Job outlook positive for injured, unemployed workers


Finding a job in this economy can be tough for anyone. Fresh college graduates are considered lucky to get their foot in the right door, and there’s little telling what’s available for a person with a high school diploma. Even more unsure are those unemployed with a disability.

Fortunately, John Holt, 40, an injured construction worker from West Valley City, recently found a job working for a contractor. After applying for disability because of the lack of interest from employers, Holt landed a four-day-a-week job doing what he loves most.

But after a few days, things weren’t looking good for Holt.

“I was doing tile, and one day walking up a hill I heard a pop and a tearing noise in my calf,” Holt said. “It all swelled up and I can’t put weight on my toes and I can’t walk. I have to use a cane.”

And so this self-described action junkie is back on his quest. He wants help from the Disability Law Center.

“If they say no, I will appeal. But I haven’t gotten an answer back yet,” Holt said. “I should have went on disability a long time ago. The doctors knew what they were talking about.”

The doctors Holt sees are providers for Primary Care Network’s health care insurance program. “They accepted me right away for insurance. They will still help me with meds, which are about $400 a month. That’s basically my house payment, so it really helps,” Holt said. “Some prescriptions I only pay $25 for.”

Emma Chacon, a representative for PCN, said there is a significant population of adults like Holt who don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid. These people are welcomed at PCN.

“The Primary Care Network is essentially a waiver program under the larger Medicaid program to provide preventative care to individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid,” Chacon said. “We pay up to four prescriptions a month and life-and-limb emergencies. We don’t pay for in-patient hospital or specialty care.”

While Holt can get by paying for his pain medications with help from PCN, the PCN’s program cannot help him get the back surgery he needs.

“We don’t cover that, but we do have specialists that will go out and try to get donated services for recipients with significant issues,” Chacon said.

After receiving an MRI a few months ago, granted to him by Vocational Rehabilitation’s Client Assistance program, Holt knows he needs to see a doctor — not only to fix his back, but also to allow him to heal.

“The person I seen was a pharmacist at the pain clinic and he told me to see a physician next time about procedures,” he said. “But the visit will cost me extra and what I should do about the results will cost, too. If I do get disability insurance then I will definitely go to a physician and get a procedure done so I can go back to construction, where my knowledge is.”

Holt realizes that if his back surgery is unobtainable, he must change his occupation.

“I am still in the same position fighting injury after injury,” he said. “I need to do work that’s not so physical, and that’s the hardest part. My whole life, I’ve been outdoors doing a lot of things. But then again, I’ve been outdoors in car wrecks, getting hurt, playing games and getting hurt.”

So Holt has found himself back at the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation applying for Vocational Rehabilitation’s services. He will take the aptitude test again, as he has before, in the hope of finding the right job placement for him.

“It’s really fun,” Holt said. “They have you do a bunch of tests to figure out career choices you should make.”

According to the Web site, USOR’s mission is to help individuals with disabilities to obtain employment and increase their independence. Its most recent council report states that 21,997 individuals were provided with vocational rehabilitation services and 3,310 individuals with disabilities were successfully employed.

“I am a fairly decent artist,” Holt said. “But I’m 40 years old and there’s kids out there really confident on the computer and the programs they use. So I’m glad Vocational Rehab will pay for training.”

In fact, 64 percent of Vocational Rehabilitation’s expenditures go toward training individuals for jobs. Occupations include service occupations, sales and clerical work and industrial work. Holt will likely be placed in a clerical occupation based on his current abilities.

“I am not worried about the work. I am skilled with my hands and my mind. But to sit around every day with people that have nothing in common with me? It’s a change of lifestyle,” he said. “I don’t even know what regular people get paid and what a regular day is. What is the deal? Nine to five? What do you do for lunches? I mean, I don’t even know.”

More people are finding themselves in a situation similar to Holt’s. Whether unemployment comes as a result of injury or economic downsizing, finding a job can be difficult. However, the results can be fruitful for everyone. According to USOR, an estimated $16 million in annual taxes were paid by vocationally rehabilitated individuals last year.

Several organizations, like the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, the Department of Workforce Services for jobs and careers, and the Workers Compensation Fund are available to assist individuals seeking employment help.

Changing the way we think about mental illness


A young man was walking down a Salt Lake City street. Police spotted him and branded him a suspicious-looking character, so they pursued him. The young man ran. Officers caught up with him and took him in for resisting arrest. It turns out the young man was a diagnosed schizophrenic.

This is just the type of issue that Sherri Wittwer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Utah, is fighting against.

“It’s scary that this happens in this country. When you talk about this group [that] tends to lag behind as far as rights in the disabled community … I had no idea that this stuff happened until I started this work,” said Wittwer, who joined NAMI four years ago.

Wittwer became involved when her son was diagnosed with depression at 13 years old. She noticed something was different about her firstborn in his early years, but thought it was just a matter of personality. Now with treatment and mental health understanding, she and her family are able to cope.

“The mentally ill are the most overlooked in the disabled community,” said Janis Tetro with the Disability Law Center.

Wittwer said the mentally ill are neglected because of stigmas. Unlike a physical ailment, mental illness is not visible. She wants people to know that disorders such as obsessive-compulsive, panic, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia and bipolar, and illnesses including depression are biological brain disorders.

“I always used to say that these are not unlike diabetes and asthma, and yet, unlike diabetes and asthma you can be incarcerated for having an untreated mental illness and not necessarily because you’re dangerous, but because you’re ill, and that is a major difference,” Wittwer said.

Connie Hines, a spokeswoman for Valley Mental Health, said the Utah Legislature does not pay enough attention to issues of mental illness, which is one reason that VMH and similar organizations are drastically underfunded.

“The legislature considers us a black hole” when it comes to funding, Hines said. Because mental health advocates lack outcome data, which is information that demonstrates the effects of treatment, lawmakers are unable to see empirical evidence that treatment works.

But Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, said it is not that Utah representatives are not sympathetic toward the needs of the mentally disabled, there just is not enough money.

“More and more representatives are becoming more and more informed about the mentally ill,” Moss said.

Moss sponsored H.B. 101 in the 2009 general session. The bill would have created a “pilot program” for individuals who transition out of a hospital or jail and back into society. The program would provide funding for health service professionals to visit mentally ill people in their homes for regular check-ups.

The bill eventually failed on the house floor due to funding issues, but Moss said she is still working on it for future passage.

