Profile: CHERYL MCLEAN
Cheryl McLean likes to be involved in group home activities at the 101 Ave residence, often in a motherly role. She asks a lot of questions and prefers to stay out of the limelight, nevertheless remaining acutely in tune to the “goings on” in the home. Cheryl works at Swan Industries, the Association’s woodworking shop, along with most of her roommates.
Cheryl sometimes has a funny sense of humour but often needs a boost to her attitude. One of her mother, Joy Perrault’s, biggest concerns is that Cheryl is often very withdrawn. One thing Joy has come to know about her though, is that if Cheryl likes you and is comfortable, she never stops talking.
When Joy discovered that Cheryl was handicapped, she experienced a tremendous amount of guilt. Sometimes these things happen “without any rhyme or reason” but Joy could not help wondering what she may have done differently to prevent the outcome.
When Cheryl was a baby, Joy took her home to Nova Scotia to visit her grandparents. Joy recalls that up until that visit, the “fear of the unknown “ was still embedded, but everything changed after Cheryl was introduced to them. Joy, only fourteen months old, looked at her grandparents and pulled the “ugliest, distorted face you could see.” Joy had never seen her make that face before and wonders what inspired her. Joy’s mom was surprised and Joy told her that Cheryl was just playing. After that, the ice was broken and they welcomed Cheryl from then on. Joy says to this day, they still tease Cheryl about the story.
Joy took Cheryl for an assessment with a physician when she was about nine months old. He threw some Smarties on the floor and told Cheryl to pick them up, testing her coordination. When she didn’t do it, he told Joy, “Your daughter is mentally retarded and she’ll never walk and she’ll never be anything.” Joy wondered how a diagnosis like that could be made just because Cheryl didn’t pick up Smarties.
Joy says she is not a particularly “gutsy” person but she was angry and was a bit of a fighter when it came to Cheryl’s well being. Cheryl walked at fourteen months old. Joy made an appointment with the same doctor and when their turn came to see him, she turned to Cheryl and asked her to come and join them. Cheryl got up and walked over to them and then Joy told him what she had come there to say that day. “Don’t ever tell a parent that in the way that you did. I could have done something harmful to Cheryl. If I had listened to you, I would have placed Cheryl and my whole life would have been different.”
Many times Joy heard from people in her life, “I couldn’t handle that, I would have given her up,” but Joy says that is something that she wouldn’t have considered unless Cheryl was so physically handicapped that a placement elsewhere would have been for her betterment. “I was her mom and if I couldn’t stand by her, nobody would.” She remembers that Cheryl was a beautiful child; easygoing, helpful, loving and shy. She was also a “mommy’s girl.”
Cheryl started speech therapy early and entered the public school system at age six. Joy says that in those days the support system for medical needs during a school day and even the support for transportation to and from the school was not in place as it is today. “It was very stressful as a parent to try to make it all work.” Integration into the regular classroom was not easy for Cheryl, especially because she was shy by nature.
As a young parent there was a lot of learning for Joy to do, especially to understand what was needed to deal with Cheryl’s special needs. Joy remembers being full of questions, full of blame and feeling inadequate. At one point Joy’s doctor sent her to a Children’s Hospital in Calgary to show her the difference between Cheryl’s level of handicap and what others were dealing with after having undergone similar type births.
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“I became more aware of …OK, here’s the way it’s going to be. I can’t change it, I have to accept it and learn. And that’s what I did. And love her.”
“There’s no out. I knew I’d always have that responsibility and decision making. I would not ever change what I did.”
Another stressful stage was Cheryl’s transition into the teen years and young adulthood. It was difficult for Joy to accept the decisions that Cheryl made, in which she no longer had any say. Even though Joy no longer has the final say in Cheryl’s decision making, she says that she still needs to be involved as her advocate in many situation. They have developed a very close relationship over the years.
As Cheryl became an adult, Joy felt it necessary to place Cheryl in a group home to ensure that there would be a system of care in place for Cheryl when she was no longer around to do it herself.
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