Stories From the Heart: Odd Twist of Fate

“She’ll probably never walk.” Imagine the bleak picture this announcement evokes to a set of panicked parents. Concerned when their twenty-four-month-old daughter hadn’t begun to walk, a set of anxious parents took their child in for an examination, unaware such a proclamation would be made. Those were the exact words the doctors said to my parents.

After numerous tests, doctors proclaimed that I had Cerebral Palsy. It was predicted that I would probably never walk or speak or be a productive member of society. Once the diagnosis was made, years of difficult circumstances followed. I was placed in special education classes, as well as in occupational and speech therapy.

Although my disability was later labeled as “mild,” it was very pronounced in my younger years. I struggled to form an identity, which was a difficult undertaking when I was teased for being clumsy and weak.

From an early age, my peers taught me I was unacceptable. To survive, I often turned inward for salvation and peace. And that’s when I learned I had strength after all. The feelings came easily enough; the anger at being alienated, the sadness at being different, and the fear of not being able to find my place in the world.

I began to write down the pain. Only the written word allowed me to fully express myself. And after the hurt was written and therefore explored, it began to fade. Not entirely, of course. No one can live a lifetime without it. But the wounds began to heal as I wrote of promise, of hope, and of possibilities.

In school, I was able to excel in my English classes. I won several writing contests in elementary school. My D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) essay was voted to be the best by my sixth grade classmates. I had the honor of reading that essay in front of the entire school. In junior high school I excelled at advanced English. In high school, I wrote several compositions that earned me college scholarships.

Nine months after college graduation, I got a break that made me realize I may have found my purpose. My last college course’s final assignment was to do a research paper on a topic of importance to us. Since I was about to enter the work world, I chose the issue of disability disclosure during the job hunting process.

My professor loved my paper and mentioned I should get it published. I submitted my work to Careers & the Disabled. In the fall of 1999, my English paper became my first published article.

Over the last six years, I’ve had articles published in a variety of publications. I was editor-in-chief of Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve’s newsletter, The Preserve Press. I was an editorial assistant of a non-profit magazine. I had a short paragraph published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul’. And the proudest moment of my life occurred in September 2005 when I self published my first novel, ‘The Butterfly’s Dance’.

I have, thankfully, discounted the doomed prophecy of those doctors of yesteryear. Today I am a fully functional member of society. I have a college degree, live on my own, and earn my own income. I am a freelance writer and a published novelist. And I feel this is only the beginning.

An interesting thought occurred to me during this whole process. Without my disability, without the pain and the struggle to find my identity as a disabled person, this glorious gift of exploration wouldn’t have been possible.

It’s an odd twist of fate, I know. My love of writing would be unacknowledged if not for my disability. I now see that without my disability, I wouldn’t have discovered my true ability.

By Christyna Hunter

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: I Never Thought

Like everyone else I never thought that they would have a child with special needs. But I did. I knew that Kyler was special when he was born. He was born 3 weeks early by caesarean section, and weighed only 5 lbs. He was a clingy baby, always needing his mommy, never wanted to be left alone. When he got older, he was saying all kinds of words; book, bird, water, etc.

Then all of a sudden the words stopped. I didn’t hear the word mommy until he was almost 4. I would take him out with other moms and their kids, but I would always leave in tears. Kyler wouldn’t listen to me. I heard everything: “You need to learn to parent”,  “Why think about more kids when you can’t even be a mom to the one you have?”, “You are definitely not cut out to be a parent.” Their words hurt, but I pushed on.

When Kyler turned 3, we were told that Kyler was Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  Then he turned 4 we were told that he was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and when he was 6 we learned that he was Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, basically putting him on the Autism Spectrum.

But you know what? I’m not a bad mom, God graced me a beautiful little boy, who is smart, witty, funny and incredibly sweet. Kyler has taught me tolerance, and patience. He gifts me with laughter, and intelligence. A child with special needs can teach a person so much, without the child ever knowing it. It brings people closer together, and makes a person become more aware of the world around them.

No, I never thought that I would have a child with special needs, but I can’t imagine the world without him.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: My Sons Adventures

Oh, no, this cannot be happening this early! Christopher came into the world two and a half months early and weighed in at 2.7 pounds on August 22nd 1973. The doctors and nurses whisked by so fast that the waiting father and grandmother could not get an answer as to the gender of the tiny baby. Finally one doctor replied to their question, “It does not matter; it is going to die anyway.”

Well Christopher strongly disagreed, he was a fighter. Two months later he got to go home. A few weeks after he came home the visiting nurse arrived to a smoke filled house. I was young inexperienced mother and she arrived I was sterilizing the bottles, and as all the water boiled out it all melted. Thankfully as time went on I learned mothering skills.