We need to do “what we can to help the funding to make the program viable,” Moss said. Although the cost would be about $10,000 to $15,000 per patient, it is not high when compared to alternative fees, such as hospital bills, court fines and incarceration, she said.

Wittwer said a common crime committed by a mentally ill individual is disturbing the peace. She said police do not know how to handle the person, so they will just arrest the individual.

“Our jails and prisons are the largest mental health institutions in our country, far ahead of state hospitals,” Wittwer said. The real issue, she said, is criminalizing mental illness for those who simply do not have access to treatment.

NAMI focuses on trying to “break the cycle” of the mentally ill going to prison, not receiving treatment, being released and then going right back to jail. Wittwer said some people are booked in the Salt Lake County Jail up to 50 times a year.

“We can’t build enough jails to keep housing people. We have to look at this problem differently,” Wittwer said.

NAMI has begun to try to alleviate some of these dilemmas. Wittwer talked about NAMI’s Bridges Program in which people who are treating their own disorder participate in peer-to-peer counseling and go to the prisons to help the incarcerated.

Salt Lake, Utah and Cache counties have instigated mental health courts that are designed to facilitate treatment for the mentally ill, while still holding the individual accountable for the crime that was committed.

But the biggest challenge, Wittwer said, is to address the stigmas that go along with mental illness.

Janis Tetro, with the Disability Law Center, believes “people are scared.” “I think they see the headlines and assume the mentally ill are dangerous, and this is just not the case.”

In fact, Wittwer said the mentally disabled are more often the victim rather than the offender because their illness makes them more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves.

At VMH, Hines puts importance on responding to questions from the media and from schools. She thinks it is necessary to be available to clarify and respond to questions about mental health.

Another misconception is that mental illness is the result of “lack of will power, lack of character,” Wittwer said. She wants people to know it is treatable.

But Utah is not winning its battle to provide appropriate help to the mentally ill.  According to NAMI’s “U.S. report card,” Utah got a “D,” which is also the national average.

Wittwer said there are many reasons for our state’s poor grade. She emphasized the importance of educating hospital staff, law enforcement officers and court employees so they are better equipped to handle a person who has not received treatment for their illness.

Wittwer insists we must change the way we do things. “There are better, more effective, more cost-effective, more individual and family friendly ways that we should be dealing with these issues.”

Hines lauded the efforts NAMI has made to advocate for individuals and their families. She said while VMH focuses on treatment, NAMI has made significant efforts to spread awareness and provide training for families who may need to care for a mentally disabled loved one.

Tetro said a common problem arises when a mentally disabled individual tries to rent an apartment and the property owner discovers the individual has an illness, so the landlord does not rent the space. This is a scenario that Tetro chalks up to discrimination and lack of education.

“I think people would be amazed to find how many people who have a mental illness are productive members of our society,” Tetro said.

Wittwer said one out of four adults will suffer from a mental illness each year, and although those who suffer are often overlooked as members of the extensive disabled community, they are not part of a “fringe” group in our society.

“So that’s what we want people to know; that there is hope out there, treatment works, recovery is possible, and no one has to feel alone because there are others who have walked this walk,” Wittwer said.

Courts help children cope with the trials of divorce


Kids just feel helpless. They call their feelings “mad, upset, disappointed and sad, which are all the right words, but there is always a profound tone of desperation in them,” said Diane Passey, a self-employed licensed professional counselor working at the Scott M. Matheson Court House.

In an effort to help children of divorcing parents cope with the separation, state court officials have stepped in to help.

Emma, Kate and Jane were all under the age of 9 when their parents filed for divorce. Their mother, Shannon Cheney, said they continue to feel these emotions years after the divorce.

Their situation is common. Out of the 13,000 divorce cases filed in Utah, 11,000 children are involved, according to Utah State Court statistics.

Cheney and her ex-husband, Matt Olson, made a great effort to loosen the tension the divorce was causing their girls.

“During those first few months, they all three felt sad, but they probably didn’t really understand what it all meant,” Cheney said. “They didn’t understand how this would affect them long term. Matt and I both tried really hard to reinforce how much we loved them. I think that helped them through those first few months,” she said.

Years later, Cheney and Olson remarried other people.

“I think we started on the right track, but when Matt got remarried, things became super complicated,” Cheney said. “I wish we could have maintained the civil relationship we had before Matt’s remarriage. The kids feel the tension. Matt’s wife is a very jealous person. The girls are not allowed to talk about me at his house. They are not allowed to talk about any of their activities or friends from [home],” she said.

Cheney explained how the changes brought back hostile emotions and feelings of confusion in her daughters. “My kids didn’t feel this way at first, but now they definitely feel it. They understand that they have to have two separate lives because Matt will not allow their lives with me to interfere with their lives with him,” Cheney said.

Court employees are able to observe the emotions children feel. Passey, the counselor who works at the Matheson Court House, said children commonly feel alone in their situation, guilty for the divorce and torn between loving both parents.

Judith S. Wallerstein, author of “Surviving the Breakup” and an authority on the effects of divorce on children, wrote, “These children will need the full use of their intelligence, the full availability of their capacity for love and compassion, and all of their courage in order to face the many perils along the way until the continuity of their lives is reconstituted within a reasonably stable structure and a new family home.”

The Utah State Courts created a divorce education course for children ages 9 to 12, known as the Pilot Program. These classes, taught by Passey, are held twice a month at the Scott M. Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City.

Cheney’s children never attended the Pilot Program, but she said that learning how to communicate and how to express emotions would really benefit her girls.

The course has five main parts. First, the children must understand there are many other kids whose parents are getting divorced. It is important for a child to feel like they are not alone in their situation, and they have other people they can converse with.

The second point is helping the child understand that divorce is not their fault. “I display it on a board and make each kid say it out loud. ‘Divorce is not my fault. Divorce is not my fault,’” Passey said.

Many parents complain to their children about the other parent. The third point in the discussion explains to the child they can love their mom and their dad equally, just as their parents should equally love them.

The fourth point is an exercise to help the children learn how to communicate and express their feelings. The kids are given scenarios that other children might be going through, then they are asked how the child might handle the situation. They recognize what the parent does, how it makes them feel and why, and then they come up with what the parent could do to help.

Passey informs the children that their parents might not like what the child is saying and might get upset. But, if the child can learn how to express their feelings appropriately, they certainly have the right to do it.

