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By Daniel J. Vance


  [The woman below using "Barbara" as an alias fears group home employees reading this column could retaliate against her adult son "Billy." So her identity and his have been masked.]


  Sixty-year-old Barbara deeply loves her adult son, who has mental retardation.

  "[Billy] was born with brain damage," said Barbara. "He's agile and can do anything physically, but the reasoning and logic part of his brain was affected, meaning he can't comprehend what needs doing for specific jobs. And when getting upset, he can't reason. He just screams."

    Arc of the United States, an organization representing about 7.2 million Americans with mental retardation, says that individuals are considered mentally retarded when their IQ is below 75; they are significantly limited in at least two skill areas, and when the condition began in childhood.

  After The Johns Hopkins Hospital diagnosed Billy at age 5, recently divorced Barbara knew she wanted only the best for her lone child. So she moved with him to a Maryland county offering excellent special education.

  She rented a low-income apartment. "The day we moved [there] Billy went outside to play," said Barbara. "I could see the playground from the apartment window and in a little while I saw this kid standing on the back of Billy's neck. So I never let him out alone again. When Billy sat on our ground-level front steps, often I heard kids making fun of him. They called him 'retard.'"

  Barbara remarried and they moved to another state. Following Billy's public education, Barbara enrolled him in an expensive private school offering great care. After ten years though, its cost became prohibitive. Now he lives in a group home.

  "When he's not treated right, it just breaks his heart," she said. "When he was little, my heart was the one broken; now it's both ours. Looking at him, you can't tell he's disabled. But he does have a hard time talking, and people do stare at him."

  She doesn't care for his current group home, but knows that if she removes him from the county system, "you can't get him back in; there is a waiting list," she said. Nearing retirement, she knows that Billy couldn't possibly care for himself alone at home should she die.

  She said, "The prayer of any parent with a disabled child is that you live one second longer than them."

  For more information, see www.thearc.org or www.danieljvance.com