Careproviders are Superheroes on Earth

I have had the honor of being my sister’s primary careprovider for the past 3 months. My sister is a 45 years-old, has Down syndrome, is severely overweight, has a 45 degree curvature in her spine, and has numerous other medical conditions.

I have never felt so exhausted, overwhelmed and exasperated while at the same time feeling so content and fulfilled. I have the most utter, deep respect and awe for careproviders. I believe they are the true superheroes on Earth. Here are some lessons I’ve gleaned and observations I’ve experienced while being my sister’s primary and full-time careprovider:

  • I did not know it was humanly possible to brush one’s teeth for a half hour. It is. On good days.
  • Bodily functions and all that entails are real, constant, unpredictable, gross, and ongoing, and utterly exhausting.
  • I had no idea that anyone could be stretched to the max and be pulled in so many different directions simultaneously – dealing with a broken refrigerator, and a husband’s surgery, and a ER visit for the sister, all while managing a teenager and all of her school pick-up/drop-off needs.
  • She could vacillate on a dime from being my sister holding a rational, typical adult conversations to becoming childlike and vunerable needing extreme and immediate support and care.
  • I realized that her demeanor directly reflected mine. The more I exhibited stress, irritability, the more she behaved the same. When I was mindful to keep my demeanor in a place of love, kindness, and serenity, she also would exhibit the same.
  • Maintaining healthy personal relationships with others in your life such as a spouse, friends, colleagues, and children is demanding, challenging, and anguishing and is an underlying source of tension and angst.
  • I experience unbelievable bursts of delightful, refreshing childlike innocence. She exclaimed one day, The ‘ups’ truck is here. I had no idea what she meant until I saw the brown UPS truck. I then realized when she kept saying she wanted to go to the ‘ups’ store, that is what she meant. Another time I had a long talk to her on the way to my college about how she had been mean to another student, and I needed her to do the right thing and apologize. She gave me a guilty look, pondered a moment, and exclaimed, ‘I came out here all this way for nothing!’
  • I realized how much I valued and appreciated the tips and advice from other careproviders, gaining valuable tricks and wisdom as we were passing each other and the hallway and experiencing brief bursts of respite sitting together during classtime.
  • Just when you think you’ve got one facet of life under control, another issue crops up at impeccably inconvenient times.
  • When providing care for another human being, you enter into almost a different time dimension where everything operates at a slower pace, almost like navigating in a parallel universe.

I truly believe that careproviders are Superheroes through and through. For anyone providing direct care to someone on a constant basis, they are giving the ultimate sacrifice and for sure the best versions of themselves. For parents of children with special needs who have done this their entire lives with no end in sight, I salute you, I honor you, I thank you, I am in awe of you, and you are sincerely and truly Heroes on this Earth.

Janet Heathcote: School of Dance Visionary Director

Janet Heathcote is a true inspiration to College of Adaptive Arts, to the special needs community, and to anyone who has ever had the pleasure to meeting and working with her. She’s been the Director of College of Adaptive Arts’ School of Dance since CAA created distinct Schools of Instruction back in 2013. Her and her husband were also early and instrumental members of the College of Adaptive Arts Mountain Movers leadership board to create this innovative collegiate model of lifelong education.

She holds the highest expectations of her students. The students come into classes with their heads held high, in the required black dance leotards, ready to learn and push the boundaries of their potential. She is a strong collaborator with fellow dance organizations such as the New Ballet, Los Gatos Ballet, and sjDANCEco. She is a fierce advocate for including all forms of dance and all abilities of dancers in the professional dance world. She was instrumental in facilitating the ability for one of our CAA dancers who happens to have Down syndrome to choreograph a piece which was performed on a professional stage, making history and raising the bar of possibility for artists and performers with differing abilities.

