There are several specific things that you can do in this life to help yourself heal from trauma or other things that happen to us in this life. 1) Pray about it, thanking your God or Spiritual Being for the experience. 2) Meditate about it, understanding that life’s challenges are important for us because without them, we could never learn compassion for others. We would also not have such a meaningful journey in life because it is the challenges that help us to appreciate the beauty that exists in the world. A life that is totally flat and without challenges is like living in a land without valleys and mountains. 3) Create, create, create. No matter how bad I might feel at any given time, creating is always something that gives me a true sense of magic, spirituality and gratitude for this life with which I have been gifted.
Creativity comes from the innermost part of our souls, whether we are dancing with joy or our eyes have cried forth many tears.
Life is so short, and I think one of the reasons we are here is to work on “getting it right.” That means that we come to terms with where we are, who we are, and what we choose to do with our lives. You can take whatever you do in this life, from being a cook in a fast food shop to being an airline pilot and everything in between. If you are a cook, know that you are doing it because you are comfortable with it, and become the best cook you can possibly be. If you are working as a cook and are not happy, what do you need to do in order to change that? It isn’t just a matter of going out and finding another job. You need to figure out who you are and what you really want to do in this life.
I’ve never been wealthy; far from it. I have worked hard all my life for a little. But the whole time I ever worked once I grew up was spent doing things I wanted to do, things I believed in most sincerely, which was about serving others in ways that might make a difference in their lives, and doing things that I loved so much that I looked forward to going to every day. Money was always secondary for me to providing services to others, especially anyone with physical, developmental, emotional or other challenges.
At the end of the Vietnam War, my younger brother returned 100% physically and mentally challenged. It gave me the heart to help others the rest of my life who have had any kind of challenges. I don’t regret a single second of my work with others. It has been as satisfying as watching one of my most gorgeous flowers come into bloom.
It has been a good journey. I am not saying it has not been a challenge, but isn’t anything worth doing a challenge? And you know, when we change, an interesting phenomena takes place. Other people do too. When this 22-year old car (as of 2018) was still in its original form, people treated me as if I should get out of their way and get off the road. The transformation was amazing. People on the freeways and roads gave me the peace sign or thumbs up or high fives. And when I stopped in a parking lot, people came up to me and wanted to take photos, and wanted to know the story of the car. And I made a LOT of friends over the years that way.
Make someone or a bunch of people happy today. Sometimes it can be as simple as smiling at them and saying “Hello,” or you could do a random act of kindness such as going into an old people’s home and taking a bouquet for the people who live there. Or you could thank a police person, fire person, nurse or doctor for doing what they do. True, it is what they have chosen to do, but many times they work when we are asleep or having a holiday, and they sometimes risk their own lives to do it. Creativity doesn’t have a specific face.
My heart work is with special needs children which I did for some 15+ years. Sometime in the early 70’s or late 60’s my younger brother and only sibling came home from Vietnam 100% disabled with a TBI, a spinal injury, and permanent PTSD. It gave me that heart to work not only with the children, but with people with all forms of challenges – physical, developmental, and emotional. I have done that for the rest of my life to this day.
I was a Regulatory Compliance Specialist at 64, working for a major pharmaceutical manufacturer of plasma derivative products. I had done quality assurance for some years in my own business. I was a certified quality manager/certified quality auditor, so I knew what to look for wherever I went and whatever type of business it was. This would be to my detriment when the company decided to to sell to a company in Spain to get out from under a FDA action against the company for fairly major quality issues. When the company in Spain decided to purchase the company I was working with, I got laid off along with 400 others.
At 64, on unemployment and with no prospects of a job because of that title, I founded a very tiny and penniless nonprofit to assist physically challenged fiber artists with getting exposure and sales for their work and to assist them with professional development. I did this successfully on the side, always as a volunteer with the other volunteers for some 10 years. Shortly after I founded the nonprofit, I remembered that I had a certificate that would allow me to work with special needs children. I became a substitute for two different school districts, and I absolutely loved all the work I did in school. Life was good in those times. I had just enough to live on very modestly; spirit does not need a lot of money.
These were truly some of the happiest days in my life. When I was not at work with the children, I was providing assistance for the physically challenged artists with two other people – my paraplegic best friend, Barbara Williamson, who lived in Paradise, CA, the secretary of the nonprofit, and her caregiver, Rob, the treasurer, whose job was easiest of all since we had no money in the treasury. I had figured out how we could do a lot with nothing and so we did that for more than 10 years until we both suffered worse physical and mental challenges that made it difficult to continue that work.
We did write a book on the subject to get good closure. Last November, Barb and her caregiver had to escape with their lives from the horrible fire in Paradise that destroyed their home, the entire town and all of her art. I will never regret any of that work because she now has skills and knowledge to help her rebuild her life from what she learned during those years.
