Donna Hammock, director of Parent Voices, a program that helps parents of children being served by Damar navigate the care experience, meet other parents and learn through educational workshops. Hammock understands both the reward and struggle of having a child with multiple diagnoses, including behavioral disabilities. Her 15-year-old grandson, for whom she is legal guardian, is being supported on Damar’s residential campus.
Fifteen years ago, when my son called to tell me my grandson, Kevin, had been born, I was ecstatic. But, during the drive to the hospital I kept reflecting on my son’s tone of voice on the telephone. I hadn’t heard the excitement of a first-time dad. Was something wrong? Had the baby been born sick? Or could the baby have been born like me – a dwarf?
When I got the hospital, my fears seem confirmed when I saw my son, Larry. He had no trace of joy on his face. I grabbed his hand and whispered, “Is he like me?” As we walked to the maternity ward, I asked again. “Is he like me?” Larry gently replied, “No, Mom. He has Down syndrome.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I knew nothing about Down syndrome.
My, how things have changed. In the years since I first fell in love with Kevin’s cerulean-blue eyes in that hospital, my son passed away and I became guardian to this beautiful child with multiple diagnoses. For years, I lived with him in my home. As Kevin got older, his behaviors became harder and harder for me to manage. Finally, in June of 2016, we brought Kevin to Damar.
Like many parents, I say that deciding to bring Kevin to Damar was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I was scared and angry, and I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Now, after seeing the miraculous things Damar has done for Kevin, I know I did the right thing. Not every day has been a great day for Kevin since he came to Damar, and we’ve had our challenges and frustrations. But Damar has made a huge difference in our lives. Kevin is happier, and I no longer feel like I have to go through the challenges of raising Kevin alone.
My story doesn’t mean I’m going to think Damar is right for every child with an intellectual or behavioral disability. But it does mean that I can relate to those caregivers who are struggling with the challenges associated with raising a child with intellectual or behavioral disabilities. And it certainly means that I’ll be there to listen, to help you find information and to connect you to other parents who are in a similar situation.
In other words, it means I’m here to assure you that you don’t have to go through these challenges alone.