Passey said too many kids begin to worry about grown-up things. “I tell them, ‘you should be worrying about whether you are going to play soccer during recess today, when you want to do your homework, or what snack to eat. You should not be worrying about whether somebody paid child support or if so-and-so had an affair.’ Parents should keep adult things to adults, but we make mistakes when we are in pain,” she said.

Toward the end of the course, Passey offers the children a chance to write a secret letter to their parents. They promise that what they write will not be shown to their parents because it is just an exercise to help them express their feelings. In one of the anonymous letters, a child wrote: “I feel sad when you fight. I wish that you two would keep it away from us kids. I love you both and I know it’s not my fault.”

Nancy Volmer, the public information officer for the Utah State Courts, said that out of 44 participants, 30 said they knew a third party who cares, 40 said they knew their parents care, 35 felt it was OK to talk about things with their parents and 36 said they knew the divorce wasn’t their fault.

Every parent survey conducted by the courthouse recommended the class for others. Providing their child with someone other than them to talk with was valuable, parents said.

The Pilot Program is a free program that has proven effective. Passey said most children are not ready to cope with so many emotions and taking the course can help them learn how to handle their situation better.

“It empowers them,” Volmer said.

Knowledge of autism helps overcome education difficulties


According to a report published by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.”

Since the ability to learn specific things is limited by the condition, children often are not well-received by teachers, administrators or other students at their school.

That was the case for Thomas Wallin, a 9-year-old student who attended Jordan Ridge Elementary. He was suspended an excessive number of times in violation of his Individualized Education Plan (IEP). An IEP federally insures children with disabilities to have certain rights in school that help their education.

Thomas’s mother, Faith Wallin, did not know what to do in response to the mistreatment of her son and his condition. According to Wallin, her son’s condition was not being tolerated by the faculty and staff of the school, so they resorted to just suspending him. The actions taken by the school were in blatant violation of the IEP that had been set up for Thomas. She contacted the Disability Law Center of Salt Lake for assistance.

The Disability Law Center (DLC) was put in place as a pro bono law institution to assist families and individuals with disabilities in cases ranging from education to tax and pension cases.

“We provide an invaluable service to the community,” said John English, a second-year law student and advocate at the DLC. “Without our help, a lot of disabled people would be taken advantage of in a society that they may not be able to handle. The payoff is that we are giving a voice to people that otherwise wouldn’t be heard at all.”

Legal action may need to be taken in certain instances, but before that can happen, people — parents in particular — are urged to learn about their case.

Faith Wallin did her homework. “When Thomas was diagnosed with both ADHD and high function autism at age 7 or 8, I established an IEP for him because I knew that it would affect his schooling. The IEP protects him under certain laws and rules,” Wallin said.

An IEP, according to the U.S. Department of Education, is a required, custom-tailored education plan for every public school student who has a disability and/or receives special education. It is set up according to the needs of each student and their specific disability, so teachers and parents have an easier and more efficient time during the child’s education.

Obtaining information about laws that protect children with special needs may be difficult if the parent does not know where to look. The U.S. government has established a system of education centers across the nation to ensure that every parent with a disabled child can learn how to protect their rights.

According to the Autism Society of America, a nonprofit organization based in Bethesda, Md., “Every state is federally required to have a Parent Training and Information Center, where parents of children with disabilities, particularly autism, can go to learn how the government laws that are currently in place can help them in educating their children.”

Created in 1984, the Utah Parent Center is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The center’s director, Jennie Gibson, is a parent of a disabled child. She has taken multiple steps to help improve the situations of families with disabled children.

“We offer help to disabled children from birth to age 22 or so, and we have created a support group for their parents so they can understand how to help their child the best they can,” Gibson said. “When it comes to the protection of children’s rights, we have a comprehensive education system to help parents learn about IEPs, including new Web seminars and group IEP meetings on the second Thursday of every month.”

Although this information is readily available for families of disabled children, it seems many members of the public school system are not educated on how to deal with disabled students, especially ones with autism.

“It can be hard for people to recognize if a student has autism or if they are just acting out,” Wallin said. Since autism can be a difficult disability to recognize, teachers may respond to an autistic child in the wrong manner.

Adina Zahradnikova, senior advocate and team leader at the DLC of Salt Lake, said there is a trend with children with autism in the public school system.

“There are certain school districts that have more problems than others when it comes to dealing with autistic students,” she said. “Historically the Granite School District has worked very well with their disabled students and us as well. Other districts like the Jordan School District [which Thomas was enrolled in] seem to have more trouble.”

What causes certain districts to perform better with disabled children than others? “It is all subjective to the faculties in any given district, there isn’t exactly any specific rhyme or reason to it,” Zahradnikova said.

Specific schools for children with autism are now in operation, a response to the number of autistic children in schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 10 percent of 8-year-olds in the U.S. were identified as having some form of autism. Three counties around metro Salt Lake City were included in the 2002 survey.

In Salt Lake City, the Carmen B. Pingree School for Children with Autism was established in 2002. The school works with Valley Mental Health and was designed to give autistic students a balanced education and institute behavior change.

The creation of specialized schools like the Carmen B. Pingree School offers a unique educational option for families with autistic students. The school serves nearly 250 students in preschool, elementary and secondary school settings, but that is only a fraction of the autistic students in Salt Lake City.

What can the rest of the families do for their autistic children to ensure they are being treated justly in public schools?

“We were able to institute an educational seminar for the teachers in the Jordan School District, on how to properly teach and handle students with autism,” Wallin said. Although her goal was met legally, the result did not seem to permanently affect the faculty in Wallin’s eyes. “I have been told by other parents that the school is still having all sorts of problems with autistic students,” she said.

While public education is still the only option for most autistic children, their parents can ensure the quality of their child’s education through the help of government laws and community organizations. “With IEPs and federal regulations, all families with a disabled member have ground to stand on in any type of legal injustice of the disabled student. Education is the key to preventing any problem with a disabled child,” Zahradnikova said. 

As information becomes more available via the Internet, a larger web of help is being spun in the autistic education community. Intolerance of health issues is no longer accepted, thanks to the extensive programs and public information provided to families of disabled children. Families of autistic students like Thomas Wallin’s can learn what rights they have in the education process. By knowing those rights, it makes it easier to ensure the quality and fair treatment of their child.

