Does She Know She's There?
Joan Shanks was a freelancer living in Montreal.
This is Catherine’s story written by her mother, Nicola Schaefer. It is a story of courage, perseverance, warmth, love, humour, all these; but most importantly it is a story of hope for those in our society labelled as useless. It is not a chronicle of sadness, but a celebration of life and the seemingly limitless human potential to overcome impossible odds.
At the age of seven months Catherine was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. A detailed and horrifying account describes the medical encounter, which ends with the doctor saying, “I suggest you go home, put the baby in an institution and then have another.” Happily, Nicola Schaefer never heeded this advice. She persevered through all the difficulties of Catherine’s childhood with negligible support from social, medical, or educational agencies. The government’s view seemed to be that these individuals did not merit society’s concern or help. The official response was to condemn these children to a barren, perpetual existence in a mammoth institution.
That this is a blind and entirely erroneous attitude is vividly demonstrated in Catherine’s life. Her mother determinedly set out to do everything in her power to stimulate Catherine and to facilitate any possible learning. This was successful; over the years Catherine made slow but definite progress. But most importantly, what comes through to us is the happiness she finds in her own little world and her remarkable ability to communicate this to others. Catherine is able, as few are, to draw out from others their love, concern, and humanity. She became a delight to her family with her gift of innocence, along with an infectious and enthusiastic ability to laugh and evoke a like response in others. So many new and good friends were made because Catherine was an integral part of this family’s life.
The reading of Catherine’s story becomes an educational experience. Multiply handicapped people should be given the opportunity to grow and learn with normal people of their own age. Society owes to these people the same kind of opportunities available to all others. We must learn to value them in their diversity and individuality.