Don’t Mess With This Texas Mom – An Interview With Candice O’Dell — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Don’t Mess With This Texas Mom – An Interview With Candice O’Dell

by Deborah


Candice O’Dell is the type of mother I aspire to be. She has two adopted daughters, both with their own unique needs, and she has dedicated her life to learning all she can to support those needs. Of special interest to me is her loving approach to raising a child with deafblindness. I also have a child with deafblindness, and it is often difficult to find other families who can relate to the unique challenges faced with such a low-incidence disability. I really appreciate Candice taking the time to share her life and her thoughts with us all, and I urge you to visit her very informative blog, I’m Adopting A Deaf Child With Ushers, Now What?

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

We live in North Texas and have 2 children. We adopted both children, the first when she was 7 and the other when she was 9. They are biological siblings that were separated when they were young. They each have very diverse needs of their own.

My story actually starts when I was a kid (hope this doesn’t get too long & I will try to keep it short & sweet). I had a rough childhood and always wondered why God would put me through that. Pretty typical, right? Well, my husband and I tried to have kids for years and years (we have been married now for 11 years & still no bio kids). I was going to a specialist to try to find out why we were not getting pregnant. My husband did his test and there was no problem there. I started my long string of tests, one of the things that they did was take a sample from my cervix. Well, they discovered cancer on my cervix so things got really messed up quick. I had surgery (not a hysterectomy) to remove the cancer and was told how difficult it would be to keep a child after this surgery. In the meantime, through all my cancer appointments friends and people I do not even know that well are bringing up fostering. My husband and I had never talked about adopting a child or even fostering. But this kept coming up all around me during this time. I had always complained about the foster care system and was raised with a fear of going into foster care. Luckily for me I had family around me to take me in for a few months at a time so that I never had to experience foster care for myself. I had complained about foster care for a while and I work for a Realtor and we do a huge benefit for the advocacy center in our area, so foster care and children have always been near and dear to me. All this was colliding at the same time and I had an epiphany in the front of my house pacing my sidewalk one day. I think this is what I am supposed to be doing, this is why God gave me the crummy childhood. So that I could be more understanding of the foster children that I will foster. So, I had a discussion with God and said really God, okay, if this is your Will I will go and talk to my husband and if he laughs at me I was wrong – this is not your Will, but if he does not then I will continue and do what I can to be a foster parent. So, I went to my husband and he said, “really, I was thinking about that too”. OH MY GOODNESS!! So, the day after my surgery they were having an information session on fostering at the community college. I got in my wheelchair and we went.

We started classes in January and we were licensed in June or July. We were open to any race from ages 5-10, we didn’t care if it was a boy or girl and were open to any disability as long as they had language (were not non-verbal) and did not require shots (I pass out).

Tell me more about daughter’s disability. Did you know when you adopted her that she had a disability? If not, how did you feel when you discovered it?

One day after we had our 1st daughter for about 1 month or 2 she was in the bathroom and signed something to me. I asked her if she just signed (I only knew my alphabet, I love you & a few other simple signs) and she acted really ashamed. After we talked to a little bit she said that she had a sister who was deaf, only used 3 or 4 signs and clicked for the rest of her communication. I checked into it and found out that she did have a sister that she was with who was deaf/blind. This freaked me out a little bit because when you say deaf/blind I am thinking of Helen Keller. Way over my head. We talked more about her sister when she came up but not a whole lot throughout the year. As her adoption got closer and closer she talked more about her biological family and asked if she could visit her sister before she was adopted. Visit – sounds innocent right?? Sure, we can visit your sister…we drive to East Texas where she was at the time and visit. I was really surprised, she was not my idea of blind, she was signing and voicing. My husband both walked away thinking, why can’t we accept this child and get the siblings back together? We then fought to get Rebecca placed in our home so that we could adopt her.

You blog a lot about your daughter’s issues, and that is so valuable to me and I’m sure, to others that read your blog. How did you go about making the decision to blog about her? What do you personally get out of blogging about her and her issues?

I read another blog about a deaf/blind woman and I learned tons from her blog, but I also had tons of questions for situations that were happening in our home. The best way that I thought of to get opinions and answers from others who are Deaf or Deaf/blind was to start a blog. It is very therapeutic for me to blog about our family. I learn a lot from others and I feels great to get things off my chest sometimes.

What is a typical day like for you and your family?