Janet is the mother to a CAA Professor who happens to have autism, a CAA student, and an CAA JR Cardinal College Prepper. She and her family have experienced their share of love and family anguish, and are a shining example of forging forward everyday with love, possibility, and strong family bonds. Janet is a sincere blessing to College of Adaptive Arts, and her legacy that she has set for the School of Dance will live and reverberate for generations to come.

Take a Chance . . .

   Take a Chance

   In 2012, I was being treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and I attended a Showboaters class at the College of Adaptive Arts. Pam Lindsay was leading the class and lesson was that I learned in a college theatre class. I walk out of class with my mom and younger sister (who was the student in the class) impressed with the respect given, the terms that were not dumbed down and the joy that the students exhibited.  I knew my sister Denae was enjoying her education opportunity, she was trying new things and learning and I saw my happy go lucky sister blossom.

Then in October, I was able to attend the Abilities Expo where Denae was performing with the puppet troupe and again I was impressed. This time I reached out to DeAnna Pursai and said I love photography, love writing, let me know if I could come and work or teach classes. It wasn’t until January 2013 that I started as an Associate Professor.

At the end of Spring, I was riding with DeAnna in her car when I mentioned that I was a cancer survivor and that one thing that helped me through my journey was poetry. I thought maybe we could have a poetry class. DeAnna and Pam liked the idea and that summer I was teaching about Haikus, Villanelles, and Sonnets to 6 students. Out of 6 of the students, I had one who said they knew what poetry was and liked poetry. After this class, one of the parents approached me and said I helped their student feel smart for the first time. My heart broke because this young man had gone his entire life not feeling smart.

We continued Poetry class, then there was Sign Language, and Reading Partners, and Grad Writing, Business Writing, Storytelling, Writing Lab, Spanish, Speaking with Confidence. Pam and DeAnna approached me and asked about a communications department.

Every new student that takes a Communication Class, the parent always says the same thing. My student cannot read or write, or I don’t even know if they like this subject but I want them to take an academic class, and this one fits in their schedule.  I am always surprised by those students who take a chance on a new class; those students end up enjoying their class. They remember characters, they embrace poetry and love reading. The wonderful thing about Communications classes we create spaces where the real world and fictional world coexist. Students can relate to characters from novels, and this helps them overcome their struggles. The act of writing becomes a cyclone that helps Students with things in the past and they get stronger. They thrive all because they took a chance.

Keep Writing, Keep Smiling, and Keep Learning.
Danie Weaver
Director of School of Communications.

Libraries are Forever . . .

Libraries are forever….

When I tell people that I’m a Librarian, the first thing they say is “aren’t libraries going away?” And then my head explodes from keeping a silent “aarrrghhhh!” silent. I then very passionately explain that libraries are not going away. As long as we have words, and we use the words to communicate and learn, and we preserve the communications no matter how long or short or in different languages from different people who have different ideas and theories and opinions, we will have libraries.

Libraries used to be for the wealthy and/or the religious. With the advent of the printing press and scholars who translated books from Latin to modern languages, the total number of volumes increases. Subscription libraries, circulating libraries, and the modern public libraries put books, newspapers, magazines, and (more recently) e-everything in the hands of the common person, educated or not, wealthy, or not, literate or not.

In times of war, it is the Librarians who run around and find the most valuable objects to protect the memory and history of the people the library serves. In times of joy, it is Librarians who proudly display books and poems and objects made by the community the Library serves. Libraries are community, a gathering spot to learn, use equipment you don’t have, share. Some libraries provide breakfast, sometimes clothing, and always a place to sit, read, relax, and accidentally snooze. Librarians as a people are warriors, fighting for truth and justice, protecting civil rights, correcting wrongs, and ensuring both sides of the story are available.

When I take a breathe, my attention turns to CAA’s Library and Media Lab. I remember the hands shooting up in the air after I gave a status report to the student and parents’ councils. One student wanted a book about golf, another wanted a book she read at her grandmother’s house, and another wanted a book of the artwork of Ralph McQuarrie. I said yes to all, whether I was familiar with the title or not. I took my collection development cues from the student and professors. I learned what the students liked; one read stories of the Yeti with her dad, another read the Harry Potter books. Another didn’t read but enjoyed a flip book of dragons. I wanted to make sure the students saw themselves in the shelves, saw the vast and glorious community they are a part of.

