With Mother's Day and graduation season around the corner, I find myself wanting to share the story of my only child, who will soon be an official high school graduate. As a grade school teacher, education is so important to me, as is parenthood. Our story is about both.
My son, Dalton, age 22, was born with Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS) - a Chromosomal disorder with no known cure that manifests itself in many cruel ways including an insatiable appetite and behavioral and developmental challenges. In spite of the syndrome, Dalton remains a positive, caring and very determined young man. So much so that his goal is to be President of the United States! We told him that in order to hold this office, one should have a high school diploma.
And that is exactly what he will be receiving this June thanks to the life-transforming help of Latham School and, now, Latham Adult Services. With incredible gratitude, I decided the greatest gift I can give back is to reach out to others and ask you to join me today in making a tax-deductible gift to Latham Centers.
Dalton's father and I have always tried our best to care for Dalton, support his needs and encourage him to focus on his abilities more than his disability. Dalton attended public schools until he was 18 years old. Each year we would try to educate his new teachers about Prader-Willi Syndrome and Dalton's specific needs. While the school system acknowledged Dalton's disability, they were puzzled by the inherent drive to seek food and the persistent distraction and torment this caused him. Bake sales, vending machines, cafeteria meals and other students' unlimited snacking were all overwhelming for him.
Through all the years of academic and social challenges, he did not waiver in his deep desire and determination to accomplish his goal. In high school, the tension and frustration mounted. there were many nights he would stay up to work on assignments, finally breaking down. Sobbing in despair, he confided in me that "My teacher's talk too fast. I can't understand them." But he would not give up trying.
Dalton was a teenager yearning for independence, despite his inability to keep up with his classmates. This led to many escalated conflicts at home around time schedules, getting ready for school in the morning, food preparation and bedtimes. We all collectively reached a point of exasperation; and Dalton began to think he would never achieve his goal of earning his high school diploma and being able to live independently. The challenges became too daunting for all of us. Each day was a struggle and the stakes were getting higher.
Years earlier, we had heard of Latham School at a conference, but we weren't ready to let Dalton go at the time. Now, we were in crisis! We called Latham and scheduled an appointment to visit Latham School. After we toured the small but intimate campus, we had no idea how Dalton would react to changing schools and living away from us at least until the age of 22, when Latham School students graduate and transition out. On the way back home, Dalton told us that he felt like Latham was his new home! He loved it!
At Latham, everyone knew about Prader-Willi Syndrome and other kids with complex special needs. For the first time ever, we did not have to educate his teachers about PWS. The supports he needed were already incorporated into the Latham educational, residential, clinical and vocational systems. With all the supports in place, Dalton was able to focus on his personal, academic, and social goals. He was among a whole group of people who understood him. He could be himself and be helped with developing more effective coping skills.
After an adjustment period, Dalton began to blossom. He set realisitc goals for himself and actually became President-not of the United States but of the Student Council and of his homeroom class. He also began to volunteer as the first-ever math tutor to the other Latham students, and immersed himself in writing and sports activities. Special Olymics provided him social and physical outlets. Our son was now actually a leader among his peers instead of a stressed out and ostracized high school student.
Latham and its caring, creative and compassionate staff have afforded Dalton many opportunities for healthy activities in the community. As all this good unfolded, Dalton's Dad suffered a debilitating stroke. Thankfully, Latham staff were still there to work tirelessly on finding opportunities that mattered and appealed to Dalton as a valued individual. First he secured work experience in the campus greenhouse, and with assistance from Latham's vocational staff, he then applied for and landed a job at a local nursery.
Latham Centers has been a gift from heaven for our family. We have peace of mind, knowing our son is being well-cared for, happy, safe and enjoying quality life experiences. Because of the support Latham provided, Dalton reached him goal of earning his high school diploma and is now prepared to pursue new goals as an adult living in one of Latham's adult group homes for individuals 22 years of age and over.
Today Dalton attends a weekday enrichment program for adults with similar interests and aspirations, and is training to be certified in Latham's innovative Donkey Therapy Care program. Later this summer, Dalton will run in the Falmouth Road Race for Latham Centers. All of these activities build confidence, self esteem, empathy for others, and a deeper connection to Dalton's new home away from home. He is officially a Cape Codder and tells us he is "doing stupendous."
Won't you please make a gift today so every individual at Latham Centers continues to receive a fair shot at attaining a brightter future, and a productive life in the community: We all deserve that chance. One individual at a time.
Dalton's Grateful Mom