Midlife divorces bring unique challenges

Story and photo by DANIELLE MURPHY

The Community Legal Center houses the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, as well as other non-profit legal aid organizations.

The Community Legal Center houses the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, as well as other nonprofit legal aid organizations.

Monica never had to work during her 32 years of marriage. Then her husband told her he wanted a divorce and she suddenly found herself thrust into the workforce.

Sometimes she wishes things had turned out differently. “When you are more than 50, you are thinking about retirement, not just starting to work,” said Monica, who asked that her real name not be used to protect her safety.

As a wife, Monica stayed home with their four children while her husband worked. But problems at her husband’s job caused stress in their relationship and eventually drove them apart. When he moved out, Monica needed to start working.

Monica and her husband had been living with their daughter, Jill, and her family. “My mom having to start from zero, that was hard to see,” said Jill, whose name also has been changed to protect her identity.

Monica initially began work as a nanny with some housekeeping on the side. Her years of being a mom, as well as her work and training as a midwife before marriage, aided her in this. Recently though, she acquired a new set of skills.

“I will do whatever I need to, to be financially independent,” she said. This self-reliance led her to train as a certified nursing assistant. She recently passed her tests and has started a new job as a CNA.

Nicholas H. Wolfinger, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah, outlined some of the issues unique to middle-aged people getting a divorce.

He cites the following specific challenges that some divorcees may face: being accustomed to higher standards of living, being less likely to have living parents, having a more difficult time dating and remarrying, and being more used to being married. He also said people who have not been working typically earn a lower salary because they do not have the consistent employment that their spouses did.

The top 3 reasons for postponing divorce. Source: AARP The Magazine.

Graphic by Danielle Murphy. Information source: AARP The Magazine.

According to a study conducted in 2004 for AARP The Magazine, 37 percent of divorced women between 40 and 70 said financial concerns postponed their decision to divorce. This parallels the 37 percent of women who were concerned about the effect their decision would have on their children, which was the top reason for men to postpone separation. Of men surveyed, 58 percent prolonged getting a divorce because of their children compared to only 6 percent of men who were concerned about their finances.

Eventually though, many people do decide to divorce. Despite her husband asking for the divorce, Monica officially filed first. Soon after, she found out her estranged husband had been legally remarried before their divorce had even gone through.

Stewart Ralphs, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and Monica’s attorney, confirmed the marriage. “Even though it’s technically bigamy,” he said, “it’s hardly ever enforced.”

Ralphs and the Legal Aid Society helped Monica with all the stages of her divorce, from the initial filing all the way through mediation and to the finalizing of the decree.

The LAS was established in 1922 and assists almost 3,000 low-income individuals in Salt Lake each year with domestic violence and family law issues. Legal Aid Society’s fees for family law issues are on a sliding scale based on the client’s income.

Ralphs discussed issues like Monica’s. “[These cases] really pull at your heartstrings. A middle age housewife whose husband left them with no marketable skills … they do their best, but there isn’t enough money to go around. Even with alimony they won’t a have enough to maintain their current lifestyle … that’s a harsh reality check,” he said.

Monica described what she was thinking before the idea of divorce was brought up. “We had some goals to have a life together like normal. For me, that is a normal thing and I always thought that, that was his normal thing too. There wasn’t any reason to think something different, the idea was to be together as a family, as a couple,” she said.

Women like Monica who are concerned about their financial situation because of a divorce have options available for training and education. Many states have developed programs in an attempt to remedy these situations. Utah is one of them.

The Utah Displaced Homemaker Program was created to provide services for displaced homemakers who are having trouble finding employment. Jeff Webster, program specialist for Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, said eligible individuals include people who have been out of the workforce for at least eight years, have stopped receiving assistance from a spouse or family member and are returning to the workforce.

The services offered by the UDHP are composed mostly of workshops that cover topics including resume writing, financial management and using homemaking skills in the workforce.

However, as more and more women enter the workforce during marriage, stories like Monica’s occur less frequently.

Alan Hawkins, professor of family life at Brigham Young University and the chairman of the Utah Commission on Marriage, said, “The situation in which one spouse has devoted herself to … the non-compensated functions of the home and family, is a much less common experience than it was 20 or 30 years ago.”

One theory explaining why more women are working outside of the home involves advances in technology and business. In a study published in 2007, “Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces,” Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, both assistant professors of business and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania, suggest that greater numbers of females work because of the emergence of labor-saving technology, such as kitchen gadgets, and more businesses providing services that have traditionally been preformed by a woman in the home, such as daycare.

Working outside of the home provides some women with emotional stability. Jenn Palacio, a clinical lab assistant at Intermountain Medical Center, dealt with her middle-aged parent’s divorce as a teenager. Her mom, however, had steadily worked throughout the marriage. “My mom always loved working. She was so dependent on my dad in so many other ways that I think working really helped her to be able to move on,” she said.

Getting assistance from programs like the Utah Displaced Homemaker Program after a divorce, or already having recent work experience may make the financial aspect of a divorce easier, but it often doesn’t change the emotional aspect most people deal with when they go through a divorce.

Monica acknowledged that she felt hurt, but didn’t see any other options. “You can’t make anyone love you. They have to want to do it,” she said.

Since divorce is usually unplanned and unexpected, both Wolfinger and Hawkins offered suggestions about ways to avoid divorce from the beginning of the engagement stage.

Wolfinger’s advice to people thinking about getting married is to wait. “The older the better,” he says.

Hawkins’ tip for young couples getting ready to wed involves more active participation.

“Take the process of preparing for a marriage seriously, educate yourself about the knowledge and skills needed to form a healthy marriage and carefully examine the qualities of your relationship,” he said.

Hawkins believes most couples spend too much time on the wedding, what he refers to as the “window dressing,” and not enough time in self-evaluation and formal education.

Monica echoed this sentiment. “When you are in love, during your courtship, everything is pink. Marriage is a commitment that two people who are different have to make. You need to stand up for yourself in a loving, gentle way,” she said.

For one mother, biology doesn’t matter

Daniel was a result the fourth and only successful in vitro for Andrea Anaya.

Daniel was a result of Andrea Anaya's fourth in vitro fertilization, the only one that was successful.

Story and photos by Tyler Cobb

Listen to Andrea Anaya and see more photos of her family.

Andrea Anaya has wanted a big family her whole life.