I think I blogged about his one time, but we have a pretty normal day with a few exceptions. We work a lot on vocabulary throughout the day. It could be with little games or me just telling her to do something in 2 different ways. For example, “Rebecca will you please go pick up your room? It is really messy and it would be great if you would clean it up a little bit.” I didn’t just stop at go pick up your room, I normally expand on it if I have the time. “Will you please go and get me a water out of the refrigerator. I would really like a water, will you do that for me?” We deal with batteries, implant, hearing aid, glasses, battery tester & cases daily. We work on sentence structure more than most people and repeat things constantly. We all sign in our family and I do not accept something being voiced without sign – if you do not know the sign we look it up and/or fingerspell it. It’s a very long and exhausting day, but so worth it!

How has your daughter’s disability affected you as a person and as a mother? What did you do right? What do you wish you had done differently?

I have had to learn so much about Deafness and blindness. I was pretty clueless before Rebecca. I thought sign language was sign language, I did not know that there are different systems of signing. I also did not know anything about visual impairment and O&M. We rearranged our home and added more lighting to make certain things easier for Rebecca. Being a parent to a Deaf/blind child has made me more aware of the ignorance of others. One day we were at a water park and without any devices Rebecca is profoundly Deaf. She would not hear a plane if it crashed 10 feet away. A teenager behind her is telling her to move and getting really upset because she is not moving. I inform the kid that she is Deaf and he needs to back off. I tell Rebecca to please let the boy through. She does and then he starts talking about how stupid it was. My husband got in his face so fast I didn’t even have a chance. After that he had nothing else to say. Rebecca didn’t even notice and just continued going like nothing had happened. People do not talk to her directly; their first instinct is to talk to me for me to talk to her. That drives me crazy – she’s a human being – you can talk to her!! There’s a lot of examples that shows the ignorance of others, but that has definitely changed my perspective on others. As a mother, I am more aware of our surroundings and stay closer to my children. Learning sign language was the best thing that I did. I don’t know how parents raise their children without talking to them. A few times I wish I would have advocated more for her.

What do you want other parents fighting the same fight to know?

Learn their language. It will take time and it is very hard, but it is so worth it! Rebecca’s previous school did not expect much from her and I want other parents and educators that deaf children are capable of the work – please push them, encourage them to try new things and teach them to push their limits. I was told that Rebecca could not speak in complete sentences – bologna! She can! She does & she will continue to learn more. In six months she is saying complete sentences. It’s just that no one expected her to do this! Expect more from your children & they will amaze you!

Is there anything else you would like to share?

If you are considering adopting a special needs child you will be blessed beyond measure! It will take a lot of time, you will get frustrated and you will want to give up – BUT DON’T!! These children were sent to us to teach us to slow down and get more from life. Take advantage of what they have to teach us and enjoy the ride.

Email Author    |    Website About Deborah

In addition to her job as a computer engineer and her single parent responsibilities, Deborah is president of a state-wide family support group for families whose lives are touched by deafblindness, and is a tireless advocate for all people with disabilities. She writes at Pipe Cleaner Dreams and her writing has also been featured in local magazines and newspapers. Ashley’s story has also been chronicled in a book by Jonathan Mooney titled Short Bus Stories.

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1 Tammy and Parker July 20, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Such an amazing story.

2 Melody July 20, 2008 at 3:26 pm

Thank you for introducing us to Candice. As an adoptive mom of special needs children, I always enjoy meeting like-moms.

3 Marla July 20, 2008 at 5:22 pm

What an inspiring story. I too went through years of infertility which led me to a moment where I suddenly felt beyond moved to adopt. It was an amazing experience, nothing has ever matched it since.

I am so glad you were able to bring these two children back together.

I look forward to reading your blog soon.

4 debi b July 20, 2008 at 8:03 pm

Fantastic interview and very informative.
I think I too always picture Helen Keller when I hear deafblindness, so it’s nice to have a different picture in my head now.
I also want to thank youfor the final comment. I have adopted 3 children with disabilities and although their disabilities aren’t severe, it’s been a challenge. But, it as also beeen a HUGE blessing and prepared me for facing the health issues of my 3 biological children as well.

5 Trish July 21, 2008 at 4:11 pm

What a great interview! Candace, you sound like an amazing mom and an incredibly strong advocate for your daughter. It’s so good to meet you and learn from you.

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