This idea of belonging and community was very apparent when the library cards were handed out. Everyone received a card; reading level, age, interest didn’t matter. The library card represented a bond between members of a community. To me, it represented a promise, that there will always be libraries.

Suzanne Williams

CAA Librarian

Reflections from the School of Art Director :)

It was just expected years ago that I go to art college. I painted and drew on anything that didn’t move, so when I began my college career at the Academy of Art University is San Francisco, I dreamed my painting future would be like that of Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, or Mark Rothko without their unexpected endings. Not so.

During my last semester of college, I visited Creativity Explored in SF. The variety of artwork created by adult artists with developmental and hidden disabilities inside this large and colorful studio was breathtaking! These accomplished artists’ paintings, drawings and sculptures were so pure and moving. I spent some time drawing with a woman who was nonverbal, but she spoke loudly. Her colorful drawings, expressive line-work, and beaming smile said everything she could not. I left school that day, changed in my ideas about who else can create art, but more importantly, how much these artists touched my heart.

Jump forward 9 years and through divine intervention and an amazing friend, I met two passionate and courageous women who were starting a college in San Jose for adults with differing abilities. They needed an art instructor and an art department and wanted to know if I was interested. To say I was excited couldn’t nearly describe how I felt. I experienced that heartwarming sensation I felt all those years ago and I knew that this was my tribe.

Now as we celebrate our 10th Anniversary as a college for adult individuals with differing abilities, I can’t help but reflect over CAA’s monumental growth. We’ve nurtured countless classes in the arts, health and wellness, communications and more in many locations. Each move, bringing new experiences to a population of individuals who might not ever have had the opportunity to be creative and express themselves in art forms such as dance, music, or art. For four years, our fearless professors set up classes out of the trunks of their cars, packed them up to travel to and from generous businesses with a little bit of space and a shared belief in our vision for the college which allowed us to grow.

Established colleges around the country for the most part have offered typical adults opportunities in the arts for decades, becoming artists (like myself), actors, writers and entertainers who influence our culture, enrich our lives and fill up social media. But those colleges must have begun from humble beginnings… much like College of Adaptive Arts. Right?

When I see CAA students eyes light up at a new song they will learn or a non-verbal student try their hardest to record a sound for a clay animation voice over, I can’t help but feel that these novel experiences are reaching the hearts and minds of our students just like today’s typical college learners.

Thank you to the families for recognizing that our adults too have dreams of becoming future creatives that make up and contribute to society. To think that only decades ago, people with developmental differences, physical challenges and the like were not only thought as burdens, but also hidden away from society is so heartbreaking. CAA students have so much to offer and share with the world in ways that might look different from typical college students and adults, but still just as valuable and unique.

Each week, I get the privilege to bask in CAA students unconfined joy, witness unconditional friendships, and unbridled eagerness to try and try again as all lessons we can learn from. And most importantly, we all need each other to do this.

All of our college communities deserve seasons to be learners, teachers, mentors and friends.

Recently, I had the unexpected and exciting chance to go back to Creativity Explored and talk about art and autism. I could never have done this if I hadn’t experienced all of these roles just because of one chance opportunity over 16 years ago in a college class which completely changed my life’s purpose, career, and my heart.


Director, School of Art
College of Adaptive Arts

CAA #CardinalStrong

“What Will You Do With Your Building Permit?”

By Pamela Lindsay

I love this picture. It depicts everything that inspired this college. Our students are proving every day how they are capable of great imagination, incomparable growth and achievement of their deepest dreams.  This may look like a picture of a graduation. It is so much more.

