Wish Book 2017: Answering special needs for parents
San Jose Mercury News - 12/17/2017
Dec. 17--When Sherwin Bacalso was about 4, his parents worried that he wasn't talking yet. They hoped that he was just a late bloomer, but they were wrong.
Now a 10-year-old with a beaming smile, Sherwin still rarely speaks. He loves to play with bubbles and gadgets, but like many children with autism, he struggles to communicate. When he receives speech therapy, he howls and growls in frustration. Rocking his chair back and forth, he slaps at his knees and yowls with all his might.
"It's baby steps," explains his mother, Shirley Bacalso, a cheerful and patient woman who is accustomed to the ruckus Sherwin makes. Her fondest hope is to one day hear her son say "I love you" on his own. "He gets so upset that he can't express himself."
For parents like Bacalso, taking care of their children is often a full-time job, with anxiety such a constant that the very notion of a night off seems like an impossible dream. Getting a few hours to breathe out is more than they can imagine. That's the plan at Via Services, a community support group for people with special needs across Santa Clara County. They are planning to launch a Parents Night Out. Once a month, parents will know they have a safe place to drop off the kids. For three precious hours, these stressed-out parents will get the break they so desperately need.
Wish Book readers can help parents like Bacalso by raising $19,320 to cover the cost of a monthly Parents Night Out, from food and staffing to supplies.
"A lot of the children who come here can't be left with just any babysitter. A lot of them are a flight risk. They might try to escape. Even grandma may not be able to cope with a special-needs child," says Amy Churchill, director of Via's First Step Early Intervention program. "That leaves parents without any respite."
Watching as her four-year-old, Allister, frolics around with a balloon, Bacalso confesses she is often pierced by worry. She holds fast to the hope that some day Allister will be able to take care of his older brother, who may never be independent.
"We tell him all the time, you have to watch out for Sherwin," says the San Jose woman, her voice thick with concern. "We won't be here forever, and all they have is each other."
Nicole Ushman, who lives in Santa Clara, has two little boys, Teddy, 4, and Charlie, 7, on the autism spectrum. She is warm and upbeat by nature, and she works hard to appreciate their individuality and their gifts, explaining that she sees her boys as "exceptional." Charlie, for one, is obsessed with science, Legos and the solar system.
"This is my job," she explains. "I am their advocate. I have to be."
But she is also quick to note that you also have to be patient with yourself. Like all parents, she had dreams of what her children would be like, she says, and coping with reality can be harsh.
"It can be scary and overwhelming, and it can be very isolating," she says. "Getting the support you need is crucial to making it through."
Making time for yourself is one of the hardest parts, she says. A date night for her and her husband sounds as thrilling as winning the lottery.
"You have to stay strong as a couple, because you are under a tremendous strain," Ushman says. "But I've been insecure about leaving the boys with other people. You have to have people who are sensitive to their needs. They need a very supportive environment."
At Via Services, the children will play under the watchful eyes of staff members they already know and love. They will scamper through obstacle courses, make a sticky mess working on arts and crafts projects and dig into dinner together. It might sound like nothing special but for parents like Bacalso, it's a game changer.
It will be the first time since Sherwin was born that Bacalso has had a real break. She can't imagine the relief of just going to a movie with her husband, Aldwin.
"That would be great," says Shirley, a smile spreading across her face. "I can't remember the last time that happened."
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
The Wish Book is an annual project of The Mercury News that invites readers to help their neighbors.
Donations will help Via Services host a monthly Parents Night Out for parents of special-needs children. Staff members will provide knowledgeable, reliable childcare so parents can get a much-needed respite. Goal: $19,320
HOW TO GIVE
Donate at wishbook.mercurynews.com or mail in the coupon.
Read other Wish Book stories, view photos and video at wishbook.mercurynews.com.
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