Articles


By Deborah Cavanagh

Exactly one year ago I faced a dilemma. My daughter, Amanda, had participated in a community theater program for years but because she was turning 18, she was about to “graduate.” This graduation was going to leave a great, big hole in her life.

 

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In search of an impossibly perfect gown

By Deborah Cavanagh

Every year for Halloween my teen daughter, Amanda, wants to dress as whatever character is her latest musical or movie obsession. She has been Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray, Giselle from Enchanted, Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Each costume is never the one you can buy off the rack. She always wants to be in a specific dress from a certain scene—that is impossible to find.

 

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Why not take our toddler and pets cross-country in an RV?

By Deborah Cavanagh

Who takes an almost-2-year-old toddler, an 85-pound golden retriever, and two indoor cats on a three-week vacation odyssey? Yep, we do.

 

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Acceptance through the generations

By Deborah Cavanagh

Excitement filled the day of my birth. I was the first grandchild on my father’s side and the first granddaughter on my mother’s.

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Encountering a bit of unexpected grace among teens

By Deborah Cavanagh

I have come to realize that there are individuals in this world who have a natural grace around people with disabilities.

 

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The growth of independent-living options for adults with special needs

By Deborah Cavanagh

It’s astonishing how in one moment a lifetime of questions can flash through your mind.

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A couple’s mission is restoring the strength of others

By Deborah Cavanagh

I picked up the phone and heard, “Debbie, it’s your Uncle Lou. I wanted you to know I met the people who run David’s Refuge. You know them too, right? You and Brian should take a weekend and get away. This is for families like you!

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A mom gets out what she puts into Halloween costumes

By Deborah Cavanagh

Like it was yesterday, I recall pulling out the hand-me-down bunny costume from Amanda’s older cousin Donna. Pink and white, with little fluffy tail and foam head piece, I had saved it in the guest room closet just in case I had a baby girl who could wear it someday.

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Parents share wish lists for their kids’ teachers

By Deborah Cavanagh

I walked home after waving goodbye to my daughter, Amanda, on her first day of kindergarten.

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Sign language helped our baby communicate

By Deborah Cavanagh

My kindergarten report card stated, “I am not sure little Debbie is aware she is talking half the time she is talking.”

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My daughter loved the water but could only go so far

By Deborah Cavanagh

My daughter was always drawn to the water, but for years and years she wasn’t allowed to get her head wet.

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A local music teacher makes a difference in kids’ lives

By Deborah Cavanagh

Great teachers come in many varieties. But a quality they all share is the ability to recognize and bring out the best in their students, even students whose strengths are hidden.

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Encouraging fashion flair while discouraging barely there looks

By Deborah Cavanagh

My mom had it easy. I attended high school during the early 1980s. Remember fashion back then? The preppy look. Baggy jeans. Benetton sweaters. Prairie shirts. And Gunne Sax prom dresses that went up to your neck and down to the floor with lace.

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Efforts to help my teen make her days predictable and purposeful

By Deborah Cavanagh

My 17-year-old daughter, Amanda, keeps me on track when it comes to our daily schedule. She knows when we should leave for school. She points out that it is noon if she is home for lunch.

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Remarks heard while out and about

By Deborah Cavanagh

No one ever said “She just loves children” to describe me in my youth.

Santa brought me Baby Alive for Christmas when I was 7 years old. It cried, pooped, peed and ran a fever. It scared me to death. Within hours of opening the much-desired gift, I demanded my parents remove the batteries. Baby Alive ended up in the basement.

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Children reach milestones on their own individual schedules

By Deborah Cavanagh

“My second child is so advanced cognitively and physically,” one parent said, “that it is hard to compare him to my first child with special needs.”

I listened suspiciously from my seat. I was attending an advocacy meeting for parents of children with special needs. My daughter, Amanda, was 4. She has Down syndrome and a host of medical issues that have affected her development. I was pregnant at the time with our second child, Jason.

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Balancing scheduled and unscheduled summer weeks

By Deborah Cavanagh

“Can we do the Christian School of Performing Arts Summer Camp, Mom, please?!” both my children plead.

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A father considers his role in shaping his children

By Brian Cavanagh

My daughter, Amanda, and I have always been close. When she was born she knew me from the sound of my voice. She was part of me. Amanda was born with Down syndrome and other medical issues that made her first few years difficult but didn’t diminish our bond.

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Graduation options for kids with special needs have changed

By Deborah Cavanagh

Spring finds families considering new graduation options for kids with special needs.

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Do I want to spend my life driving my kids to activities?

By Deborah Cavanagh

As I spend my days driving my two children from Fayetteville-Manlius High School to the Montessori School of Syracuse, CNY Gym Centre to Sports Center 481, voice lessons to saxophone lessons—the same 20-odd miles of road over and over—I ask myself: “Is this our life?”

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Sports spectators can try on new thinking at the local event

By Deborah Cavanagh

When I was a child, people with special needs were not seen regularly in society. There were institutions, or families kept the children in their homes. This made sightings, much less interaction, rare.

