I went to an inclusion conference in Denver a few years ago. This conference is designed to educate families, teachers and administrators on the benefits of inclusion. I wish everyone would go to this conference. It was such a great view into the lives of those who are affected by all different kinds of disabilities. A common thread at this conference was the determination parents had to make a difference for their children. What moved me most, the personal stories shared by the individuals who were labeled with disabilities… their stories, who motivated them, how they felt, and what they were currently doing.
One young man with Downs Syndrome shared a story about his early childhood. His mother was taking him to school in his wheel chair and the crossing guard said to her, something to the effect, but not a quote…. Your son is never going to be able to cross the street, why do you keep bringing him to school? The young man telling his story clicked a button and a slide show started. The first picture was of him showing off his black belt in Karate. Oh my goodness, the lump in my throat... huge! His mother helped him see his own abilities. Her perseverance encouraged him enough to have the determination to go the distance. He didn’t stop at the black belt; he went on to open a gym for other individuals with Downs Syndrome. Those words from the crossing guard seem to have inspired him.
Another young man told his story. He rode the special bus to school because that's what kids did who were disabled. When he was about ten years old, he realized, he was different. The special bus wasn’t so special after all. This bus set him apart from the other students at the school. The bus told his peers, “He was different, disabled, and basically… incapable”. The bus told him, "He wasn't good enough to ride with the typical kids." As he talked, my heart ached for him. The pain he felt as a child was great. This experience motivated him to show the world he did have capabilities. If I remember correctly, he became a writer, sharing his story, through poetry.
The next experience was the one that affected me the most. I was a bit early to this session. I grabbed a seat in the back, unaware this was going to help me hide my overwhelming emotions. I sat and waited. Before long, a projector turned on at the front of the room. I watched words start to form across the screen. I wasn’t feeling so smart for sitting in the back at this point because I couldn’t see who was typing. It wasn’t long before the crowd shifted to their seats and I saw the typist. He was in his early twenties. He wanted another soda and was typing away, requesting for his mom to bring him one. As soon as he stopped typing, he gazed at the words he wrote and then read them aloud, “Mom, I want another Pepsi, please.” I lost it. My tears fell faster than the tissues could catch them. If he typed something, it made it possible for him to repeat what he read aloud, but spontaneously he had difficulty forming his thoughts, typing them first was a necessity. I had never seen anything like this before. It was awesome. If you are thinking "Autism", you are right. His mom and a team of professionals spent years working with him, determined to bring his abilities forward. He was in college, working towards a degree. Although his lessons took him longer than his colleagues, he didn’t become discouraged, he wanted his degree and was going for it.
What makes you determined? I was talking to one of the mom’s at school one day. I said to her, “how do you stay so thin?” She said, “Exercise is a priority, my house isn’t clean”. For her, priority created determination. For the young men, from the inclusion conference, it was their parents’ perseverance that motivated them and gave them the determination to rise above the label of their disability. For me, my determination comes from the smile on Alyssa’s face. She is incredibly enthusiastic and happy. I, like most moms, will do anything for my child, my angel. I want the world to see her shining smile and know Autism is a label, not a priority, whereas, her happiness is.
Thank you for reading and have a great week! Angie