Friday, November 17, 2017

Special Needs Spotlight || Wesley James

Hi guys! If you love This Little Miggy and the work I do here, including the Special Needs Spotlight series, it would mean a lot to me if you would take a minute and like my FB page and Follow me on Instagram. And of course sharing these posts is always appreciated and one of the best ways you can support me. And for all my special needs families out there please be sure to check out my amazing giveaway with Alaska Airlines and enter before December 1st. You don't want to miss out--Details here! Thank you!

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My name is Rufus Wofford. I am married to Melissa and we have three little scamps that keep us busy: Wyatt (6 years old, typically developing), Wesley James (4 years old, born with Down syndrome) and Vivian Grace (1 year old, typically developing). We live in South Carolina and we have a lot of fun in our backyard and on our back porch. Melissa loves to host people, so we have a lot of get-togethers with friends and family. I work full time as a counselor integrated in a primary healthcare setting, with children, families, and adults. I am working on my Ph.D. at the University of South Carolina and I also work as a research assistant within my program (I know, I know, work much, Dad?). While I continue to work on skills as a play therapist in training, one of my favorite therapeutic activities with kids is observing or collaboratively playing in the sandbox. I am consistently amazed at children’s profound ability to communicate, learn, and even heal through play. Such a privilege to be with them at those times.

One interesting thing about our family is that, starting in my master’s program, about five before we had Wesley James, I began my research interest in families of children with disabilities, and Melissa worked as an assistant at a school for kids with special needs. Back then, we talked about how we could possibly adopt a child with special needs some time down the road. Low and behold, a few years later, we had one of our own, and it has been a wild ride ever since. My research interest has grown since becoming an “insider” and I hope to continue in both research and practice with families of persons with disabilities. My current study is about strengths and difficulties of typically developing siblings (currently 4-7 years of age) of persons born with lifelong disabilities (limited to the USA). I have included a link in case anyone reading this is eligible to participate: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SibStrengthsAndDifficulties.


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Miggy: Welcome Rufus! I’m so excited to have a father’s perspective today as I believe you are only the 3rd father to have participated in the spotlight series. Can you take me back to the day you found out your son Wesley had Down syndrome? Do you remember how you first felt? Can you compare those first thoughts and feelings with how you feel now?

Rufus: Shortly after he was born, I drove to the hospital where he had been flown. That is where I found out he had down syndrome. Mel, my wife, had a c-section and was unable to come with me to the hospital where our son had been air lifted. I had just started a new job too. I had a sense of peace I would have not had if I was still at my former job. I felt like I had to be strong, thankfully there were some action steps I could take to meet my need to be useful (Ronald McDonald House reservations anyone?), while getting ready to be present with my wife and push her around in a wheelchair. As far as how I feel now, I have fun; with three kids and host of responsibilities, sometimes a tired kind of fun :).

Miggy: What are the biggest worries you face for Wesley? On the flip side, what are your hopes and dreams for him?

Rufus: My biggest fear is that he will figure out how to unlock and open the door while we are not looking and wander off, get hit by a car, or get lost. My hopes and dreams for him are that he will love Jesus, be kind, and hard-working to his potential.

Miggy: Now for a lighter question, I’m a big believer in seeing the humor in life and learning to laugh, so have you ever had any funny conversations/moments you never imagined due to your special needs situations?

Rufus: Yes, instructing Wesley not to face plant on the crotches of medical students who come to visit our home as part of their third year training/exposure to families of kids with special needs.


Miggy: I know from firsthand experience what a special role siblings can play in your special needs journey. Is there anything you’d like to share about your other children and their relationship to your son/daughter?

Rufus: Wesley's older brother Wyatt is so encouraging to watch as he big brother's him. Wyatt claps to help Wesley learn (clapping is pivotal response for Wesley). Vivian is Wesley's little sister. She has not yet mastered the art of correcting him, often offering a shrill screech when he takes something from her, which he does not seem to mind. I will say he gives it back when we correct him though.


Miggy: Tell us something you love about your son Wesley. A special story, a personality trait or just something others might not know.

Rufus: Commitment to pleasure. He applauds himself for a job well done and looks for us to follow suit. This includes taking a bite of anything when we are remotely looking his direction at mealtime. When he dances, he goes all out. When he plays, this kid plays to the wall. Scary committed, this kid.

Miggy: If you could say something to the parent who just starting on this journey of special needs, what would you say? What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time?

Rufus: This is written from my entirely biased perspective as a married father, so please bear that in mind if it contrasts with your own experience. Treasure your spouse. Fight to remain committed to one another. If you or your family(ies) of origin do not do conflict well, learn to do it well. You will need it.

Try to burn out at separate times so the other can provide support.

Go slower, much slower, with everything that will allow for it. This means less technology and more nature.

Whomever is the primary caregiver (traditionally the wife so I will use female pronouns, but feel free to replace them as needed), support her in every way possible. As long as she does not have a heart of stone or an addiction, whatever she receives will directly translate into a benefit for her child, whether it is a nap or a million bucks. If she has trouble receiving, convince her that it is for the child(ren).

About that previous point though, and tying into the first one, work on your marriage. It needs work because you are a human living with other humans. The cool part is, I doubt anyone will give you a hard time about reading a marriage book, going to a seminar, or going to a marriage counselor, because hey, life with a kid with special needs is a bit difficult and people get that. You can try to rally yourselves into unity to be there for your child(ren) in chronically difficult circumstances, but that alone will leave your marriage hollow and child(ren) on a shaky foundation that, if pushed, will reveal its cracks and buckle under the weight. Rather, solidify your marriage and the nest in which you are raising your child(ren). Soak in the goodness of being together. You are as young as you will ever be. Right now, and in the days to come, you may be tasting sweetness along with some bitter difficulties. Savor the sweetness.

Miggy: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since becoming Wesley’s dad?


Rufus: It's been more a solidifying of an idea: Relationships are more important than anything else in this world, always without exception. Sure there are different weights to relationships. Sure, there are tasks we need to do, but all of that has to flow from and within relationships.

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Wow. Rufus, thank you so much for your amazing perspective. Both as a father, a partner and a doctor. I absolutely loved your answer to advice you would give new parents. So moving and profound. Particularly this little gem that I think more of us could stand to embrace: "Whomever is the primary caregiver (traditionally the wife so I will use female pronouns, but feel free to replace them as needed), support her in every way possible. As long as she does not have a heart of stone or an addiction, whatever she receives will directly translate into a benefit for her child, whether it is a nap or a million bucks. If she has trouble receiving, convince her that it is for the child(ren)." And yes, relationships are more important than anything else in this world, with all our people. Thank you so much and best to you and your family. 

Um, more dads please! Am I right? I love any and every spotlight opportunity I have to share your stories--I have learned more than I could have ever imagined. And I love hearing from unique perspectives. While most of my interviews have been with special needs moms, I have also interviewed special needs siblings, a father and mother together, and of course first hand accounts with individuals who have disabilities themselves. I have nearly 200 interviews under my belt (!) and this is only the 3rd father (I believe )who has participated in the series. I am eager to have more! So please if you or someone you know would like to participate in the special needs spotlight please email me at thislittlemiggy at gmail dot com. 

Have a great weekend! 
XO, 
Miggy
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1 comment:

  1. I am a committed Miggy reader, and it was fun to read a profile of a family from my state...and even my city, I think! Wooo famously hot Columbia, SC.

    ReplyDelete