Most of all for me, there were the children. Some of the children I worked with were not only developmentally challenged; they had such major challenges as MS and childhood arthritis. There is something so special and beautiful about these children. If I had been married then and had an adequate home and finances to do it, I would have adopted as many of them as I could. Raising special needs children is no easy task nor a romantic one. Not only do they provide challenges throughout the days and nights; most of the time they will be in the care of the parents one way or the other for the remainder of their lives.
Special needs children often require bathroom assistance into and through their teen and even adult lives, as well as things like “failure-to-thrive” children, who must be helped to eat enough to help keep them alive. This is not a psychological issue; it is one that they are born with. I have had children I had to give enriched milk or other liquids to through a tube in their stomachs, and others who had to have a bucket accompany them to their lunch so they could throw up in it after eating a little. And then there is the physically reactive child. Some of them are runners, and will run off the playground if they can (and not even because they are unhappy, etc. but just because it is part of their makeup, and they are not running to a specific place, but just needing to run). And there are those who can deliver a huge punch; I was punched in the face and had my glasses broken, was bitten, had my hair pulled, was kicked and painfully pinched and slapped, pretty much all without warning. Some of the children are very strong for their sizes. If a child’s routine is broken in any way, or the child is unable to express his/her needs, you can expect that the child will react, sometimes violently.
But we become good at dealing with these issues, and most of us who work with them can see the beauty of the children and the wonder of their lives through all of the challenges. Sometimes their own parents cannot cope with them, or the parents do things that are not beneficial for the child such as over/under or irregularly medicating them or putting them into group homes when they become overwhelmed. It is one of those great societal issues where it is difficult to place blame, for anyone who has to deal with these issues day AND night every single day of the week without a break is going to have a true challenge.
As caregivers for special needs children, we are all referred to as mandated reporters, and it is our duty and legal obligation to report any type of abuse of any child. I honestly can’t tell you how many of those reports I filled out over the years for things I personally witnessed. And I can’t tell you how many of them were “shelved.” The schools in California at least are financed by children being in school, not when they are out sick or parents refuse to bring them to a specific school because of the behaviors of teachers or aides or others. I am pretty certain that most people reading this will understand the implications of this policy.
There are a lot of really wonderful and dedicated teachers, aides and others who work with special needs children. But there are also a lot of horrible ones, and I am not certain that situation will ever change in reality. There IS training available for how to work with such children and young people, but not all of those who work with them get that training or learn from it if they do get it. Most of what we learn to deal with well is learned from real-time experience along the way, and if a person’s heart is not in it, it will at best be mediocre.
At home, as I noted, parents are often stressed to the breaking point and there is no one generally to spell them or for them to talk to regularly – even support groups are very far and few between. The first sad thing too is that some children are labeled special needs because perhaps they are slow to learn to read or write, etc. Once they get such labels, they will have them through their entire lives. For me, that ensures that even the children who might otherwise have done well will just give up and not try to much.
I have long since realized that children grow at different rates, just as some walk really early, learn to use the potty really early, etc., and some take a long time. It is just the nature of life in this world. My daughter was potty trained when she barely started to sit up, and that was her own doing. She would put her tiny hands together and clap any time she was successful in her efforts. She could read well and talk well at age two, and she could memorize her storybooks too. My two sons were very different from that – slow to learn to do everything and slow to read. It is normal for children to progress at different rates.
One of the things that happens from the stress and other issues parents face is that special needs children are more often abandoned, abused, and even murdered than regular children. They are also very highly bullied. The problem however, is that the tallies on these crimes are all thrown in together with those of children who are not special needs, so as a result, no one knows the true figures. But some people who have studied and worked with the children have long thought that the figures are higher and it makes total sense. And if a special needs child ends up being institutionalized because of abuse or abandonment, there is little chance that the child will ever do better in this life. And the people (if parents) who do these things to special needs children, at least in the past, often did not get severe jail sentences if any at all. There used to be a young man who likely had Asperger’s, a high functioning level of autism, who wrote posts regularly about these issues. These young people can be and often are highly intelligent, but are unable to deal with socializing and interacting with others.
Even the best of parents with special needs childrens do not know all they need to do about what happens when their children grow up. Not all parents with older special needs children know about estate planning for the children. There are three very specific and important reasons that this needs to be addressed.
First is the fact that these children will need special physical and mental/emotional services all their lives, even the most proficient of them. This will involve very careful financial planning to ensure that the parent can provide such services.
Secondly, a special estate plan is the only way to ensure that the child can be provided for without having them become ineligible for government and private benefit programs.
And finally, if the parent is no longer alive or available, without such planning, the child can end up in an institution, or worse, can become homeless and at the mercy of every transient out there. I have actually witnessed such cases, and I am pretty certain that no parent would wish this on any child of theirs.
