Shirley Blew Anderson
Shirley Blew Anderson spent many years of her life taking care of her handicapped son Jimmy. When he was an infant, Shirley was told that he would die at ten or twelve years old but Jimmy outlived that prediction by many years. The hardest part was the waiting, trying to figure out what he did know and what he didn’t know. “That was the story of my whole life with Jimmy.”
Born in 1967, Jimmy weighed 1lb.16 oz. His early years were difficult because Jimmy was always very sickly. The family didn’t really find anything in his development that would indicate that Jimmy would end up with Cerebral Palsy.
Shirley was advised by doctors to put Jimmy into an institution. She says that advice like that is not what parents really want to hear. She was discouraged by the popular attitude toward developmental handicaps at the time.
If you can’t tie your shoes, you can’t say hello and you can’t dress yourself, basically, you have no intelligence.
There was really no help for parents at the time. One of the hardest issues they faced was the availability of babysitters as there just weren’t many people who would take on the job. People were scared of the responsibility.
When Jimmy’s younger brother attended playschool, Shirley made sure that Jimmy attended as well. She remembers volunteering in the classroom to make sure that it would work out. The Child Development Centre started in the basement of what is now the Christian School. “Along the line there were all these meetings to go to. Some got very political. It all came together. Parents would gather together to lobby for funds.”
"The center was wonderful. It gave a break to the parents.” Jimmy went through a lot of tough times there with staffing. “You would always see the clients who would progress well. And Jimmy was not one that progressed.” Very few people could feed Jimmy and, on that level, he was so dependent. But at the same time Shirley had faith that he was very close to his chronological age in intelligence.
Shirley was the President of the parent organization for a couple of years when Jimmy was eighteen. She wanted to be able to lobby for services beyond school for the handicapped because she wanted to have something for Jimmy to do. He was no longer eligible to remain in Crystal Park School after he turned twenty years old.
Shirley has always believed that “what is fair for one is fair for the other.” She knows that it requires more funding in order to include the handicapped students in the schools, but she believes that each child should be given that opportunity.
The handibus service was initiated by the parent organization when Shirley was President. Shirley remembers that Jimmy would always have an aide with him on the bus. If he was angry about something that had happened during the school day, she remembers that he would sometimes “scream that place just about down.”
Jimmy’s family would take him in the boat while they were waterskiing. They were aware of the risk involved but include him in spite of it because they wanted him to have a life. He was happy being the spotter. They built a wagon so that Jimmy could be pulled behind a quad in the yard and it was fun because they didn’t have people staring at them. The public did not understand when they would see Shirley holding Jimmy up over her shoulder to go somewhere. She could tell by their looks that they were most likely thinking, “That woman, she’s just carrying him like a sack of potatoes, she doesn’t deserve to have a child.”
Jimmy knew exactly how to work things, how to get what he wanted, that was for sure.
Shirley would explain to the staff that if Jimmy was aware that they didn’t want to feed him, he would snort and spit and refuse the meal. Shirley says a lot of times that was interpreted as a behaviour, but she just regarded it as his way to communicate. Jimmy and Shirley developed their own code to communicate with.
Young families with handicapped children need to be aware of what is available to them in the community. They need to be prepared to deal with tough times. “There are problems, there’s no two ways about it.”
It takes lots of love. Lots of love and lots of patience and be a squeaky wheel.
I wouldn’t leave when Jimmy was going through illness in the hospital before he passed away. I was quite a rooster, you know.
Shirley says that having a handicapped child puts stress on the family unit and that families need to make their needs known. Sometimes there is so much time devoted to the care of the handicapped that other family relationships suffer. Shirley made decisions for Jimmy all through his life and, once he became eighteen, she was faced with going through the process of becoming his legal guardian, a step that not all families of handicapped children realize is a necessity if they want to continue to be responsible for their care.
Shirley now works as a Licensed Practical Nurse in home care and says she is often asked to care for the handicapped clients. She says she will help out in a pinch, but she prefers not to. “Full time care with Jimmy was enough in one lifetime.”