Upon entering into her second marriage, Anaya, 39, already had one daughter, Shirsten, but she dreamed of having plenty of children to wrap her arms around.

But when she realized she couldn’t get pregnant, Anaya spent years trying to increase her family in any way possible, including through painful and often “devastating” attempts at in vitro fertilization.

Ten years later, Anaya says it doesn’t matter whether a child is yours biologically or adopted.

“To this day, I feel great guilt for the thought I had that I didn’t want a baby that isn’t my own,” said Anaya, who now has two biological and two adopted children.

Many families have gone through Anaya’s pain trying to have children of their own and have spent thousands of dollars in the process fighting against slim odds that pregnancy would occur.

Kaelys was the second adopted child for Andrea Anaya.

Kaelys was the second adopted child for Andrea Anaya.

In vitro fertilization is a method in which specialists implant embryos into a woman’s uterus in an attempt to start a pregnancy. It has become a popular substitute for couples who want children but don’t want to adopt.

The process, which can take months, has low success rates. Anaya tried four different times to become pregnant, and only after a lot of tears and prayers, she said, did it reward her with her now 3-year-old son Daniel.

“A lot of the couples I have worked with have tried in vitro once, but it’s so expensive,” said Paul MacArthur, an adoption attorney for MacArthur, Heder and Metler law firm in Provo, Utah. “More than most say I’m not going to go down that road.”

MacArthur, who has three biological and two adopted children, helped Anaya adopt years ago after she had suffered through a third failed in vitro fertilization.

The process of her first adoption started when she put her name on the lists for LDS Family Services, a program within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Her first adopted child “was meant” to come to the family, as Anaya describes it.

Anaya’s husband, Gene, was against the idea of adopting for a while until he came home urgently one day, positive that they needed to sign up for a child after he experienced a spiritual moment when he was working in the LDS temple. The process, which can take months, was hurried along unexpectedly when one of Anaya’s employees, Adrian, knew a pregnant girl who couldn’t care for the baby.

Her caseworker for LDS Family Services helped them go through extensive paperwork, and by early May 2001, they knew they would be bringing a baby girl home in less than a month. Anaya said the birth mother left them a note at the services center, which brought tears of joy to her eyes.

“On one side of the paper were words to the song ‘From God’s arms to my arms to yours’ … and on the other side she had handwritten a note,” Anaya said. “And [the birth mother] said, ‘All my life I’ve wanted to be a mother, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, but I want to do it right. And from the moment Adrian told me about you, I knew you were the family for my baby. I’m having a girl, she’s due May 31, and then she’ll be with her family – thank you for letting me carry her.’”

Despite the joy Anaya felt at holding her new baby girl, Kailea, now 8, in her arms, she wanted more children.

Anaya had initially gone to a clinic in Arizona in 1998 for in vitro, a failed process that cost her about $14,000 in medical expenses. The second time, she heard about the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, a clinic that boasted a 60 percent success rate in early 2000.

Eric Surrey, a physician at the Colorado center, said many of their patients come from out of state and occasionally outside the United States because of the large number of specialists the center employs. Yet even at the center, Anaya tried an additional three times to become pregnant before one egg took hold.

“It’s not so much complications but things that are abnormal with the embryos,” Surrey said about why so many women don’t become pregnant. “It won’t implant, or it could be uterus problems.”

If the embryo doesn’t implant properly, a couple is usually out more than $10,000, which is not refundable.

“With a failed in vitro, there’s only a period of time of a few months in which the mother can try again. It’s a fairly short period of time,” MacArthur said. “With an adoption, you can get back on the list, and there are tax credits. You’ll get your money back and that’s what you use to try again.”

At the Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine, the in vitro consultation costs nearly $400, the actual in vitro procedure costs more than $8,000 and additional medication adds another $2,000 to the bill. To save money, Surrey said some families will freeze embryos from a failed attempt.

To attempt pregnancy through in vitro, Anaya said they gave her a drug that put her body in menopause.

“They do that so they can introduce the hormones they want, and then you reach a point where they do an ultrasound every day or every third day and shots become much bigger,” Anaya said.

Then Anaya was taken into an operating room to implant the embryo. She said they usually put the eggs together with a sample of sperm and wait.

“My husband’s sperm is so lazy though,” Anaya said while laughing. “He has them. They just don’t do anything. They had to shove one sperm into the side of the egg, put them inside my uterus and then I had to lay flat.”

On the third try, the pregnancy was successful and went past the danger zone of 12 weeks. Anaya believed she would be having a baby in a few short months. But it was not to be. During one of the check-ups, doctors realized the heart beat had stopped, and Anaya had lost the baby.

The devastating loss didn’t leave Anaya hopeless. She adopted a second child, Kaelys, now 7, and said she realized it didn’t matter whether the child was from her womb, just as long as the baby was part of her family.

MacArthur said he and his wife never actually considered in vitro fertilization because they were “poor starving students.” Now adoption is an amazing thing in their family.

“You also have to go through the issue of what is the story you tell to your adoptive child – that we tried everything and then we picked you,” MacArthur said.

Anaya said she and her husband thought about those issues but realized it was worth it to have a family in any way they could. Even after adopting two children, Anaya went back to the Colorado center to try for a fourth in vitro fertilization, and this time it worked.

She rarely traveled during that fourth attempt, and when her son Daniel, now 3, was born, she cried tears of joy. However, she said it’s not any different than adopting children and feels blessed for all four of her kids.

“It’s about the baby and about the love that you have for the baby,” Anaya said.

Mental illness affects more than the diagnosed

Story and photo by EMILY A. SHOWGREN

Harmony's ex-husband was treated at UNI for his mental illness.

Harmony's ex-husband was treated at UNI for his mental illness.

About one in four adults and one in five children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Illness.

There are many reasons why a person develops a mental illness. There are also many examples of how the effects of a mental illness can affect relationships, especially marriage and family.

When Harmony met her future husband online, he told her he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it was under control. 

“He said he had been in counseling for PTSD for 20 years but he had it under control and things were fine,” said Harmony, who asked that only her first name be used for safety reasons. She later found out it was not under control and he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well.

Harmony moved from Australia to Utah and the couple decided to marry. She had two young daughters at the time. But her husband’s mental illnesses strained not only their relationship, but also the relationship with her and her daughters.

“There were times where I had to put my children second. He forced me to put him first and it pushed them away,” Harmony said.

