I honestly don’t feel it’s my responsibility to set an example of competence that I cannot live up to just so that others won’t stereotype other blind people.

I once was approached by a police officer, because I had been wandering the neighborhood without my white cane. That policeman assumed I was either high on drugs or intellectually disabled, as he asked me whether I’d used or had eloped from the local institution. At the time (when I was around eighteen), I had virtually no understanding of the impressions I made on people and I initially corrected him. My father thought the police officer was stupid for assuming I had used drugs or belonged in the intellectual disability facility. I think my father’s preconceived judgments about me and anyone interacting with me, were farther off than that police officer’s.

In Crisis Yet Again #Blogtober20

Okay, this may not be the most appropriate post for #Blogtober20. After all, the prompt for today is “relax”. It is also World Mental Health Day. Most people would use this to advocate for better mental health services, or to share tips on coping with mental health issues. Tonight, I’m too stressed out to do either. In fact, this is just going to be a raw post on my having been in crisis tonight – and not having fully recovered yet as I write this, in fact.

I was on edge all day. By mid-morning, I started feeling irritable, but it was still manageable. When it was time for lunch, a different staff from the one assigned to my side of the home came to eat with us. We also didn’t get the usual weekend lunch stuff, such as sausages, pancakes or soup. We did get a baguette with cream cheese on it. It was okay. IN fact, I much prefer that to our weekday lunches. I don’t think it’s even the fact that I didn’t get the treat I wanted, that set me off, but the fact that so much was different about the lunch. Thankfully, after being on the verge of a meltdown for a bit, I was able to calm down.

Then in the evening, I spiraled into crisis. I don’t even know why honestly. I was getting very irritable about the staff having the TV on even though the volume was turned to low. Within the next fifteen minutes or so, I landed in a full-blown meltdown that seemed to last forever. I eventually asked the staff to fetch me a PRN lorazepam, but then somehow got it into my mind to climb over the balcony railing. I didn’t, but the mere fact that I was standing on my balcony on bare feet in the rain and disclosed my thoughts, worried the staff.

I was near a staff all the time until I had to go to bed at 10:15PM because the evening staff were leaving. They did remove the knob on my balcony door, so that for now I cannot go on there. I gave them permission for this, for clarity’s sake.

The lorazepam has started to kick in, but I’m still pretty tense. I must say that I am completely in awe of how my staff handle my challenging behavior too. It must be hard having a mentally disturbed person on an intellectual disability unit. In psychiatric care, they’d probably have sent me for a time-out off the ward. After all, psychiatric professionals commonly see me as a borderline case. I’m not sure my current place is the most suitable for me, but the staff definitely are.

#Blogtober20

If I Could Turn Back Time… #Blogtober20

Today’s prompt for #Blogtober20 is “If I Could Turn Back Time”. I think we all would do some things in our past differently if we could. I certainly would.

I mean, when I was in the psych hospital from 2007-2017, I regretted almost every step I took or didn’t take. My last psychologist was right in a way that so many places to live had passed that I’d turned down. I had turned down a shelted living place for the mentally ill, a workhome for autistics, a training home for autistics, etc. They were not suitable places for me and I completely understand I decided not to take the step. However, I particularly completely regret the step I did take to move to that last psych ward in 2013. Most of the places I’d turned down, seemed more suitable in hindsight than that last unit.

Still, now that I’m in a suitable place, I can see why the things happened the way they did and I made the choices I made. None of the places offered to me back in those early years in the psych hospital were as suitable as my current care facility is.

For the most part, this boils down to them being psychiatric living and/or treatment facilities rather than those serving people with developmental disability. You see, here in the Netherlands, autism is seen as a psychiatric condition if you have an IQ above 85. And in case it isn’t clear, the care approaches of psychiatry and developmental disability differ significantly. In particular, all psychiatric facilities are aimed at people developing their independence, or as they call it “rehabilitation”. I find this particularly unsuitable an approach to me.

Looking back, I maybe should have accepted the very first placement offered to me: a treatment unit and independence training home for autistics. Maybe the staff would’ve recognized my needs there. Or maybe not. Maybe I should’ve gone to the workhome. At the workhome for autistics, the staff did understand I needed more support than they could offer. They tried to help me and my staff find another place for me but came up with a facility for people with intellectual disability. The staff at the psych unit at the time were very understanding of my needs, but they still felt an intellectual disability place wouldn’t be suitable. You all know that I beg to differ.

To make a long story short, I’ve had quite a few regrets, but in the end, my life is good the way it is now. And that’s what counts!

