Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Chronic Disability, Major Life Events, and Aging

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Chronic Disability, Major Life Events, and Aging

Article excerpt

We all encounter what I call "Major Life Events" (MLEs) during our lives. Some are positive and some are negative in terms of the affect of any particular MLE on the day-to-day performance of our jobs, our interaction with others, and even on our self-perception--the way we identify and see ourselves.

Examples of MLEs include birth and death (the first, last, and two most obvious MLEs), as well as marriage and divorce, a Senior prom, getting a driver's license, a graduation, a first kiss, the birth of a child, etc.

Aging and chronic disability add to the list of a person's MLEs, so that retirement and receipt of mass AARP mailings--as well as the act or accident, or diagnosis of the disease or bug causing or giving rise to the disability--are included in the list of such events.

I Surrender and Suffer Further Shame. I recently encountered a MLE that was related to, if not caused by, both disability and aging: I "surrendered" my driver's license to the California DMV. And even though I did so voluntarily, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

Remember back to the elation you felt when you first got your license. I experienced the exact opposite emotion--total dejection--when my disability compelled me to give up my driving privilege. No more getting behind the wheel and heading out on the Golden State's take-your-life-in-your hands freeways. No more watching the other daredevils on the roads yell colorful phrases and make friendly gestures with their fingers. And no more thrill of dodging semi-automatic weapons fire.

The state DMV never questioned my ability to drive once I passed an initial "milktoast" back-roads driving test when I first moved to California in 1990. A few years ago the state began requiring new driver-license applicants to pass a much more harrowing on-freeway test, but the requirement didn't apply to existing licensees. And each time I had to renew my license, I had to take a written test only--even though I wheeled myself into the DMV in a wheelchair on such occasions. I've always found this DMV testing protocol strange and illogical, but I wasn't about to complain about it and end up taking a driving test on the freeway.

But despite the fact that I could have easily renewed my license by taking a written test--answering such salient questions as "how many car lengths must one drive behind a vehicle towing a giraffe?"--I knew it was time to stop driving. My reflexes are a far cry from what they used to be, and I was approaching the point of becoming a hazard to myself and others. …

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