Her daughters were so young they did not understand their stepfather had problems.

“After the divorce, they didn’t trust me for awhile. They were resentful,” she said.

Dr. Herman Peine, a licensed psychologist in Salt Lake City, said the most dangerous patients are the ones with narcissistic personalities, or people who think only of themselves. He said when he sees a narcissistic patient, he will sometimes bring in their spouse after their first meeting and tell them to “run, run, run.”

Harmony said her husband was dangerous. He abused her emotionally and psychologically most of their marriage.

“He had to be in control. He would control the money, degrade me in front of my kids and he would use his depression to control me,” Harmony said.

She said if he was not getting attention he would threaten to kill himself, overdose on pills, or cut himself. It was after a physical beating that Harmony left.

“The connections between domestic violence and mental illness are numerous and complicated,” said Dr. Melissa Galvin of the University of Alabama at Birmingham during a seminar in 2006. Galvin also said researchers at John Hopkins University found that “adolescents who see domestic violence between their parents are far more likely to suffer symptoms of clinical depression – including headaches, digestive problems, social isolation, insomnia, and thoughts of suicide.” This is an example of how mental illness affects the entire family.

A 2007 article by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Fort Wayne, Ind., said it is important to set boundaries in families with a person who has a mental illness.

“In a marriage where one partner is mentally ill, the well spouse must aggressively set and enforce boundaries if the family is to survive. Boundaries are absolutely vital to the survival of the family,” said Kathy Bayes, executive director of NAMI.

Something that Dr. Peine finds absolutely necessary is “to get a proper diagnosis.” Without that, the medications and other remedies are not going to work.

Sometimes if the patient feels like the medication they are on is not working, they will decide to discontinue it. Sometimes it takes family to get them back on track.

“A lot of times their family will bring them into the ER because they want the meds back,” said Dr. Dean Orton, who works in family practice and the ER in Lincoln City, Ore. “At that point [after quitting medication] they become fairly psychotic and are in the hypo-manic stage.” When it reaches that point, medication is necessary.

“Sometimes the patients who know or feel they want to hurt themselves come because they need to talk,” Orton said. “We help them get counseling — a support system. Medications are not administered immediately in that case.”

Another example in Harmony’s life dealt with medication and the abuse of it. Her husband was a drug seeker. She said he would hear about different disorders on commercials or read about them. He would go to different doctors and tell them he had symptoms related to disorders ranging from insomnia to restless legs syndrome in order to get medications. Anything he could get his hands on, he would use.

“One time I had a horrible toothache and he took me to the ER to get something for it. The doctor gave me hydrocodone. I used it a couple times but I didn’t like the way it made me feel,” Harmony said. Her husband finished it off.

Harmony said she had once filled up a garbage bag with all the medicine she found in the medicine cabinet.

“It is very common to see other drug abuse. Any mind-altering substance – illicit or legal,” Orton said.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, disorders like bipolar, PTSD and anti-social disorder are associated with chronic drug abuse. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that those who have anti-social disorder are at a 15.5 percent risk of drug abuse. On the other side of things, abusing drugs like ecstasy can also cause mental illness, like depression and anxiety.

However, this should not deter anyone from going on the correct medication. Peine said that getting kids diagnosed early and getting them on medication will actually lead them away from drug abuse later in life.

Children, especially those of a parent with a mental illness, are susceptible to developing a mental illness. “Young people growing up with parents dealing with emotional problems are at greater risk of having behavioral/emotional problems themselves due to genetic factors and harmful psychosocial experiences,” said Dr. Michelle D. Sherman in an article for Social Work Today. However, Sherman also said these children can develop valuable personal strengths like compassion, sensitivity, resourcefulness, strength and independence.

Sherman said making sure a child understands what his or her parent is going through is important. There are ways of helping children cope when a parent has a mental illness, like keeping a stable home environment, making sure the child knows it is not his or her fault and showing them they are loved.

Harmony, who is now divorced, is working full time and her daughters are doing well in school. “My life has been so much more peaceful since he’s been gone. My girls are more relaxed and even our dog is more relaxed and happy,” she said.

Domestic violence is devastating to children


Domestic violence is not just a problem for adults. It has an even greater impact on children, a group that cannot seek help for themselves or call attention to their issues.

“Children often experience the same abuse and trauma as battered women do, but children don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with the trauma that their mothers do,” said Mindy Simon, director of Children’s Services for the YWCA.

The number of children who have been victimized from domestic abuse in Utah is at an all-time high, according to the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Yet the state has few programs to help with this ever-growing problem. Like many other Utahns, Lisa is struggling to find help for her children who have been abused and victimized.

Lisa, who asked that her last name not be revealed for safety reasons, sought services from the YWCA after years of suffering in an abusive relationship. Lisa has two boys, ages 7 and 10, who also suffered verbal and physical abuse — much more abuse than Lisa realized.

“After I got the boys to talk about the stuff they went through, they told me a lot of stuff that I didn’t think they overheard and sometimes even went through themselves. I had no idea the extent of what they experienced. I always thought I kept them out of it, but with this situation I guess that’s impossible,” Lisa said.

Lisa’s abusive boyfriend had a drinking problem, which led him to become much angrier and physically abusive than he was when he was sober. At first he began to isolate Lisa and emotionally manipulate her. Once Lisa was feeling alone, her boyfriend became physically violent. At first it was just Lisa, but then her boyfriend started being physically abusive with her young boys. That was Lisa’s final indication to leave.

“I should have left much earlier. But I thought I could handle it. Once it turned to my kids though, I knew I had to leave. I couldn’t let them go through what I had been going through for years,” Lisa said.

Once Lisa removed herself and her two boys from the abusive relationship, she had some problems finding places for her boys to get help.

“There are a ton of places for women to get help,” she said. “The YWCA and lots of state programs, but there aren’t that many programs for children that have suffered from domestic violence. I mean someone has to look out for these kids; they can’t get help for themselves like adults can. I think that makes their problems even worse than the problems of women of domestic abuse.”

The YWCA does offer some limited child services and programs, including childcare for children from six weeks to kindergarten age. But no such service is available for children over that age. Simon acknowledges that even the YWCA could use some improvements to its child services.

