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Local mom has special bond with son

Sharon Stratton’s love gives her developmentally disabled youngest child a life well-lived
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Being a mother is a life filled with love for a son or daughter but for moms like Sharon Stratton that commitment is even stronger. Stratton’s youngest child is developmentally disabled. But he is no longer a child. Chad Stratton is 35, and lives with his mother. For the past 19 years, Stratton has cared for Chad on her own as a single mother, helping him through the everyday challenges of life for a man whose mental age ranges from 12 in the best situations to a toddler’s in others. Being a full-time mom of a developmentally disabled adult like Chad means turning the shower on for him to make sure he doesn’t burn himself. It means cooking and preparing meals for someone unable to do it himself. It also means helping achieve small, few victories. Like teaching Chad to tie his shoes. Or watching him clean his plate in the sink after dinner without being asked. Or the bond Chad and his 4-year-old cockatiel have forged. “He’s very unique,” Stratton said. “He’s just Chad.” Being Chad’s mother is difficult at times but Stratton said she wouldn’t have done anything differently. With the emotional support of two other adult children, who live in other Northern California communities, Stratton said she feels her son is being given the chance to live a wonderful life. “I don’t know,” Stratton said, when asked why she makes the commitment she does in time and love to her son. “It’s just being a mother, I guess. I can’t imagine not having him in my life and with him, it’s the same.” The two now live in Lincoln after several years in Auburn. Chad is a client at the Adult Achievement Center in Meadow Vista, which helps developmentally disabled people with self-support, family and learning skills. He’s one of 400 people the umbrella organization Placer ARC (Advocacy, Resources and Choices) serves in the area. At Meadow Vista, Chad joins about 70 other developmentally disabled adults from age 18 to 92 for daily activities. Cherelle Chamberlain, program administrative assistant, gets to see Chad and his mother on a daily basis. Sharon Stratton, who just turned 61, works on staff at the center. Chad and Sharon Stratton recently returned from a vacation to Cancun, Mexico, where they snorkeled and rode horses. Chamberlain said she saw a mother’s level of commitment when, after a late flight home, Chad was at the center the next morning. “Even on a day off and she was ill, they were here because it was important to them for Chad not to miss any activities,” Chamberlain said. As parents of developmentally disabled adults age, choices become limited. Once they become incapacitated or pass away, their child may become a ward of the court. Many of the adults Placer ARC works with are under government-funded care. Stratton said her 41-year-old son and 40-year-old daughter have indicated they’re willing to take over as caregivers after she is unable to. Chad, who is normally uncommunicative with strangers, becomes a different person in the comfort of his home, Stratton said. That’s when his mother sees the Chad she most loves as he comes out of the shell many see at the Adult Achievement Center and starts talking non-stop. Stratton’s commitment isn’t something that Chad can conceptualize and appreciate on the level many sons and daughters would. She said it’s understood that the gift he made on Thursday for Mother’s Day was something that wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for an instructor assisting and materials being in place for the project. “On his own, he wouldn’t do anything for Mother’s Day,” Stratton said. On Friday, Chad was given potting soil, a pot and a marigold to build a simple gift for his mother. He completed it and then decided he wanted to give it to a developmentally disabled woman at the center. Stratton doesn’t take offense, understanding her son’s challenges since birth. Mother’s Day will be a quiet one, with the two probably going out for a meal, Stratton said. But there is a bond between mother and son that transcends the cards, gifts and symbols of a day honoring motherhood. Stratton said she can squeeze out a semblance of recognition of the love that her son has difficulty intellectualizing. “If we have a disagreement, he’ll say ‘Let’s try this again’ and hold out his arms to hug me,” Stratton said. “And once or twice lately, he’s said ‘You’re the only mom I have – I love you.’ It’s something new.” And something to hold onto tightly on Mother’s Day. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.