The best way for parents to plan for a special needs child is to set up a Special Needs Trust. In this instance, the parents appoint Trustees to manage the Trust for the child’s benefit. This person needs to be trustworthy, and someone who is capable mentally and emotionally, as well as financially to direct and manage the child’s care through the remainder of his/her life.
I am retired from working with the special needs children now since I was diagnosed with severe PTSD from heavy-duty traumas followed by cancer (cancer-free following surgery in 2016), but I still tutor privately, often as a volunteer these days with special needs or ESL (not always Spanish either) children and adults. I completed a degree later in 2016 in Criminal Justice with a minor in law, but could not work as a mentor/advocate for juvenile delinquents because of my age and the PTSD. I always keep trying to do what I can and I have been happy for whatever I have been able to contribute to the lives of special needs children as well as others with special challenges. It is not going to change what they go through overall, but it does help them for a moment in time and I am not sure what more any of us can do.
So now you have seen Part I, and I want to let you know that I am quite prolific with speaking what is in my heart and the compass of my soul. So Part II will show you some more things I have created, and you might question their designation as “art.” I want you to know that as an artist, I define what is MY art and what it will chose to be at any given time in my life according to how I am envisioning life at that particular time. I like the freedom to celebrate life in the many ways I choose to celebrate it. When I turned 65, I decided to do something different for my special day. I had put on some African music which I liked very much, and I was thinking of how the people paint their bodies to signify something that is very meaningful to them, so I got out some black cloth, and being all alone, stripped and painted my breasts white. I pressed them to the cloth. We know ourselves in one way, or perhaps two, but there are things and ways of ourselves that we have never observed. So when I looked at the cloth I had created, I was, to say the least, surprised, for whoever would ever know that this was what a breast looked like on cloth. Here are a couple of pieces that came from this wonderful experiment in which I learned to see myself in a whole new way. This process never ends, for there is always something new to learn, and as we change over the many years, so do our bodies and minds. Each part becomes a special art exhibit all of its own.
Boobalala by Anne Copeland – Paint and Fiber
“My Garden of Earthly Delights” by Anne – Paint and Fiber
This quilt is about 18″ x 20″ and it features the breast prints in multicolors, which was a lot more fun and challenging than just doing white. And to think, I still have more body parts to color and experiment with. Who knows what this will ultimately lead to. I am certainly not the first person to experiment with painting body parts, but I did this my way and without any lessons either. The frog is painted separately.
Oh, and this was a charity quilt I decided to make for Art for Autism, since I have been very involved for many years with autistic and other special needs children. For those of you who might recoil in horror, there is nothing ugly or wierd about our breasts. I fed all my children with mine, lived through breast cancer, and now that I have passed three quarters of a life (age 77), I am glad to be able to still have those breasts. For me, they are no different than having teeth, hair, armpits, or feet or a backside. Does a tree hide its branches in shame?
So this is Art Exhibit Part II. We will look at some other ideas in different “exhibits” I get to curate and write about. It’s my show. See you at the next one.
The life of a child is magical. It is almost unbelievable that something that starts with an egg and a sperm can grow into something so complex and full of so much potential. They are sacred.
I have worked with children for more than 15 years as a substitute paraeducator, instructional aide, and teacher in various California districts. These days have been some of the best days of my life. Every time I get a new child or a classroom full of children I feel as though life is giving me the best gifts a person can receive. My children have been all ages of special needs – physically, developmentally or emotionally challenged, or a combination of any of those things. But I use the word “challenged” instead of disabled because disabled suggest that a person is unable to do things, which is far from true, even in the most severe cases. With consistent assistance, the children CAN learn at some level.
In one of my classrooms as a paraeducator, I served as a one-on-one for a little boy who was autistic and nonverbal, and he had braces on his ankles and feet. He also had to have special liquid frequently to help with his digestion. Although he had these challenges, he was generally cheerful and seemed to have a good sense of his own abilities. The only area that was a challenge was when the children went outside for their exercise.
The braces made it difficult for him to walk very fast at all, and running seemed out of the question when the aides would play a sort of baseball with a big rubber ball and “bases” leading to the home plate. They would throw the ball and the children would run from base to base, trying to get a home run. The little boy I had charge of seemed to see this as a time to “watch” as the other children ran. When his turn came up, he would stand watching, but not try to move forward. This day I took his hand, held it tight, and encouraged him to keep going. We managed to get through all the bases, and at last made a home run. We had two more turns, and each time I held his hand tightly, encouraging him all the way.
Soon we were sitting in the grass resting as the game was over. I turned to him and told him “Wow! We made three home runs!” Suddenly he grabbed me around the neck with both arms and began to hug me until we both fell over. I knew it meant he was so happy because he sensed his victory.
I will never forget that day. As he got into the car and his dad began to drive him home, he reached out with both arms and threw kisses at me. I will always have a smile in my heart when I think of that child.