A Product of Disability Access: Empowering Tribal Members with Disabilities & Their Families
by Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc.
Compared to the resources to help people with disabilities find a job and get an education, relatively little attention is paid to an area of life that most people feel is far more important, that is, their families. Maybe it is that we feel uncomfortable with the thought of people with disabilities as parents. Yes, there are some stories about blind mothers with professional jobs and fathers who use a wheelchair and drive their kids to soccer practice in a car with hand controls. However, the truth is that mental illness is a far more common disability than either blindness or orthopedic impairments. Spirit Lake Consulting Research Associate, Jessica Holmes tells her story about growing up with a father with mental illness.
At a very young age, I was told something disturbing about my father that my parents could no longer hide. Kids are a lot smarter than most think, and I picked up on my dad’s mental disabilities fairly quickly. When he was eighteen, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, amongst other mental disorders. I always knew that my father was different from the other dads who picked up my friends from school. The obsessive organization of our refrigerator was a clue, so was my father’s inability to take care of me without my mother’s help. It was when he suffered from a mental breakdown when I was eight years old that I finally realized that my family was not like everyone else’s.
Having a disability affects everyone involved in the person’s life– the spouse, parents, family, and children. Growing up with a parent who has a disability can be emotionally disturbing, especially as the child is going through the usual difficulties of growing up. As an eight-year-old finding out about my father’s disability, all I felt was confusion and anger. I had witnessed my father’s poor treatment of my mother and when she was not around, I would sometimes suffer through the same treatment. I didn’t understand why my father could not attend back-to-school nights like all the other fathers, or help me with my homework without falling apart. When he was sent to a hospital to seek treatment, I found myself relieved that he was gone and relished in the opportunity to spend quiet, carefree moments with my mother.
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