When asked about her years with the Association, Betty Eskdale downplays her involvement, preferring instead to refer to those years from a parental rather than from an official point of view.
We used to meet once a month many years ago… they were just the mundane housekeeping things of life, the daily routines and happenings at the Association. You don’t think of them as terribly important but you are there propping up everything, I guess.
Betty became involved with the Association when her son Michael was born, the youngest of six children in the family. In the first year after he was born, Betty noticed signs that Michael was developing differently than his siblings. Assessment confirmed that Michael was mentally handicapped.
Betty believed that the best place for Michael to be was with his family, so Michael lived at home with them and was included as much as possible in their activities. The neighbours were very welcoming. Betty doesn’t recall any problems encountered with them due to Michael’s handicap, but she says that maybe it was that way because the family didn’t make it so. Mike didn’t exhibit “bizarre behaviour” so he was more likely to blend in with society and be accepted.
When he was old enough, Betty arranged for Michael to be included in a kindergarten class. The teacher’s assessment was that Michael would be best served by the Association and advised Betty to contact the organization.
Michael attended the Peace School of Hope and continued through to the program when it moved to Public School administration and operated in a wing of Montrose Junior High School. The transition to the public system was not stressful to students but the teachers experienced a challenge, as they were then required to upgrade their qualifications. Betty saw two sides to the move and noted that the greatest impact it had was on the parents.
I think we lost something, but we gained something. We gained the facilities and the rapport of the regular classes being able to come in and work with the handicapped, because one day they’re going to be neighbours, but I think we lost the participation of the parents. They didn’t have any reason to keep the daily routine going. Parent participation did drop off.
Michael’s home life was the same regardless of changes in the school system. Would Mike have been any different with or without schooling? Betty thinks that perhaps not because, as she looks back, she knows that the major influences for Michael were “love of family and socialization.”
Each child is different and needs to be nurtured differently. Some of the children were forever Kindergarten age. Learning to interact and socialize is one of the most important things.
Through her experience as a parent and as a member of the board of directors for the Association over the years, Betty has noticed that there is a different reality for families with children in dorms.
During the time that the Peace School of Hope was running, many of the children who attended the school lived at Barrydale Dorm and some were cut off from their families while they attended school. Most problems arose when they returned home because they had less in common with their own families than with their residence families.
The Association has undergone several name changes since its inception, from the Association for Retarded Children to the Association for the Mentally Handicapped and, most recently, Signature Support Services. Betty maintains that, even though the newer names have a place, including the word “handicapped” in the title was never a problem for her.
That never bothered me. I felt that it identified so that if people did have a mentally handicapped child or needed some of their assistance, it was recognizable right away.
As she got older, Betty made the decision to put Michael in a group home in order to ease the transition for the time that she is no longer around. She fears for what may happen to Michael when she passes away, especially if the Association fails for any reason and the group homes are closed.
Betty thinks the best advice she can give to those who are starting to raise a child with a handicap is to “take one day at a time” and “don’t think too far ahead.”