When Christopher was around 6 years old, and other kids loved watching cartoons, his favorite TV show was the weather channel. And his favorite book was the telephone book! Christopher had learning problems in school, and other problems.

When he was 12 years old and by far the shortest child in class he started taking hormone shots just enough to help, and the shots stopped when the doctor told Christopher that the growth hormone was “doing wonderful things in his Fruit of the Looms”.

His adult height ended at 5`2″. However he was the strongest looking teenager with solid muscles from his weightlifting that he loved. He was in awe of body builders and also had no fear of anyone. He saw a rough looking burley tattooed man that towered over him and asked him, “Wow, you sure are buff, how much can you bench press?” the man answered him with a small smile on his face from the kids bravery, and possibly realizing that this was a young innocent teenager with a mental disability.

Christopher studied hard and graduated from his special education high school a year early. But then it seemed that is where his ambition stopped and his stepfather said to him, “Either you further your education or get a job, or you are out of here.” It was a tough love ultimatum.
Christopher responded with, “Then I guess I am out of here.” We assumed at first that he went for a walk.

About 3 weeks later the stepfather got a call from Arizona saying that Christopher had joined the circus and was doing a fine job, but thought he would like to know where he was. I had been worried sick over his whereabouts, and we booked a flight to go get him.

Christopher came home and told his story of hitch hiking from California and of walking allot, and climbing mountains by his fingertips to get there. This is just one story of his of how brave he is. There are so many more. As the saying goes: big things come in small packages.

Author Unknown

Stories From the Heart: Sensitivity Training 101

“I want to audition for the news show!” Christina said to me in a tone that could not disguise the fact that she had some sort of speech impediment. “I have an idea for the show. I’d like to do special announcements for the band. I play the drums.” She continued in an excited fast paced voice, as I struggled to comprehend every word.

I gave her some papers outlining the requirements for the anchor positions on our daily news show that I was in charge of at the high school. I told her I would notify her of her scheduled audition time. I then related the story of Christina to some co-workers.

I truly did not know how I was going to handle what I anticipated to be a very sensitive situation. My co-workers advised me that although admirable she couldn’t possibly do the job. Little did I know that later I was to have a crash course in sensitivity training that would guide me to a decision that would ultimately change not only my mind, but my life.

That weekend at a family party, my two brothers were trying to have a conversation. It was becoming quite heated because of the fact that one brother, John, has only ten percent hearing left, as a result of the explosion of the bombs from his days as a Green Beret in Vietnam. John is very special to me and has been through a lot in his lifetime.

John was trying very hard to hear his brother Larry above the music and other people talking. He kept asking Larry to repeat himself. Larry got agitated and made some comments about John not being able to hear.

John got up from the table and went outside. I went after him and found him standing by a small creek rolling some seeds around in his hand that he had just pulled off a bush. He was lost in deep thought. Are you all right? I asked.  “I’m tired of everyone telling me that I can’t hear every day of my life. I thought my own family would be a little more sensitive.”

“It`s only Larry, don’t worry about him”, I said. “I’m not mad at Larry. I am mad at myself for being like this” he said sadly.  I reassured him he had been through a lot, and that it wasn’t his fault. We didn’t say another word, but just walked back into the building and rejoined the party.

He has accomplished many things in his career and life and I look up to him as a strong role model. He has never once complained about any hardship life has dealt him. So, I felt that we had shared a special moment that afternoon and that a far greater power was teaching me something I needed to hear.

The next day Christina was scheduled to audition, but she never came in. The crew and I finished with the other students who had auditioned and turned the cameras and other equipment off. As I walked out of the studio I saw Christina.

“Why didn’t you come in for your audition?” I asked. She told me she never got my e-mails. I told her I felt really bad that the auditions were over but she’d have to come back next week.

She asked if she could just sit in front of the camera and see how it felt. “Sure” I said. As I watched, she sat there beaming. Then she said “I wish I could do it now”. “OK,” I said impulsively, “Let’s do it!”

After about four takes of reading from the papers that I had given to all the students for their auditions, she looked at me and said, “I’ll never make it, will I?” All of a sudden I felt an urge to get to know this ninth grader better. We started talking and I found out that Christina like my brother John had overcome many obstacles in her life.

She was born with a hearing impairment and she could only hear certain levels. She compensated for the rest by lip-reading. Had it not been for her working all summer with a speech therapist she wouldn’t have had the courage to try this. I was in awe of this girl. She had so much confidence, pride, and courage; I just knew that somehow I had to get her on the show.

I told Christina that I didn’t want to sound mean, but some students can be cruel and I wanted her to realize what she might be setting herself up for. We talked a while longer and after some consideration I told Christina that I would try out her original suggestion of doing a special announcement for the band.

