Mother and son learn together |

Mother and son learn together

by Merrie Leininger

A Gardnerville woman is learning to grow right along with her son.

Shelley Gaskin, 35, and her son, Jacob, are learning and growing together as Jacob struggles to overcome many physical and mental roadblocks that have been put before him in his short three years.

Shelley is learning how to help Jacob and others like him by attending the Nevada Partners in Policymaking program and she will graduate from the program today.

Nevada Partners in Policymaking is a program which involves adults with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities. The program looks at disability issues and teaches leadership skills that participants will use to influence legislation and obtain state-of-the-art services for themselves and others.

Ten people from all over Nevada will be graduating from the program today in Reno. The classes were also held in Reno.

“It was intense education,” Gaskin said. “The program was two days a month for eight months. It was 11 a.m. to 9 at night Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.”

The participants were selected for their determination and leadership skills. They were required to take it seriously by signing a contract promising they would attend all the classes and complete all the homework.

All expenses and tuition are paid through a 5-year grant.

Part of the class was learning how the state Legislature works and how to be an effective lobbyist and give effective testimony.

Students spent a day at the Legislature and took part in a mock hearing where they all testified.

“We experienced how it works and how to be effective if we ever have to testify.”

Gaskin said she learned the most from the history of disability section of the curriculum.

Meeting other people and understanding their issues and needs also helped her, she said.

“We learned how to be advocates and where to get funding and how to improve services,” she said. “It strengthened my ability to obtain services and tap resources. It made me more aware of things that need to be changed.”

n Making strides. However, she already knows first-hand some of the problems that face disabled children. Jacob has a rare form of epilepsy and has up to 100 seizures a day. He is visually impaired and suffered a stroke at 10 months of age, leaving his left side paralyzed.

Jacob, while happy and active, cannot sit up by himself, speak, comprehend what he sees or even hold his head up.

With the help of a nurse who is in their home 37 hours a week, Jacob gets the love and attention that allows him to learn and grow.

Since starting him on a special diet in March, he has had a 50 percent reduction in seizures and has been able to stop taking the debilitating drug Phenobarbital.

Gaskin said she is now starting to take him off his other medication, a Valium derivative. It has to be done slowly, though, because he has been on both drugs since he was diagnosed at 5 months.

Jacob’s father is also involved in his life, but now lives at Lake Tahoe.

While Jacob is generally a healthy kid who likes to take bike rides with mom and bangs on the piano keys as she plays; he spends lots of time at physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and visits a vision specialist.

“He vocalizes yes and no and expresses choices,” Gaskin said. “He’s really a pretty happy kid and develops at his own rate.”

n Continuing education. He will be entering the school system this fall and is in a preschool in Carson City now.

As Jacob starts his formal education this fall, Gaskin said she will continue hers.

A part of her class project, she is taking part in a state team that will attend a workshop addressing care for children with special needs in a managed care system.

She said she will also try to disseminate information from the program and continue to learn in order to make Jacob’s life better and make life better for other people.

“The learning process is going to continue,” she said.

Gaskin, a bail bondsman and office manager, is starting college this fall for the first time. She said she hasn’t decided if she wants to become a teacher or a nurse.

The graduation ceremony will be sad for her because her classmates are people who have had similar experiences, she said.

“To find other parents like you, who are also committed to make changes is very important,” she said. “I made life-long friends. It’s going to be a two-Kleenex box ceremony.”

n A blessing. Gaskin explained what she has to go through every time she and Jacob go out.

“You get a lot of rejection. People stare at you. Kids ask what’s wrong with him. You deal with that kind of negative response a lot. It’s something you learn to overcome. You learn to educate people without insulting them,” she said.

However, she said she never could imagine not having Jacob as her son.

“A lot of people look at it as a burden instead of a blessing. I look at it as a blessing.”

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