Raising kids with disabilities inspires Wilsonville author
A self-described overachiever, Wilsonville resident Susan Traugh thought she had life down pat in her early adulthood.
She and her husband were well-educated teachers living in Los Angeles and imagined they'd raise kids who ended up on a similar trajectory while also adopting a couple of kids with disabilities.
Then, as Traugh put it: "God took care of that."
In fact, all three of Traugh's children ended up mentally or physically disabled. For Traugh, this misfortune became a blessing in disguise. And she turned the experience into a writing career.
Traugh has made a living writing dozens of books for educators across the world that provide instructions on how to navigate life with a mental or physical disability. She is a regular contributor to "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books and published a novel loosely based on the experience of her daughter, who has bipolar disorder.
"It doesn't look from the outside as successful as I assumed it would be by regular societal standards, but it's a much richer and nuanced and colorful journey than I ever knew existed," Traugh said. "I feel blessed to have my kids."
Traugh's oldest child fell from a second-story window as a baby, which fractured his skull and wiped out the left hemisphere of his brain. He endures terrible headaches.
One of Traugh's stories is about how her son overcame his affliction and became a stronger person because of it. Traugh's son now is a behavioral specialist for autistic young men. When Traugh once apologized to him about what happened, her son rejected the notion out of hand.
"He said 'What are you talking about? This is a gift to me. I'm very smart and capable and if I didn't have these challenges to overcome I wouldn't be as good of a person or capable person I am today,'" Traugh recalled.
Traugh's novel "Edge of Brilliance," a finalist at the San Diego Book Awards, is loosely based on her youngest daughter, who has bipolar disorder, and details the arc of the main character's journey from drug addiction to living in a residential facility for mentally ill teens. The story mirrors the "hero's journey." At that point, it was aspirational.
"Part of why I wrote it at the time, I didn't know if my daughter would get there at that point. I wrote what I wanted to happen, not what was happening, and thankfully she followed suit," Traugh said, adding that her daughter became a peer counselor and aspires to start a group for struggling teens.
Traugh's oldest daughter, meanwhile, is autistic and helps her mom fine-tune her daily living skills books. Some subjects Traugh delves into include interacting with public agencies and finding resources in the community, opening and managing a savings account as well as practicing good hygiene, mindfulness and proper behavior in social settings.
"I'm lucky I'm able to hit a very wide audience," Traugh said, adding that she sells books to teachers across the world.
Traugh started writing as a way to make a living while taking care of her kids from home, and her personal experience gave her the knowledge to write useful books for teachers and people with disabilities. Analogous books, Traugh felt, were either too baby-ish or academic. She tries to find a middle ground in her writing.
"I went looking for something, and there wasn't anything out there, so I started writing it," she said.
Her other work serves as a creative outlet and some of her "Chicken Soup for the Soul" stories veer away from her own family experiences. In one case, she reflects on a class she taught where students routinely played music for a classmate who was dying of kidney and liver failure. That student survived and eventually graduated from high school.
In another story, she details how she fostered the courage to confront and scare off a man attempting to assault her after she previously had been date raped.
Along with the theme of overcoming, truth is Traugh's priority.
"My kids are absolutely upfront about all their disabilities," she said. "I'm also very upfront about struggles I've had through life individually and raising kids with disabilities. Put it out there and tell the truth."
Traugh hopes her work illustrates that people with disabilities are not "screwups," as some may view them, but brave and heroic.
"They're people struggling against incredible odds to make their lives work, and I want people to see the hero in those kids," she said.
Traugh moved to Villebois with her daughters last year and is enjoying the community so far.
For more information about her work, visit www.susantraugh.com.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.