Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Creating an Environment: Where Your Family Will Thrive

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Creating an Environment: Where Your Family Will Thrive

Article excerpt

"You have to move."

This was the advice we received from a professional we brought in to tour our house and help us determine how we could best renovate to make it handicapped accessible for our son, Sean.

We live in a two-story home built in 1990. With a finished basement, four bedrooms, two and a half baths, and large living areas, I couldn't believe her recommendation was to move. Just prior to Sean being born, we moved from a narrow, three-bedroom row house. If she had toured that house and recommended moving, I could understand, but how could we NOT make this house work?

She suggested we find a plot of land and build a nice ranch home with wide doorways, a separate wing for Sean, and a covered area for bus drop off. We soon realized this consultant did not share our vision for Sean and how he integrates into our family. Why would we place Sean in a separate wing of the house, thus further distancing him from his siblings? Why would we build a nurse's suite when we rarely had a nurse on duty for longer than a four-hour stretch? Once we came to this realization, we gained confidence that if we found a competent, capable contractor, we could make our present house work.

Our decision wasn't based solely on the house structure. There was much that went into the decision-making process. Our neighbors had become like family, and we had developed a circle of support from which we didn't want to walk away. Sean's older siblings were in school here, and we did not want to uproot them. Equally important, Sean grew up in this neighborhood. The kids here knew him and accepted him. Moving to a new area, we faced the possibility that Sean would be known as "the kid in the wheelchair" rather than as Sean.

Anyone who has lived through home renovations can tell you it is not easy. Like many, we ran over-budget and past our timeline. I still can't figure out how we were two days into the project and our contractor told me we were running five weeks behind schedule. However, having completed the work, I can attest that it was well worth it.

I'm grateful we renovated when we did--when Sean was only six and still easy to carry up and down the stairs. Having the elevator in our renovated home has made a huge difference. Not only have I saved my back, but now when the kids go down to the basement, they can take Sean with them. His increased accessibility to all parts of the house has led to a newfound independence, which has greatly increased Sean's social interaction with his peers.

In fact, that's where our work plan started--with the goal of Sean being able to access every level and every room in the house. Therefore, a key element in the new floor plan started with the elevator. Once we had established that the elevator had to be placed on a current exterior wall, we knew we were in for major work. With the elevator location determined, we crafted a plan that allowed for a large bedroom, a handicapped accessible bathroom, and a sitting room. The plans also included excavation to have the basement accessible from the elevator and the addition of a therapy pool in the basement. On the first floor, we added a small study and an office that also included elevator access to this level.

As both the garage and main entrance to our home had steps as barriers, we elected to use the garage as Sean's main point of entry. …

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