#Blogtober20

Something I Struggle With

A few weeks ago, Marquessa over at The Next Chapter started a writing challenge to get herself motivated to write everyday. Yesterday, I saw that Cyranny had joined in. Cyranny started with the first prompt. That one didn’t appeal to me, so I will go to the second. It is to share something you struggle with.

Regular readers may be able to guess what I’m going to share. It wasn’t the first thing that came to mind, but I got inspired by Marquessa’s post. She shared that she struggles with being called “pretty”. She then goes on to say that brains matter more to her than beauty. Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m the opposite, but I do struggle with being called “intelligent”.

As a child, I was often called intelligent. My parents loved bragging about my so-called genius. After I had an IQ test at age twelve, this became even worse. The IQ test, though not the first one administered to me, was the first one about which the assessor actually told my parents the exact IQ outcome. My performance IQ can’t be measured because I’m blind, but my verbal IQ was identified as being 154 on the Wechsler scale. This means I was supposedly within the highly gifted range.

As a preteen and early teen, I didn’t mind my parents bragging about this three-digit number as much. I was proud that, according to my mother, I had the same IQ as my father. Now the only time my father had an IQ test administered, he at least told me that was in the pub with a psychologist friend and he was rather drunk. I’m assuming his real IQ may be higher.

As I grew older though, my apparent high IQ more and more stood in the way of my being myself. It was frequently used by my parents and professionals to “prove” that I should be capable of solving my own problems in social situations. This got me interested in the concept of giftedness as asynchronous development. Later, I was diagnosed with autism. Still, my parents reasoned that I was just extremely intelligent.

The reason I struggle greatly with being called “intelligent” is the assumption that I am smart enough to solve non-intellectual problems. This may be so in most gifted people – I think I remember recent research disproves the theory of asynchronous development -, but it isn’t the case for me. Like I mentioned a few weeks ago, my emotional level is equivalent to someone approximately 18 months of age.

Last year, my IQ was used against me to deny me long-term care. I mean, due to my multiple disabilities and low emotional functioning level, I do best in a care setting normally catering towards severely intellectually disabled people. Because of my IQ though, I can’t get funding based on developmental disability. I am lucky that I’m blind in this respect, because I ultimately did get funding based on that.

Contrary to Marquessa, I do not struggle with compliments about my intelligence because I don’t agree with them. I mean, the IQ test I took at age twelve is rather outdated now and I scored much lower when I took another one in 2017. However, I still know I’m indeed intelligent. That being said, that’s not all I am. In the future, I’d like to be able to take pride in my intellectual abilities without them triggering the fear that I’ll need to be good at other things too.

Emotional Development

Last Tuesday, I discussed my care plan with my support coordinator. She needed to update it because the facility is going to apply for a higher care profile for me. Besides, it needed to be made current for my living in the facility rather than at home anyway.

My care plan is divided into several sections, including general health, diagnoses, intellectual, emotional and social functioning. The part about my intellectual functioning unfortunately still lists my IQ as measured 20 years ago. Since it according to the test dropped some 35 points between 1999 and 2017, I’ve wondered whether this is merely due to Flynn effect or something or I’m actually experiencing cognitive decline. Still, my IQ as measured in 2017 was above-average, so it doesn’t really matter for long-term care funding anyway.

In the part about my emotional functioning, I saw for the first time the results of the emotional development impression the consultant from the Center for Consultation and Expertise had written in 2018. This was a bit shocking to be honest. I knew I’m thought of as functioning at an emotional level equivalent of a toddler. It was difficult though reading that in several areas, i’m supposed to function at a level of less than 6 months. This wasn’t surprising though.

For instance, one area in which I function at a level of 0-6 months, is body awareness. The reason the consultant listed was my inability to make contact when overwhelmed. I would add to that my inability to distinguish different bodily sensations, such as hunger and pain. I tend to react to everything that’s physically overwhelming by acting in a self-stimulatory way. The consultant also listed my craving physical stimulation such as rocking as a reason for this.

I also apparently function at 0-6 months with respect to differentiation of emotions. In other words, I don’t do that. The consultant explained that I have a lot of distress and am hardly ever relaxed. While this is true, I’d like to add that I don’t generally distinguish between different strong emotions. Like, at all. Each strong emotion feels equally overwhelming to me, even strong “positive” emotions.

With respect to verbal communication, my level is 3-7 years. Because this scale was developed for people with intellectual disability, the highest level is 7-12 years and I in some ways expected to be qualified as functioning at that level. I do with respect to handling familiar tools, such as my computer. However, the consultant apparently recognized my less-than-great (understatement!) language comprehension.

It was rather interesting to read this assessment, even though of course the concept of mental age used here is a bit off to say the least.