“As an organization, we are slowly realizing the enormity of the impact that domestic abuse has on children,” Simon said. “We are constantly redeveloping our child services and programs to better serve these children, especially young children, but we can’t fulfill all of their needs. We offer child services and refer them to counselors, but at this point, that’s all we can really do. Although I do realize that this is a huge problem, every child that comes through here is facing a set of obstacles.”

Jennifer Edwards, a Salt Lake resident, also faced issues with her 3-year-old daughter Maya. Edwards’ ex-husband emotionally abused Maya during a prolonged custody battle. Edwards was unsure of how to help Maya.

“I wasn’t sure that counseling could help a child so young, but I didn’t have another option so I tried counseling, and it turned out to be a huge success. It really helped Maya,” Edwards said.

Edwards is a low-income Utahn who received legal help from the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake. This nonprofit organization provided her with free to low-cost legal assistance in dealing with her custody battle and other legal issues with her ex-husband. She got help with her legal needs, but there wasn’t an agency to help with Maya’s issues. Edwards had to cope with Maya’s issues on her own, which was difficult to do, considering all of the other problems she was facing while dealing with her ex-husband.

Edwards is just one of many facing a similar problem. In a national survey of more than 6,000 American families conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, between 53 percent and 70 percent of males who abused their wives also frequently abused their children. One study demonstrated that some fathers deliberately arrange for their children to witness the violence.

This violence often creates an array of problems for the child victims. Not only do they suffer physically, but they also suffer greater emotional and mental damage than adults who suffer the same abuse. Child psychologists are in agreement that abuse occurring to children and adolescents when their brains are in critical development stages results in more permanent and lasting damage than an adult with a fully developed brain.

According to the APA, the symptoms of abuse often include social withdrawal and deterioration of trust; children will isolate themselves and refuse to talk about their traumatic experiences. This results in children being even more unnoticed and therefore receiving less help.

Utah has multiple programs that offer different kinds of assistance to adults, especially women, who suffer from domestic abuse. However, only one program offers any semblance of assistance to children.

The Utah Division of Child and Family Services Web site gives a phone number for people who need help with domestic violence and their children. This line gives references to counseling, shelter and other services. Aside from that resource, this agency doesn’t offer any other assistance to children.

“I guess the state figures it’s the non-abusive parent’s responsibility to take care of all of their kid’s needs,” Lisa said. “And while that parent probably could under normal circumstances, it’s really hard when they’re trying to deal with everything else. If you’re anything like me, then you have your own problems from the abuse and you have to work out a bunch of stuff like where you’re going to go, how you’re going to be a single mom and provide financially for the kids, and legal stuff. It’s really too much to handle without help.” 

Lisa’s boys are still struggling with the effects of their abuse. The boys are doing worse in school; Lisa’s youngest is becoming more withdrawn and isolated and the oldest is starting to act out and lose his temper. Lisa has begun to take them to counseling and hopes that it will help, but it is difficult to afford without assistance.

“I know that counseling will help them. The question is how long I can afford to keep taking them there,” Lisa said.

Disabilities can create courtroom confusion


For many people, the courtroom is unfamiliar territory.

The judicial process can be difficult to understand and the legal language seems foreign. Life-changing decisions are made by strangers and a significant amount of trust is put in the hands of attorneys, judges and jurors.

Add in a communication barrier, and the courtroom becomes more intimidating. For many people with communication disabilities, such as a speech impediment or deafness, it can be a nightmare.

Barbara Toomer, secretary of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, a privately funded and nonprofit organization, said people with disabilities are often at a disadvantage in public places, including the courtroom.

Toomer said such disadvantages can be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the Disabled Rights Action Committee and other organizations are working to change that.

“It is discrimination to deny someone public services regardless of any disability,” Toomer said. “We are trying to make sure people have a voice and access in their communities.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act was created by Congress in 1990 and signed into place by George H.W. Bush. It changed the way public places were required to accommodate people with disabilities, especially in regard to communication.

The ADA requires public agencies to provide ways in which people with disabilities can effectively communicate with others, just like an average person can, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Toomer said one of the biggest problems people with disabilities face is that ADA regulations are often unknown or confusing.

“Many public agencies don’t know of the ADA or don’t know it well enough,” she said, “and some people with disabilities don’t know their own rights.”

People who have ADA complaints can contact the Disabled Rights Action Committee or similar organizations. The Disability Law Center provides free legal advice and representation for Utahns with disabilities. The Access Utah Network is a government agency that is attempting to make Utah more accessible to people with disabilities.

“[The Disabled Rights Action Committee] will get them in contact with a disability rights attorney that can advise them,” Toomer said.

Lisa Fine, an attorney with the Disability Law Center, said most Utah courts want to help people with disabilities have better access.

Fine provided legal counsel and helped mediate a disability access complaint between Lana McKinsey of Layton, Utah, and the Layton City Courthouse. She said it served as an example of how courtrooms and people with disabilities can work together to find solutions.

McKinsey was born mostly blind and has been partially deaf for the last five years. She can only hear with the help of hearing aids.

McKinsey was in court because of a domestic violence case where she was the victim. When it was McKinsey’s turn to speak she was unable to use any of the accommodations the Layton courthouse had in place to help people with disabilities.

The ADA recommends public entities have qualified interpreters, note takers, computer-aided transcription services, assistive listening devices and systems, audio recordings, Braille and large print materials, hearing aids and other methods to make communication accessible to all.

McKinsey could not use translation, telecommunications devices for deaf persons, captioning or video text displays because of her limited sight.

She was also unable to use the assistive listening devices because the amplifiers conflicted with her hearing aids. None of the other ADA methods worked or were available.

McKinsey left the courthouse in tears because she was unable to hear the questions and provide answers in a case that directly involved her.

She contacted Fine a few days after the communication dilemma. Fine said the situation was difficult but was appropriately dealt with by the Layton Courthouse.

“I was impressed. It was a government entity that responded quickly and sincerely,” Fine said.

Al Hansen, the building coordinator for the Second District Court for Utah, which includes the Layton City Courthouse, helped resolve McKinsey’s problem and recommended a similar procedure for other public entities in comparable situations.

“We determined the problem, did our own research and then involved Lana [McKinsey] in the decision making process,” Hansen said. The courthouse obtained other types of assistive listening devices from neighboring courthouses and let McKinsey determine which one best suited her.

“It was a win-win situation for everyone,” he said. “We felt good about it, she felt good and now we have both kinds of assistive listening devices for the future.”