I asked if she would take a few minutes and write a synopsis about the homecoming parade that the band had participated in that past weekend. I told her that I noticed that when she spoke to me in her own words I understood her better than when she was reading from the papers I had given her. I suggested that she practice it for a while until she felt comfortable. I told her “You`ll do fine.”

I gave her some time to write her story and to memorize it and then I came back to tape her. She had asked if she could get her drumsticks and incorporate them into her audition. Christina looked directly at the camera and performed flawlessly. She took her drumsticks and did a drum roll on the desk and flipped the drums at the camera. She said her closing statement. She was fantastic! I scheduled her for the following Monday morning show.

That weekend the band was going to play at Giant’s stadium. I told Christina to write her story, practice it until she really felt confident in saying it, get it approved by the principal and I’d put her on the show.  She was so excited. She asked if that meant that she had the job. I had previously shared my concerns about putting Christina on the air with the principal. We had pretty much decided that it would be difficult for her to do the show.

I called him after her audition and told him that I had decided to put her on the show. I briefly explained why I had come to my decision and I also mentioned that it was time to challenge our school’s theme, which is “Mutual Respect.” I told him how impressive she was and that he could see for himself because she was in the office waiting to speak to him. As I expected, she won him over.

On Monday, the principal escorted her to the studio and as he walked away just before airtime, he gave Christina thumbs up sign. Christina did her special announcement live throughout the school. The students were so attentive.

That day is one that will stay with me forever. The other members of the news crew were so supportive of Christina and cheered her on with smiles and thumbs up.  I had purposely not told them anything about Christina before hand, only that a member of the band was doing a special announcement. I was pleasingly surprised by their support and their reaction to her.

That week was filled with positive comments from staff and administrators, telling me what a nice thing I had done. My response was that I hadn’t done anything Christina deserved all the credit.

Shortly after Christina’s debut, she came to see me with a chocolate cornucopia filled with cookies and candy. She told me that it was a thank you from her mother for allowing her to be on the show.  I was touched beyond words. As I thanked her we hugged and tears welled up. In that moment I felt that my whole career in education had been worthwhile.

In the back of my mind, however, I knew that one other person deserved a hug – my brother, Johnny. He was the one who opened my eyes to Christina’s predicament. Christina is now our official anchor for the marching band and everyone looks forward to her next announcement. As for me, I can hear a little more clearly now.

By Angelina S. Wicks

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: The Race

The morning dew, clung to the grass, as the sun began to rise, a little girl stretched with a yawn, and rubbed her weary eyes. A day just like all others yet she managed still to smile. She peered out through her window, and dreamed a little while. This girl, like you was special, unique in her own way, her legs just didn’t have the strength, to run and jump and play.

She prayed each night that they would heal, so she too could share the fun. She wanted to giggle and laugh with all her friends beneath the warm sun. She longed to feel the soft cool grass, the sand between her toes, to walk among the falling leaves, and the cold and crisp snow.

She’d watch the others in their favorite game, in stance to start a race, all crouched down in a single line, such excitement on their face. She’d eagerly shout “Ready. Set. Go”, and they’d take off with a flash. “Oh”, she thought, “how glad I’d be, even if I came in last.”

And then one new and precious dawn, unlike the ones before, she peered out through her window, and rubbed her eyes some more. She thought she MUST be fast asleep, for never had she seen, anything quite as beautiful, not even in her dreams.

There stood a chestnut horse with a golden mane, with legs so large and strong. “Surprise!” she heard her parents shout. “He’s yours. He is not perfect, he’s blind and cannot see. He’ll trust in you to guide him, and together you’ll run free.”

They asked the girl to come and meet him, and they lifted her atop, this horse with a golden mane, and never again would another day, feel quite the same again. The answer to her prayers, for with her sight and his strong legs they’d be a perfect pair each day She practiced hard and learned to ride, this big and noble steed, and knew that she could do all things, if only she believed.

She brushed his coat until it shined, and whispered in his ear, “I never believed in miracles, before they brought you here.”
And then one day along came her friends. She joined them in their game. Her hands held tightly on to the reigns. Ready. Set. Go.

She gave her friends a running start, a fair and distant lead, then like a flash, she bounded forth, with her blind trusting steed. The wind rushed against her hair and she grinned from ear to ear, just then she looked ahead to see, the finish line drawing near.  She felt the spirit in this horse, run hard with all his might, for he now gave her legs to run, and she gave him his sight.

The two longing hearts now soared. The girl prayed for two strong legs, and God gave her four. Together we can do all things, if we only just believe, just as this girl who won the race, with her blind but noble steed.

By Lisa J Schlitt

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

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