“Once you label me, you negate me,” is a quote by Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, poet and social critic of the mid 1800’s. When you label someone you fail to see their individuality, instead you see the person within the restrictions and stigma of such tag. Lisa Schmidt does not believe in labels. She raised her two children without placing emphasis on a label. Removing that label also means choosing your words wisely; Lisa uses the word “typical” as opposed to “normal.” “What is ‘normal’?” Lisa asks. “Everybody is their own person with a side of something else.”
Lisa is the mother of Joseph, 28, and Margaret Sullivan, 24.
Just by looking at Joseph and Margaret, you probably would not label them either. Joseph and Margaret are brother and sister, two young adults working at PRIDE Industries, pursuing a better future; they have friends and enjoy activities outside of work. Joseph is a tall, handsome man, with a sweet, kind smile, and loves sports – he is a devoted Giants fan! He is also a great bowler: “his highest score is a 252 – he got seven strikes in a row!” Lisa proudly says. Margaret is animated, excited about life, loves to mingle and make new friends, and is dating. Margaret is also a talented artist; she enjoys working on ceramics and drawing. By all appearances, they are your typical description of 20-something young adults.
When Joseph was born, it was unknown if he would make it past his first three days. He did, but as he grew older, it was clear he had poor language and communication skills. He was a bit socially awkward and had a difficult time making friends. At the age of four or five, doctors diagnosed Joseph with autism. Autism is part of the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) a group of developmental disabilities. ASD symptoms can range from mild to severe and difficult to manage. Traits of ASD include difficulties in communicating socially, such as making eye contact, seeing from another’s perspective and difficulty in expressing thoughts and feelings.
Today, Joseph has a permanent position as a Hand Packager with PRIDE’s Supported Employment group working at TASQ Technology in Roseville, Calif. PRIDE’s Supported Employment Program partners with a wide variety of local businesses to meet their contracted workforce needs while creating community based jobs for people with disabilities. Our structured approach provides a support system that includes Job Trainers, Case Manager/Counselors, and Supervisors who understand each person’s disability and are able to help with their day-to-day challenges. “A few challenges Joseph struggles with are anxiety and expressing himself,” Thomas Andrews, Joseph’s Case Manager and Counselor, says. “If something is bothering him, he will need time to calm-down, and we have staff available to listen and help him through his challenge.”
This is Joseph’s second job, and his aspirations are to move beyond his current position to work in the community, preferably in the retail and customer service industry. However, he feels fortunate to have a job; he knows many other people do not have a job due to the economy. According to current disability employment statistics by the U.S. Department of Labor, only 21 percent of working age people with disabilities are employed.
Joseph’s younger sister, Margaret, also has a disability. After a long medical battle to diagnose her struggles, doctors concluded that Margaret has a developmental and learning disability, as well as epilepsy. Seizures are the only visible symptom of epilepsy. There are various kinds of seizures, and each type can affect people differently. Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Lisa compares seizures to earthquakes, “You do not know when they will happen, but you know it will come.”
Margaret also works for PRIDE as a Hand Packager assisting on a variety of contract packaging projects. This is her first job, and she is thoroughly enjoying it. She says she enjoys meeting and making new friends, doing different jobs, and feeling comfortable with her co-workers. Margaret is also dating a young man she met through work.
While Margaret still has seizures, her mother Lisa believes that you cannot let epilepsy hinder your life. In fact, last year Margaret had a seizure while at work and her case manager was there to help her through it. “It is comfortable knowing she is at work surrounded by people who know her disability and know what to do,” Lisa says.
Lisa raised both children without placing emphasis on their disabilities; or limits on their abilities. The lack of physical manifestation of disability can be a challenge when outbursts happen. “The blame is put on the parents; we are called bad parents,” Lisa says. It is important to educate family, friends, and the public on various disabilities and advocate for those who cannot.
“Know your kids are more than their disability,” Lisa says. She also emphasizes the importance of not placing parents’ expectations and aspirations on their children. Lisa came to terms with the fact that her children were not scholars or all-star athletes. Instead, she accepts them for who they are as individuals. Lisa has always been open and honest with Joseph and Margaret. “I want to raise two self-sufficient, capable adults, who one day can be independent and live on their own when I am no longer alive,” Lisa says. “I want them to know that they need to be able to go on after a big loss.”
Parenting two children with disabilities has not been easy; in fact, it is often overwhelming. However, Lisa is a “glass half full” kind of woman. She sees a blessing in disguise: “If it was to happen, this is the best case scenario; because there is no competition or feelings of neglect.” Joseph and Margaret are best friends and their personalities complement each other. Margaret’s outgoing personality balances Joseph’s quiet nature, and her ability to make friends allows him to feel included. Joseph and Margaret not only have the same employer, they also do many activities together. “We make a great team at bowling,” Margaret says. The duo taught Margaret’s boyfriend to bowl: “We make great coaches!” They also share chores at home, including cleaning, dusting, doing dishes and taking the garbage out – all part of Lisa’s plan to get them ready for independent living. “They are very self-sufficient, more than they know,” Lisa says. Margaret is aware of her mom’s plan: “My brother is 28; and I am 24, we are getting bigger and bigger. Pretty soon, she wants to know if we will be able to move out.”
Lisa does not know when that day will come, but they are making small steps toward an independent future. With love, support and encouragement that day will come. “Our mom is one of the best parents, ever!” Margaret says.
“You go into being a parent with one ideal, but things end up being different, and it is a true blessing,” Lisa says.