The Boatright Circus

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Clay's Writings and Ravings: 

The Dallas Morning News

  -- Op/Ed (November 2008):
Ignoring God's Children
         This article is being used in a national curriculum for colleges and seminaries focusing on issues facing families with disabilities.

  -- Community Voices (December 2008):
Including Those With Special Needs
         Nine ideas for businesses and organizations to easily serve people with developmental disabilities.

  -- Op/Ed (April 2010):   A Strategy to Help Families With Special Needs
         Creating broad scope community advocates to help families with disabilities can eliminate tragedy. 

 -- Letter to the Editor (November 2011):   Breaking the Medicaid Stereotype
         Medicaid supports many of our neighbors in ways we may not realize.

 -- Op/Ed (March 2012):   The Good Old Days Weren't So Good
         Using the disability support model of past generations is dangerously regressive and could put people in serious danger. 


Articles and Interviews:

The Dallas Morning News Article
(April 2010):  Morgan's Wonderland in San Antonio
 A one-of-a-kind amusement park in San Antonio offers fun to people with all abilities.

KTVT-TV Channel 11 (July 2010):   Autism Community:  Reach Out Before Violence Video
After two children with autism were killed, Carole candidly describes the challenges parents face.


The Dallas Morning News Article (August 2010):   Parents of Children With Autism:  We Struggle Alone
Several parents describe the isolation families dealing with autism face, waiting years for help, and the importance of early diagnosis.

The Arc of Dallas Interview (October 2010):   Agency Video Featuring Carole, Blaire, Paige, and Mia
Clients of The Arc of Dallas describe how programs at The Arc help them achieve their goals.


A Father's Child                                                            

Dads love being dads.  While the daily challenges of work and family responsibilities can be daunting, we know it’s worthwhile for securing the best possible future for our kids.

A father's job is to improve his family's circumstances.  We get the best jobs possible, move into the nicest neighborhoods, and send our children to the right schools.  More importantly, if we set our expectations high, then surely the product of our DNA will respond accordingly and make us proud. I have daughters, but I have to believe that sensation is even stronger for fathers about their sons.

As a father of three children, including identical twins with severe developmental disabilities, envisioning a positive future for my children has its own challenges.  The Fatherhood 101 handbook doesn't have any advice on kids who make strange noises for no apparent reason, for hours on end.  Children are supposed to be potty trained by age three, not thirteen.  Our kids are supposed to be great in sports, not have other kids tease them.  If and when that stuff happens, dads are supposed to find a solution.

A few years ago I started taking a different approach to fatherhood.  Simply put, my expectations are not important.  God's plan, however, is vitally important, and he views my three daughters of equal value to every other child.  My job is to help them maximize their God-planned potential, whatever that potential may be.

When I was eight years old, my father had no clue what I would be doing at forty three.  His only expectation was that I treat others with respect, and his only hope was that I be happy.  My goals for my children are no different.

Is that easier said than done?  Sure, but guess what…I've read my bible from cover to cover, and there's nothing in there about life being easy, much less fair.  It does tell me that God is smarter than I am, and He chose the family I'm supposed to raise, so that makes it right.


Knock Knock

One afternoon Paige and Mia were watching a video, Carole was helping Blaire with a school project, and I was doing something unimportant.  All of the sudden Paige runs downstairs, madder than a wet cat, screaming her head off.  I try to calm her down when the phone rings.  It's a lady employed by the school district to be our in-home trainer.  She hears the screaming and asks if this is a bad time to talk.  I said "no, it's just daytime." 


I give the phone to Carole, and the doorbell rings.  It's a boy scout selling popcorn.  Ever since our neighbor refused to talk to us for 8 years after not buying something from his son, we now buy from every kid who knocks.  He says he needs a check now.  I go get Carole, even though she's still on the phone with the trainer, because she keeps the checkbook.  She takes the boy's order form and closes the door to keep the twins in.


A moment later, Mia erupts upstairs.  As I start up the steps to help, I hear the "ding, ding, ding" of the alarm indicating a door has been opened.  I look down just in time to see Paige, still screaming, charge out the front door at full speed past the boy scout.  Abandoning Mia in her time of agony, I fly out the door and catch Paige just before she reaches the street.  The scout's mom (and sales chaperone) is standing on the sidewalk and gives me a tight little smile.  I respond with a smile somewhere between "welcome to our world" and "write your own darn check and leave us alone."


