Figuring Out Life Hacks as a Disabled Parent by Ellen Ladau

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In 1991, my husband Marc and I brought our newborn baby girl home when she was 9 days old. At the time, we lived in an apartment with several steps to enter.  This was just the first of many challenges I had to navigate as a disabled parent. I was born with Larsen’s Syndrome (LS), which affects all my muscles and joints. The fact that Emily too inherited LS was an emotional minefield that added to my postpartum adjustment. Emily will be 25 this July and I can truly say that parenting her has been the greatest joy to my husband and me but not without many physical difficulties that I’ve had to figure out.

We brought Emily home from the hospital in full leg casts that were attempting to reduce her knee dislocations. In addition to learning the basics of parenting (thank goodness my mom was there to help with the first sponge bath; I truly was terrified) we had to learn cast care. I also had to learn how to manage the basic task of transferring Emily because my knees don’t bend enough to be useful in this task; I need my arms to get up. I had to put Emily down in a safe spot before I could stand.

When Emily was 12 years old, I had hip replacement surgeries, which further reduced my physical abilities. But we have always done what we have to do.  You know the saying: necessity is the mother of invention.

There have been many times when creativity has been needed to solve caretaking and housekeeping challenges.  And these days, I am just as likely to receive help from Emily as I am to give her help with something. As I have gotten older, my physical condition has worsened and I need more help around the house.  I now look at every task that needs to be done and ask if there is an easier or quicker way to do it. We are fortunate enough to live in a very wheelchair-friendly house, accomplished through several renovations. But even if your physical environment is not ideal for your disability, there are many simple and inexpensive ways to make life easier.

I make sure to de-clutter as much as possible. House cleaning is much faster if you don’t have to pick-up knickknacks. And, of course, keeping floors as clear as possible minimizes fall hazards. In the kitchen, I use several methods to make cooking and baking easier. For example, I keep the most common ingredients I use for baking right near my stand mixer. I also keep the most common sized measuring cups in my flour and sugar containers so I don’t have to search through the drawer for them or wash them after I have measured the amount I need. And when I do something messy like cracking eggs into a bowl, the bowl is on a larger plate that goes right into the dishwasher. This way, I don’t have to clean the counter of the inevitable drippy eggs. (One theme should be clear by now: I hate cleaning!)

Another way I make my life easier is to find new uses for common household items.  Kitchen tongs are the hands down favorite in the Ladau household and there is one in almost every room. In order to don my socks and shoes independently, I first need to place a silicone toe separator between two troublesome toes. Because I cannot reach my foot due to elbow contractures, I use a long kitchen tong for the job.  The tongs also work great to pick up the ice cubes that our fridge constantly shoots to the floor or to pick up small items like pens. Of course, we have reaching sticks too, which also can be used in unconventional ways.  I attach a wad of paper towels or a dishtowel to the end if I need to wipe up a spill from the floor.

For me, these seemingly small things help me manage my chronic pain and fatigue and give me more energy to do more fun things. So, I challenge you to really look at your environment.  What are your challenges? Can you think outside the box to come up with a solution? If not, don’t be afraid to ask other people or get creative.

Parenting is universally agreed upon as the toughest job in the world and being a disabled parent is even more challenging at times. For me, being a disabled parent of a disabled child has definitely been a physical challenge, but through little life hacks I’ve made over the years, I’ve found ways to make every day easier.

Life Lessons My Disability Has Taught Me by Brittni Wendling


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First published 5/14/2016 by Odyssey.com

Being different is underrated.
Growing up with an extremely rare condition, Larsen Syndrome, has majority impacted the way I view the world. This condition, which affects the development of bones in my body, basically means that all of my joints are dislocated, and I have no knees. My legs can always be seen sticking straight out, and trust me, it sure is a great conversation starter. Because it is only seen in 1 in 100,000 babies, not many people have heard of someone like me, and I’m proud to have some of the rarest legs in the world. Wherever I go, I never seem to be able to escape my disability, but my condition has allowed me to gain perspective and realize what truly matters in life. Here are some life lessons that my physical disability has taught me throughout my 18 years of life.

Resilience is key.
There are times and challenges that have pushed me further than I ever thought imaginable. Instead of throwing in the towel, I have realized the importance of pushing right back, keeping my head up, and handling everything life throws at me one step at a time.

