Graeme was mum’s first born. She had a prolonged labour and they didn’t get oxygen to him in time. When he started school, he couldn’t seem to comprehend things like a,b,c and 1,2,3. They realized something was wrong. Despite all of this, he has an incredible memory. He is very likeable, social and he has a great sense of humour.
Soon after Graeme was born, mum had another three boys. It was very hard for her to take care of four small children, especially, because Graeme required a lot of attention. My grandparents adopted him, not officially. He was a great help to them. They helped each other.
Graeme lived with my grandparents most of his life until they couldn’t look after him anymore. After he left, he lived in an IHC home but he started wandering off doing his own thing. IHC staff realized he should not be doing that because it was not appropriate or safe. He needed to be in a rest home with a gate so he couldn’t get out. Now that he is less mobile, it is easier to keep an eye on him if he goes down the road or goes to a place he shouldn’t be.
He was very mobile when he was younger. He used to catch the bus and go to the shops. He had a lot of freedom and was very capable. One of my brothers, Trevor, used to take Graeme to rugby matches, cricket matches, and pipe bands. Just to watch. He used to take him out quite regularly. Now he is older, things are different. But old age comes to all of us.
Now my brother Trevor and I visit him sometimes and take him out for walks. We get ice cream or coffee. Graeme looks forward to us coming, and we look forward to seeing him. He even dresses up for us.
We can’t take him into a café. That would be a challenge. I would have in the past but not now. He would be quite loud and disruptive. He doesn’t like too many people around him. So we just keep it fairly quiet when we take him out. We enjoy walking with him.
At Christmas, we have a whole Christmas party just for him. Well on Christmas Eve really. We don’t have him on Christmas Day because that is when members from the other side of my family are here. Graeme likes to get a lot of attention; he likes to be involved in other people’s conversations and can be disruptive. We prefer to do something special for him, in that way he can get all the attention he needs.
He gets incredibly excited about the celebration, the interaction with others, the attention, opening the presents and he enjoys the food. He also likes routine, if he was given a ginger beer at Christmas he expects to have the same beer the following year.
Graeme is very personable. He likes to tell jokes and entertains people at the rest home. He is the life of the party at Christmas time. He bangs his knee, gets into the rhythm of the music and sings. He even gets up and dances.
Graeme is generally happy but he cries and gets emotional at times. The staff at the rest home say, he can be pretty full on and that his behaviour is up and down. He is pretty good if he knows what to expect. He gets overly excited but I can usually control him by saying “No! Stop yelling out”. It is like dealing with a maybe a five or six-year-old child in that way.
Having said that, not long ago I took him to a hospital appointment and he was just abysmal. Someone had brought him along and he didn’t know I was going to be there. So he was quite excited. I could have said to him “Look, Graeme, I want you to behave and be really good while I am here”, but I couldn’t have that talk because there were about 25 people in the waiting room. He was yelling out, and when the doctors came he said, “You’re not going to be touching me!” The positive side of this type of behaviour is that he is assertive. I suppose it is good for him because he needs to stand up for himself in some respects. Anyway, we got a fast appointment that day.
Graeme is almost 70 years old and most people are surprised that with all the medication he has had all his life, he is still alive. Unfortunately, he has got skin cancer all over his face and the back of his legs, but they won’t treat it because they said it is not life-threatening. They see his disability as more important than his skin cancer. The doctor said if they did treat a lesion on the back of his leg, they would have to put skin grafts on it and he would have to have his leg up for six weeks. That is just the time needed to treat one lesion, and he has many of them. I don’t think he will be able to stay still for that amount of time.
When I was young, I remember that I was slightly embarrassed when he came to visit. I think it was because we grew up in this small town in a time where there was not much knowledge and acceptance of disability. I remember one day we went down to the swimming pool. Graeme would get into the water and he would be splashing and making a big scene. It’s one thing I remember, just being a bit embarrassed in public with people you knew. But that was really the only time, because when he was at home and with our own family it was fine. He is usually very sweet and likeable.
If I met a family who had recently had a baby with similar disabilities and they don’t have any idea of what is ahead of them I would advise them to integrate that child normally. Graeme has got incredibly good manners, and that came from his grandmother. She was an incredibly strict Anglican. Sunday lunch you would sit up and have roast dinner and everything was quite formal. His behaviour was impeccable when he lived with her – lots of please and thank you. He dressed impeccably. He just did everything right. He was brought up like a normal person. It is all to do with training I think.