This 10th Anniversary brings grateful reflection on the paths that put the pieces and all of us together. In 2009, I was breathing a sigh of relief after completing my master’s degree in the school of Radio, Television, Film and Theatre at San Jose State University. I had settled into a position there as an instructor and theatre director. The topic of my masters’ thesis focused on the arts, education, and social cognitive skill-building. The research had ignited a spark of understanding that for all of us, the key to future opportunities is one simple thing: understanding of our own needs and identification of options to meet them.  The options we identify and help others to understand often point to our personal giftings and, when we embrace them, our joys.

I continued ongoing research into curriculum models and instructional tools that might benefit the college students in my typical classrooms who happened to have hidden developmental and other learning disabilities. It was important to me that those college students understand that there are many approaches to learning, as there are to life. I experienced with them that in those moments when they perceived a door had slammed shut, we could shift their focus another direction down the less traveled (and usually much more interesting) path.

My road to Cardinal life also included work for almost a decade as a consultant to families of learners with differing abilities. I enjoyed the ongoing challenge of finding and delivering special curricula that would fit the continually evolving needs of young people with varied learning challenges. This included my own daughter, who happens to have Asperger’s syndrome.

Little did I know DeAnna and I were on intersecting journeys before we ever met. When we did, there was instant recognition of a kindred spirit. We have many lovely things in common, but what ignites our partnership in this CAA effort and as soulmates on this historic road we are all traveling upon was perplexity over the wonderful options for individuals with differing abilities that turn on a dime and slam doors with cut-off dates and “drop zones.” Who in the world came up with the plan to close doors on programs important for health and wellness, academic education, personal development and community contribution because of a birthday? Certainly not our brilliant Cardinal flyers! They are working hard and taking names!

They are overcomers. That’s why they inspire us every day. When these students make a decision to attend this college, it means they are making a decision to look for an open door. They are choosing to step through it and blaze that less-traveled path for others to follow. They are stepping up. They don’t ask for education, they expect it to happen. And we love those great expectations. As co-founder and Dean, my work in educational development continues toward programs and materials that meet these high expectations and evolving needs through work toward a Doctorate in an area of academics with many potential closed doors-leadership in higher education for students with developmental disabilities. No problem at all; our students just keep reminding me to look for the open ones.

So when they cross the stage at our CAA graduation ceremony, it is not just for a piece of paper. It is their building permit to take it all up a level, every time. It’s a symbol of dedication to and appreciation for the countless earned credits that set them apart as shareholders in their community, and as part of its solid foundation.

They aren’t hoping for opportunities, they are learning to create their own. That’s why it is such an overwhelming joy for De and I to be there on stage to hand them their next diploma.  And shake on the promise that they never have to leave because of a birthday. And to let them know how honored we at CAA are by the gift to serve as architects for their ground-breaking past and future achievements. They are #Cardinal Strong!!

A Special Sister Story

I’m sitting with my sister tonight as she is diligently working on her homework assignment from her College of Adaptive Arts Film Studies class, which is to watch her very favorite tv show of all times, Life Goes On, with her very favorite actor of all time, Chris Burke who plays Corky Thatcher. I’m mesmorized observing her furrowed brow intently focused on being a college student and knowing she can be successful with her assignment. My heart is full.

I co-founded College of Adaptive Arts in 2009 with my business partner, Pamela Lindsay, to give an equitable collegiate experience to adults with special needs who historically have not had access to college education. Certainly my inspiration for co-founding College of Adaptive Arts has been my experience growing up with such a beautiful sister.

When Angel was born on August 8, 1973, my mom told me the story that the baby was immediately whisked away, and a doctor came in about 10 minutes later and told my mom that unfortunately the baby she just delivered would never be able to walk, talk, clothe herself, feed herself, and it was recommended that the baby be placed in an institution. My my vividly told me that she knew there was no way they had time to do any tests. She feared the worst that the baby was severely deformed. She demanded to see her baby.  Coming from rural Indiana with a high school degree, my mom is not one to mince words. She said she held that warm, soft, snuggly, baby, counted 10 fingers and 10 toes, and told the doctor, “Thanks but no thanks, I’m taking my baby home, and don’t ever step in this room again!”