Looks aren’t everything.
As many other physically challenged people, I have never had the “normal” body type or have appeared exactly as those you see in everyday life. Far too many times, I have wished and prayed to change the way I look to fit in more. I realize now that I accept the way I am, and there are no true versions of “normal.”

Nothing is ever going to come easily.
Everything from the day I was born has taken both hard work and patience, and I have never had the luxury of having things simply handed to me. There are always going to be challenges in everyday life that able-bodied people do not have to worry about, but it is essential to handle these challenges with grace and keep persevering.

Progress takes time.
After a surgery or other milestone, I usually get caught up and frustrated because I want to see results immediately. I jump steps ahead and forget about the time it takes in between these hurdles to heal, recover, and refrain strength. Slowly but surely, progress will be easily seen. It just takes time.

Not everyone will understand or accept me.
This one’s crucial. As much as society likes to preach how it is completely accepting of the world’s largest minority, the disabled community, not everyone you meet will share this same attitude. There have been individuals I have come across in my life who for some reason did not understand the challenges I face daily, and they treated me like I was a completely different species from them. It’s important to remember that this is no where near true and not to let these small-minded people ruin how I’ve come to get to where I am today.

I can’t do everything, but that’s okay.
There are numerous sayings that preach that everyone can do anything they set their mind to, but I can attest to the fact that this is most certainly not the case. By not having knees, I cannot run, kneel, rock climb, ride a bike, or even sit criss-cross applesauce. No matter how much willpower and positive mindset I give off, I will never be able to do these things, but that’s okay.

Accepting myself will always be a lifelong battle.
There are days when I’m feeling good about my progress and all parts of who I am, but there are definitely days when this is not the case. There are days when I just wish I could step out of my own body and life for a bit, take a breather, and be a bit more normal. At the end of the day, it helps me to take a step back and put in to perspective how many other things and people in my life I’m thankful for. This struggle is not something that’s just going to magically go away; it’s something that’s always going to follow behind me.

I can’t count myself out before I count myself in.
I will never know if I can do something unless I suck up my fear and try. There have been many times where I was pleasantly surprised at being able to do something that no one had faith in that I could accomplish. I mean, look how I’ve just finished my first year in college. Adaptation is a beautiful thing.

There are going to be days when I’m frustrated with my situation, but no one will truly get it.
Sometimes, I feel completely alone in my journey and misunderstood in my day-to-day life. There are a lot of situations in my life that even my closest friends and family will never be able to understand what I’m going through of how I’m feeling. This is not self-pity, but it’s hard sometimes to remain optimistic and turn this lonesome feeling around. It just happens. Let it.

Surgery sucks.
All parts of surgery and physical therapy are nerve-wracking and are hard to overcome. Wheelchairs, walkers, crutches casts, and everything else in the medical equipment category just plain sucks. Stress and pain are inevitable, but eventually the hard times pass. End of story.

People will always stare, but it’s not the end of the world.
I used to be really torn up and conscious whenever I’d step (or wheel) a foot out of my house because I was afraid of the staring I knew was going to come from everyone I encountered. I have learned to accept the fact that some are just curious about my disability, while others truly are staring because they have nothing better to do. I have realized how much better life is when I take people’s stares and turn them into motivation to keep setting an example of moving past hurdles in life.

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I need to be my own advocate and accept my life for how it is.
The cards have been dealt, and there is nothing I can do to go back in time and change them. Honestly, I don’t know if I would want to. It’s necessary for me to consistently speak up, voice my needs, spread awareness, and stand up for both myself and others with disabilities.

My happiness and quality of life is most important.
There are always going to be those people who have their opinions about my decisions in my life I make to keep moving forward. I still find it hard to think for myself and continuously make decisions that are best for me and my quality of life, but I’m getting better at it. No one but me knows what I’ve been through and why I make the decisions I’ve made, so I need to keep living for myself and no one else.

Being different is underrated.
I’m usually looked at with sad expressions and approached with pitiful remarks of how strong and inspirational I am for living my daily life. However, I do not always think of my disability as a negative thing. I like being different. There are some perks, such as front-line cutting at amusement parks and concerts. Also, free parking is always a plus, am I right?