Fine said the situation was handled perfectly and was an example of how ADA complaints should be resolved.

Hansen said the courts he oversees do their best to follow the guidelines set out by the ADA and attempt to fix problems as soon as possible.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable if they need to come to court,” Hansen said. “It is almost impossible, but we do the best we can to meet everyone’s needs.”

Still, Toomer and other disability organizations would like to see the courts make more improvements.

Mark Smith, information specialist for the Access Utah Network, said enforcement of ADA regulations is mostly driven forward by people with disabilities. He said limited regulation and enforcement has made the ADA a weak document.

“People with disabilities just about have to beg for changes to be made to make areas more accessible for them,” Smith said.

Toomer said some Utah courts are still not up to ADA code. Toomer, who uses a power wheelchair to move around, said she wishes public-service providers would take it upon themselves to better understand and abide by the ADA.

“Unfortunately it is up to people with disabilities to make sure the laws are enforced,” Toomer said.

Smith and Toomer said ADA problems occur more often outside of the Wasatch Front.

One problem rural courthouses face is distance. Few small towns have trained interpreters on hand for those requiring American Sign Language or foreign language translation. The Grand County Courthouse in Moab, Utah, requests interpreters from either Salt Lake City or Arizona, both of which are at least a four-hour-drive away.

Rural areas also have smaller populations; special-needs requests are less frequent, which can catch some public venues off guard.

“Smaller courthouses likely do not have the technology larger ones do,” Fine said. “Often there isn’t a need so communication methods aren’t as likely to be made available.”

Claudia Page, clerk of court for Grand and San Juan counties, said her courthouse in Moab tries as much as possible to make the courtroom open and available to anyone who needs to use it. She said hearings can be postponed to allow interpreters to make arrangements to travel to Moab.

Page said her courthouse is fully accessible for people in wheelchairs and has technology to help those who are hard of hearing, either with assistive listening devices — headphones and microphones — or technology turning the spoken word into readable type.

However, Page said accommodating everyone can be difficult.

“We share the devices with neighboring courthouses in the district,” Page said. “And if we don’t have a warning a few days ahead it is almost impossible to get an interpreter on the spot.”

Toomer said the change process is slow and will only improve as communication and understanding of the ADA gets better. A goal both Toomer and Page agree with.

One Salt Lake family struggles to improve autism awareness


“The school psychologist said that Thomas would need to be institutionalized one day … which was very startling,” said Faith Wallin, recalling what she was told after he was unable to deal with Thomas’ behavior triggered by his autism.

Thomas is not the only autistic child in the state, even in his school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2002, 10 percent of 8-year-olds in the U.S. have a form of autism.

Thomas Wallin was an eager 3rd grader at Jordan Ridge Elementary (located within the Jordan School District in the south end of the Salt Lake Valley) when he was suspended due to repeated incidents of behavioral problems, including acting out in class and making inappropriate comments to teachers.

The problems and subsequent suspensions were not due to the student’s disregard for authority, but rather the inability of the school’s staff to deal with Thomas’ high-function autism and ADHD, his mother said. As a result, Thomas was suspended for more than 25 days from school, which was in direct violation of federal law.

Even before Thomas was diagnosed with autism in October 2007, his parents had obtained an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The IEP sets certain guidelines for teachers to follow when working with a student with a disability, and are enforced by federal law.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the purpose of  the guidelines set by the government is to help public schools and families of children with disabilities understand their rights under  the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

One of those guidelines is that any student with an IEP cannot be suspended more than 10 days in a school year for behavioral problems. Wallin was confused about how to approach the situation although she knew that something was wrong.

“The principal, teachers and even the school psychologist struggled when dealing with Thomas. Something needed to be done in order to prevent this from continuing,” Wallin said.

“My sister is a school principal and she spelled out a lot of the rules for me. I knew that the school had broken rules, but what could we do to stop it?” she said.

Thomas works with professionals at Valley Mental Health and they recommended Faith get help from the Disability Law Center of Salt Lake. “The people at Valley Mental Health said my case had some legs to stand on and the legal people at the DLC could help me with the issue. We didn’t have the funds to hire a private lawyer and it was our best option,” she said.

The main issue for Wallin in the resolution of the case was the proper education of the school’s staff on how to deal with autistic children. “I didn’t want to sue for money, because that would overlook the issue. I just wanted the autistic students and their families to have a better experience with their school,” she said.

Originally assigned to the case was Adina Zahradnikova, an eight-year employee of the DLC and senior advocate. Any case that comes to the DLC involving educational problems with a disabled person, she spearheads the project.

“Thomas’ case is fairly common. A lot of people don’t know how to deal with children with special needs, so they react without fully understanding the rules that are in place,” Zahradnikova said. “The initial step that is taken with a case like this is to interview the prospective client and make sure their case is viable. We will analyze the case from both sides, then serve a letter to the school and district administrators explaining the action we are going to take.”

At this point Zahradnikova decided to take a sabbatical for personal reasons, and handed the case to a fellow DLC advocate. “I needed a break, so I handed the case to the competent hands of John English,” Zahradnikova said.

English is a second-year law student at the University of Utah who has worked in special education for the better part of a decade.

“This is my passion. I do enjoy this area of health and disability law as well as special education. Working with people like the Wallin family is very rewarding,” English said. “Faith Wallin was great to work with, because she was very reasonable. With her we devised the basis of our resolution that we suggested to the Jordan School District.”

The district was asked to hold a seminar, so educators at Jordan Ridge Elementary and from other schools within the district could learn how to better work with children who suffer from autism.

The Jordan School District sent both the DLC and Faith Wallin a packet with the material covered in the teacher seminar. Included was a roster listing all 51 teachers in attendance and a certified letter that the special needs education had been completed. At that point the case was closed.

“From a legal standpoint, I think the outcome was a huge success. We achieved everything that we wanted, I feel,” English said.

Even though the legal goals were met, Wallin sees a need for more improvement. “Although the seminar was taught, and the teachers may have a better understanding how to deal with autistic children, parents say they are still having problems at that school,” Wallin said.

Thomas switched schools in September 2008.

“Throughout the experience, I was so impressed by the work the DLC did for us. The level of professionalism was high and I was amazed by the concern they showed for our case,” Wallin said. “When attending support groups for parents of autistic children, I always recommend the services of the DLC to any parent struggling to find help for their child in any setting.”

%d bloggers like this: