Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fox Lane's Joe D'Adamo takes the Wheel


Originally appeared in Weston Magazine Group

Joseph D’Adamo essentially came into this world as a very typical child.  But at three year’s old, the simplistic state of normalcy that we all take for granted, changed for Joseph, and his life would never be the same.
“Joseph started to have Petit Mal Seizures where there would be staring spells. He would just zone out,” says his mom, Lori D’Adamo from their Mt. Kisco home, where I sat down and met the family.
The seizures got so bad that he would sometimes go into a deep sleep, but the more troubling aspect was the sheer number of unnoticeable seizures. “We didn’t know how many he was having everyday,” says Lori
The impact it had on his ability to learn and process was obvious. On the other hand, the anti-seizure medication designated by the doctors at Columbia Presbyterian did stabilize Joseph, but the relocation of his pediatric neurologist a few years later sent everything into flux.
His medications were continually changed, and Joseph’s condition suffered the same sort of uncertainty.  “We weren’t satisfied,” said Lori, and through the recommendation of a friend, the D’Adamo’s connected to the epilepsy center at NYU.
Examination found that the condition emanated from the left side of the brain and made Joseph a good candidate for surgery. So instead of adhering to a rollercoaster ride of Rx’s, there was a good chance that brain surgery would end the seizures and possibly put Joseph back on the road to normal development.
The surgery a success, the best case scenario did not play out. “Unfortunately, the damage had already been done, but the fact that he no longer has seizures or needs medication is definitely something,” says Lori.
12 years later, Mom describes Joseph as mentally disabled and globally challenged. He looks like a 20 year old adult but reads and writes at Kindergarten level, while having a normal understanding of all that’s going on around him.
Nonetheless, the start of my conversation with Joseph didn’t necessarily elaborate on the clinical description or shed light on the young man’s true nature – save the endearing dialogue emanating from the proud mom.  At the same time, as Joseph fidgeted and returned a number of brief replies, his Dad had a good handle on the situation.
“This is a challenge for him,” Gary D’Adamo piped in. But just because my sit down format failed to put the young man at ease, doesn’t mean the Fox Lane High School Student is ever a challenge. And when that proper venue was found, it was easy to understand where this family’s loving bias derives from.
“He loves to drive,” said his Mom.
Referring to the golf cart Joseph scoots around the neighborhood, we descended to the garage to take a look. Now illuminated, he proudly showed me the headlights he flips on in case dusk interferes with the neighborly role that the cart allows him to play. “He always wants to help people,” said Lori.
So if someone is cleaning out their garage, moving furniture or straightening out the yard, Joseph puts on the breaks and lends a hand. Now as well he should, Joseph is certainly amenable to being more than just a nonprofit organization. “When you help people, sometimes they give you money,” he said resourcefully.
Otherwise, he may simply boost his neighbors’ empty garbage pails back to their garages, and if they miss him in reverse, his license plates are hard to overlook. “Broadway,” he directed me to the letters that ID his biggest passion.
Thanks to his parents, the Great White Way is a frequent destination – “Motown” their latest escape. “I liked the clap of the audience,” he extolled the experience with joy.
Broadway flights of fancy aren’t out of his cultural comfort area either. “We were in the fly zone,” he says of the spectacle known as Spiderman.
The immersion has thus left a distinct impression and a path to the future. “I want to live in New York City,” he says.
Unfortunately, this is a bittersweet proposition for his mother.  Certainly proud of the independence he’s learning in Fox Lane’s Life Skills Program, Lori worries about her son someday leaving home. “That’s what I’m struggling with right now,” she says.
Slated to graduate from Fox Lane in June, Joseph will attend Pace University and enroll in a job training program that furthers the life skills he’ll need to get by. But for the moment, he won’t go too far.  “Right now, we’re choosing that he lives with us,” she says.   
Of course, Joe will someday leave the nest and likely go with the current flow in assisted living. “They are getting away from group homes. They often have an apartment with three bedrooms and a kitchen. Then we would have support staff come in to make sure the boys are ok,” she says.
Such an essential option exists for Joseph in part because of the permissible atmosphere found in the Bedford schools. “I hear a lot of bad things about different districts, but the Fox Lane community is so welcoming to all these kids,” she says.
As such, Joseph has learned to cook, is getting lessons on how to grocery shop and ride public transportation, while his job coaching has enabled him to volunteer at Northern Westchester Hospital.
On the social side, the North East Westchester Special Recreation Program provides numerous field trips, sports opportunities and the chance to kick it up like his role models on 42nd street. “Da di da, di da di da,” were enough to describe his strut at the student dances he loves to attend.
Less economical with her words, Mom keenly comprehends how the program gives special needs children the chance to interact like other kids. Often excluded from the typical play dates and such, she says, North East allows these children to have friends and get out there in their own environment.
 All rounded out, the happiness that comes with it means the world to his parents. “All I want for Joseph is to be the best he can be, and for me and Gary, we’re just so proud of how much he has accomplished,” she says.
But returning to the driveway, we left the golf cart for my wheels, and Joseph didn’t hesitate to affectionately editorialize on the state of my messy car.  “It’s a disaster,” he said on a roll now.
Mom attempting to soften the jab, where it was in no way necessary, said he’s meticulous and keeps his room very organized. The approach extends to how he presents himself – especially when a hit play or fancy restaurant is on the agenda.  “I have to put on my good going out clothes,” Mom relayed his typical refrain.
Regardless, her sometimes messy closet didn’t escape Joseph’s sense of humor, as he playfully occupied my driver’s seat and honked the horn. “She has too many clothes,” he joked.
Given the trip the family intends to take in the near future, Mom might have to make some room for him in her closet.  “Where are we going to go on our trip to England,” she prompted her son.
“To the West End,” he said on cue of the famed London theatre district.
Top hat and tails, Joseph eventually relinquished my ride and ushered me off feeling that his favorite Louis Armstrong song is a fitting way to describe his disposition and the impact it has on everyone around him.
“What a Wonderful Life.”


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