I get Paige back in the house, and again close the door on the scout.  By now he must think he's rung the doorbell of hell.  Carole comes out of the bedroom, phone still in hand, with a check for the popcorn.  She gives it to the scout, who turns and runs for his life.

First Recital

When they were five years old, Paige and Mia participated in a 30 minute dance class on Saturday mornings at a local dance studio.  Sally, the owner, believed all children should have a chance to enjoy the arts, and created a class specifically for special needs students.  Their instructor, Mandi, has a nephew with Down Syndrome.  For this term, Mia and Paige were the only kids in her “Upside Down” special needs class. 

The school’s spring recital was scheduled for Saturday night at a local theater, and students ranging from 4 year-old kids to 50 year-old adults were involved.  Leaving Friday night's rehearsal, we were 90% sure Paige & Mia would not be able to perform.  That evening the twins would not let me carry them on stage, much less dance.  They grabbed my neck and cried as soon as I entered the stage area.  The lights were bright and the music was loud.  Mia went outside to play, while Paige sat with Blaire in the dark auditorium watching everyone else practice.  Carole was pretty sad.  It’s not that bad, I rationalized; the lessons are where the real benefit lies anyway.

For Saturday afternoon's dress rehearsal, Mandi suggested we arrive early to let the twins play on stage without the music and lights. Paige and Mia had a great time running around. In the minutes leading up to their part, they sat wonderfully with the other kids in the wings “stage-right”.  However, when Mandi and Shelby (her teenage assistant) came to get the girls for their performance, they still wouldn't leave us.  Well, at least they made it farther than the night before.

Showtime was Saturday night.  With Paige & Mia dressed in their costumes, we arrived and hung out with the other performers.  While we waited, Shelby mentioned that she may study genetics in college.  Knowing how tender she is with the twins, I wondered how Shelby influences our girls, and vice-versa. 

Mia & Paige again sat with the other young dancers off stage, with Carole and me by their side.  As we waited, a little girl asked us “Why don’t they talk?”  We responded with “They’re learning, and they will.”  Like everything else, they’ll speak when God decides it’s time.

When it was their time to perform, I told my girls I was proud of them and gave them each a kiss.  Mandi came off stage, looked at me, and I nodded for her to try.  She took Paige & Mia by the hand and led them off in front of 250 people, lights shining, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" playing loudly.  They did great, just like in class.  With their instructors holding their hands, they performed their little twirls, circled their marks, and were led off stage-left.  The audience erupted in applause.

Carole and I ran backstage to the other side.  When we arrived, Mandi had tears in her eyes.  She said some of the teenage girls and adults were crying off stage as well.  Every member of the studio knew and respected the twins, and celebrated their success with them.  This Dad was emotional as well.  Mandi gave both girls roses, and Sally gave our babies star medals for their performance. 

We often wonder if people with severe disabilities can contribute to society.  Compared to most of us with typical development, their impact will undoubtedly be stronger.  In the Bible, Jesus explained that a man was born blind so that the work of God would be seen in his life. (John 9:3).   Perhaps people with disabilities are not simply “the handicapped” requiring special care.  Instead, they may be catalysts for growth in us all.


How to Spot a Good Teacher

We have been blessed to see God at work through Paige and Mia’s teachers.  While there are some special education teachers who clearly need another career, there are also those who are excellent.

When Paige and Mia were in kindergarten, we had a meeting at our neighborhood school to discuss the option of transferring them to a new program three miles away.  We had grown accustomed to meetings attended by school personnel we did not know, and today was no different.  Among the crowd was a young woman who looked barely out of high school herself.  As it turned out, she was the team leader for the program we were considering.


The conversation lasted for around 90 minutes, during which Carole and I decided to give this new program a shot.  Knowing what was ahead for her, I asked the teacher “Your work load is about to increase by 40%, a very active 40%.  Can you could handle it?”  This young lady looked me straight in the eye and said, "Yes we can, and I want your children in my class".


At that moment I realized there is no statement more powerful to a parent, particularly a special needs parent, than the phrase:
 "I want your child".