So that’s how my life changed as Angel came into our family 16 months after I was born. My memories of Angel are ones of laughter, singing, dancing, comedy, and so much joy. One of my most vivid childhood memories is watching the Dallas show with my family on Friday nights – wondering who killed JR Ewing. My entire family (and I think everyone in America) was glued to the TV on Friday nights in the late seventies and early eighties. During commercials, my job was to hold a wooden spoon as a microphone and introduce my sister in the middle of the living room performing various acts of singing and dancing. She often wore a towel wrapped around her neck as a cape. She was absolute boundless in her energy to sing, dance, and entertain.

I distinctly remember the frustration I would feel, though, when she would go out in the community, and behaviors that I had just watched her do at home, she would not do out in the community.  Often she wouldn’t talk, or she would ask someone to get her something, or just completely shut down; it was absolutely maddening to observe. I began to realize that she had a keen sense of awareness of how she was being received by others. If others treated her like a normal person, she would naturally act her normal self. If they treated her like a baby, she enjoyed the special treatment of being overly coddled. If she could tell that they thought she had no abilities, she had no problem just not responding at all. It made me realize how astutely keen she was to other’s perceptions of her abilities.

Comedy has always been her true and natural gift. My mom told me once of a time when Angel was a teenager and mom took her to a Bible study class on Wedneday night. Each person in the class had a chance to say a prayer out loud at the end of the class. When it was Angel’s turn, she waited until the room was quiet and then proceeded to pray, “Dear Lord, please let my mom stop cussing.” She very much knows how to get a laugh, and her timing is still absolutely impeccable.

It has been my highest honor to join forces with Pamela Lindsay to begin College of Adaptive in 2009. I certainly know first-hand that these adults are so very capable and joyful and so hungry to learn and show that they too can be successful contributing citizens to the best of their abilities. They want a safe and engaging place to continue to learn and grow and flourish to the full potential. CAA adjusts the metaphorical lens of adults with special needs from a focus on their disabilities to a focus on their abilities. It has been a riveting and transformative ride, and we are seeking everyone out there interested to help be a part of history in the making to take this educational model nationwide to provide a lifelong, equitable collegiate experience. My sister, Angel, guides me each day to explore new possibilities, celebrate the journey, and never, ever give up.

“Thanks Pam & De” by Janet Heathcote, Director, CAA School of Dance

It is December, which means I am fully immersed in the joyful chaos of Nutcracker Season. Long rehearsals, so many emails, sore muscles, costume mishaps, more emails, anxious phone calls, changing schedules, excited dancers, proud families, lots of performances and grateful audiences.

Thank goodness for an understanding husband that enjoys Christmas shopping, cooking and keeps smiling when I tell him CAA has a performance on Christmas Eve😉

It is a joyful time to reflect on all the CAA Audiences that have been profoundly affected by the beauty each dancer brings to a dance piece. Dance lovers inherently understand that beauty is in the movement at that precise moment in time—-raw, fleeting, unique, chaotic and joyful. They get to experience that explosion of emotions with all of our CAA Dance Troupes. It is a unique Bay Area experience brought to audiences through College of Adaptive Arts and Pam & De.

Thanks to CAA, audiences around the Bay Area have had an opportunity to experience performances by those with Differing Abilities for these past ten years. Those

initial introductions to what a Differently Abled Dancer/Performer can bring to a Performance has turned to a clamoring for MORE. More opportunities to perform, more acceptance and more desire to see the CAA model replicated in their areas beyond the Bay Area. Thanks Pam & De.

Thanks to Pam & De and their Vision of what a College Experience could be like, I have a very happy son attending stimulating classes. He is a poet, an artist and Latizmo Dancer. He has worked on CAA’s Award Winning Show and written songs in class. When he was born 29 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined such a perfect school for him.