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A mother’s quest for gluten-free success

By Deborah Cavanagh

Cookies have always spoken to me. Chips and pretzels sit in my pantry for weeks and I ignore them. But the shouts coming from the cookie jar can be deafening.

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A daughter’s special needs made best friendship elusive

By Deborah Cavanagh

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She’s a ninth-grader now

By Deborah Cavanagh

“This year I am going to high school. I will be in nine grade!” my daughter, Amanda, tells anyone who asks. She feels confident taking the next step in her academic career

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We decided to have another baby—and faced judgment

By Deborah Cavanagh

Our decision to have a second child was made before we were married. On a road trip to the Saratoga Springs Jazz Festival my fiancé, Brian, and I, with multiple hours to kill, tried to address life’s big issues. We discussed where we wanted to live. What our job ambitions were. And, of course, how many children we each wanted to have.

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Four-score and counting summers on Lake Ontario’s shore

By Deborah Cavanagh

In 1932 my great-uncle Sam bought what would become our family summer camp. The property fronts the Salmon River with a view of the Selkirk Light House. A walk out the back yard, through the sand, leads you to a semi-private beach on Lake Ontario.

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Mothers of kids with special needs have needs, too

By Deborah Cavanagh

I have always loved tennis. I watched John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg as a kid. I roomed with tennis players at Le Moyne College and was their most vocal and consistent fan. I encouraged my children to learn the sport. So it made sense a few years ago when I told the pro at Drumlins Tennis Club I wanted to give lessons a try.

 

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A teen with special needs, out and about

By Deborah Cavanagh

“Excuse me, I just want to say your daughter is beautiful,” the man says with a smile. “You are clearly doing a wonderful job raising her. You are doing God’s work.”

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Was I ready to give up my job to care for my child full time?

By Deborah Cavanagh

When I was pregnant with my first child, I thought I knew how my working life would change. I had a vision.

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Kids’ conflicting food and exercise needs cause headaches

By Deborah Cavanagh

Parents are bombarded with studies linking children’s lack of activity and overeating to obesity and diabetes. We are informed that our children do not exercise enough, that they sit in front of the television or computer too much, that they eat junk food.

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Hanging ornaments brings it all back

By Deborah Cavanagh

Decorating the Christmas tree marked the beginning of the holiday season when I was young. There are three children in my family: me, my younger brother and my younger sister. We lived in Baldwinsville at the time. Cutting down your own tree was the norm. My dad was a perfectionist when it came to the selection. (I am sure it had much to do with the modifications needed when a “Charlie Brown tree” was chosen.)

 

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Losing a cat who was more than a pet

By Deborah Cavanagh

Eli was our 3-year-old black-and-white kitty. He was rescued with Marley, his sister, when they were a few weeks old. They were brought by Santa and immediately became part of our family. We felt complete. Father, mother, daughter, son, and brother and sister four-legged critters.

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Teens with special needs want social lives, and so do their parents

By Deborah Cavanagh

Will my teenager choose the right friends? Will he get into a good crowd? Will my child be able to balance academic demands with social activities? Our children’s friendships help to define them as adults. But what if there are no friendships to be had?

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A newborn with Down syndrome is mostly like other infants—only prettier

By Deborah Cavanagh

I learned big lessons from a small person. Four pounds, 10 ounces to be exact.

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A child with special needs attracts favors and treats

By Deborah Cavanagh

No one wants to learn that life isn’t fair. As parents we encourage our children to “play nice,” to share, to try not to hurt other people’s feelings.

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Making it on stage

By Deborah Cavanagh

At 14 years old, my daughter Amanda has found her passion: She wants to be on stage. It started with the High School Musical movies. She then moved to Hannah Montana and Camp Rock. All those kids get to be on stage. They dance. They sing. People applaud. Fun is had by all. What kid wouldn’t want to be them?

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Getting a glimpse into an alternate reality

By Deborah Cavanagh

It may sound crazy, but most of the time I forget that my 14-year-old daughter, Amanda, has Down syndrome. She is just Amanda. Every now and then, though, I get hit with a moment—I call it a whammy—that makes me ponder what life would have been like if that extra chromosome had not occurred. This was one such time.

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Braving an outdoor sport yields a hard-won reward

By Deborah Cavanagh

Going on family road trips is easy when the kids are little. You strap them into their car seats. Head off on your adventure. Make emergency adjustments if needed. Take lots of pictures. And retell your (heavily edited) version when they get older, since they cannot remember a thing.

 

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A daughter and mother handle the diabetes diagnosis

By Deborah Cavanagh

My first thought was, “Are you kidding me?” My 12-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. My second thought was, “How is this going to limit her independence?”

 

 

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When seeing is believing

By Deborah Cavanagh

My daughter is generous with her belief. To her, everyone is real: You are who you claim to be. So I am Mom. Brian is Dad. And also Cinderella is Cinderella, and Mary Poppins is Mary Poppins. I get into movies more than the average person. I cry even during cartoons. But in the back of my mind, no matter how wrapped up I am in the story, I know it isn’t real. For Amanda, it is. She believes the character is the person.

 

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