Thanks to Pam & De and their Vision of having a workplace filled with staff with Differing Abilities, I have a son with a job he loves.

Thanks to Pam & De and their Vision of what the Arts could look like, I get to teach & dance with the most open, loving, talented dancers in the Bay Area. CAA embraced my homeschooling little Red and made her a Jr. Cardinal. She has blossomed in such a great part due to being surrounded by her tribe- the Differently Abled Artsy Crowd at CAA….Best crowd to hang with, EVER!

Thank you for giving me a front row seat to “Ten” wonderful years of watching CAA change hearts and minds in the Bay Area and beyond. Thank you for blessing my family with your Vision and for giving all our performers a stage to shine on.

Now back to answering emails and booking Dance Performances for 2019!

Bringing the Community Together by CAA TV/Film Director Matt Lindsay

For almost two hours, the energy in the small theater in 3 Below was ecstatic as members of CAA, the students, and filmmakers around the community and beyond joined together to celebrate the talents and amazing stories told about or performed by adults and children with differing abilities. And even after everyone had left the theater to converse in the theater’s small café afterwards for a Meet and Greet, connections and bonds were still being forged by all those involved.

As a Director of the TV and Film Department at The College of Adaptive Arts, I oversee a few projects, both on campus and out in the community, that help CAA and its student body become more prominent in the community. And none is more exciting, more rewarding, than the film fest we hold every year. It does take a lot of work from a whole ensemble of talented staff members as well as some from those owning the venue we hold the event at. But the success of this event is always worth it; seeing our students interacting with professional filmmakers and other members of San Jose (and beyond) and being on equal terms with them both socially and professionally is a truly humbling experience.

Moments like this are what make my time here at CAA worth it. And I know I am not the only one who believes this. These moments also help one realize how blessed we are to work in this environment and move mountains. The students have an energy about them that is infectious in the best of ways, and I am always happy to share that feeling with others. The College of Adaptive Arts has helped grow and cultivate professional and admirable adults in not just the students, but myself as well. Even after two full years (and a few more as an intern/volunteer beforehand), they teach and support me as much as I teach and support them. CAA is a safe, neutral harbor for everyone to be equals working together for a common, unifying goal. If anyone ever doubts their ability to understand, let alone make, anything their mind wishes to share or create, they should remember one vital lesson: If our students can create films or do anything that can be shared and enjoyed by others, everyone can do it too. We can all move mountains.

How Reading and Writing Classes Impact our CAA College Students by School of Communications Director, Danielle Weaver

Reading and Writing classes at CAA are always some of the most engaging, thought-provoking and popular classes at CAA. Currently, CAA offers 2 classes that focus on reading, 2 grad classes and finally 1 class that focuses on reading and writing.  They are very popular and well attended.

As I was thinking of the Theme for our Communications Showcase in February this word struck me. Metamorphosis.  Which is often what I see when our students attend communication classes.  Especially in reading and writing.

The definition of metamorphosis is as followed: a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.

Imagine the first day of class an student who maybe like books or reading but is shy and doesn’t want to participate in the reading aloud portion of the class, however, they sit and listen. Listen to the discussions of themes, words, characters and more importantly be present in class. They sit and listen as others read and listen as their classmates share what they think about the book or novel we are reading as a class. Then at the end of the quarter, the shy student’s hand goes up and they want to read. Turns out they can read very well but are nervous to share their voice.

This is what metamorphosis means. Giving them the opportunity to learn about themes, read books that were never considered, learn about characters and how they impact our world, allow them to read. But most importantly gives them the chance to try. To break out of their worldview and examine a new worldview.

I often hear from parents that their special individual likes books and movies. But doesn’t read. I often think to myself, have they been able to try? Reading and Writing classes allow them to try.  And often with just the chance to try. Our students succeed and come back to and take reading and writing classes over and over again.

Danielle Weaver, Director & Professor, School of Communications
College of Adaptive Arts