Stories From the Heart: Lessons from the Classroom

As I sat in the corner of a classroom alone and ignored on my first day of what was supposed to be a “wonderful experience”, I began to think that maybe I had been wrong to sign-up for Psychology Practicum. I had looked forward to taking part in Practicum- a “hands-on experience” that would bring the concepts I’d been learning about in my Psychology class to life- ever since my older sister had participated in the program and told me what a wonderful experience it would be for me.

By spending an hour of my day in a classroom for mentally and physically disabled students, I imagined that I would single handedly change the lives of several children. I would teach them to count, recognize colors, and I would give them immeasurable amounts of love and attention. Visions of the lessons I would teach and the good works I was about to perform had danced in my head as I wrote my name on the Practicum sign-up list.

I could not have been more wrong about what, or who, would be taught. The first day didn’t live up to what I had envisioned the experience to be. I was placed in an elementary school class of seven boys, but they were not as affectionate as I had hoped. They didn’t shower me with hugs and kisses. In fact, they barely even acknowledged me. I could not imagine how I was going to teach them to count if they would not even tell me their names.

As I headed for my car I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Not one single boy had so much as looked at me, and I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t just stayed in Home Economics, where I could have learned to bake cookies and gotten an easy A without the burden of writing daily journal entries about a bunch of children who did not know or care about my existence. I was wrong again.

The next day their little faces looked at me when I walked in the door, but they soon resumed their games of basketball and toy cars. On Wednesday they began to warm up to me and curiously wander towards my corner. By the last day of the week a little boy named Chandler ran up when I arrived and said, “My Anna is here!” Needless to say, by the end of my first week working with those seven boys, I was in love.

The ice had been broken, and every week after that, I grew closer and closer to “my” kids as they opened up to me more and more. By the end of the semester when I got there each day the kids would not stay in their seats because they were so eager to greet me at the door.

When I would leave at least one child would always run after me and beg to come back to school with me. They may have had physical or mental handicaps, but I still marvel and the unbelievable grasp they had on what was really important in life.

Though none of the children were physically blind, they were all blind to outside appearances. Though none of them will ever be able to obtain a degree in psychology, they were all amazingly sensitive to the emotional needs of others. Though many people may pity them, they were some of the happiest, most joyful people I have ever known.

Children with special needs are amazing, but that is not to say that working with disabled kids is always an easy job. It requires lots and patience and understanding, as I learned during my time in a special- needs classroom. However, for the special people who teach, parent, and befriend such children, the rewards far outnumber to trials.

Though some days I was ready to scream when I left the classroom, my heart was completely stolen. No matter what frame of mind I was in when I entered the classroom, by the end of the hour my spirits were completely lifted. One horrible day I was on my way back to school when I recognized the vehicle of my classmate and friend Andy in a ditch surrounded by police cars.

A few days later, the boy who I had gone to school, summer camp, and church with since I was just a toddler, died. When Andy passed away everyone in our entire school was devastated. His mother was our assistant principle, and every teacher, janitor, and student knew Andy’s mischievous ways and warm grin.

Afterwards I was so sad each day when I went to class. I never mentioned anything about Andy to the boys, and even if I had told them in words they would not have been capable of comprehending what I was telling them. Somehow the boys just seemed to know that I was sad, and they knew just what to do.

During the weeks after Andy’s death the boys were on there best behavior for me; I never had a single behavior problem. I also got more hugs from them than I had gotten in the rest of the semester combined.

I do not know if Xzavier will always remember his colors, but I know that I will remember the feeling I got each time he would hugged me, or asked me to play “baket bull” with him, even though he rarely got the ball in the hoop. He taught me that no matter what your disability is you can still smile and radiate with personality.

Xzavier cannot speak because he has a tracheotomy in his throat to help him breath. However, he has taught me not to judge people by what is on the outside. The first time I saw him I saw a little boy with a chipped front tooth and an incision in his throat that sometimes leaked mucus. I no longer see the tracheotomy, but instead I see a beautiful boy who laughs uncontrollably at the mention of “calling his mom” to report that he “pooted” at snack time.

Looking past outside appearance is just one of the many lessons those boys taught me. To explain everything I learned from them would be impossible, but I do know a few things for sure. I know that they have made an impact on my life that will last forever.

I also know that no text book could have even begun to teach me the lessons I learned from them. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from seven understanding and beautiful boys. They taught me lessons no one else could have, truths that have strengthened my character for a lifetime.

Author Unknown

 

* 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: 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.

Stories From the Heart: God Are You There?

God, are you there? Are you listening? Why us? That’s what I wanted to know, almost twenty-three years ago. I didn’t ask these questions twenty-four years ago when my daughter Danielle was born. Why would I? She had ten fingers, ten toes, was beautiful and was perfectly healthy.

My son, Keith was born thirteen months later and also had ten fingers, ten toes, was beautiful and had Down Syndrome. What happened? Why would God do this to us, to him, to his sister, to our family? I didn’t have the answers then.

I did know my husband and I had two beautiful children and we were very young ourselves. I was twenty-three and Ronnie was twenty-one. It was hard enough being married, let alone having two babies under thirteen months old. I remember being so scared. I also remember praying that I was going to wake up from this terrible nightmare. I did wake up, but the nightmare was still there, day after day. Finally I realized that I had better get strong and work for what the best for our family.

Danielle was such a good baby and helped me allot. She grew up very fast. I now realize that God gave us Keith because He knew we could handle it and that we would do our very best. I also know that God gave us Danielle first to pave the way for Keith. God and Keith both taught us all how to be accepting and loving at any cost.

I learned how to be a good mother to Danielle, and she taught me so much about her brother through all the good and bad times. I thought that Keith wouldn’t get to do the things she did in school, but he did, and in high school he was the bomb, she made sure of that.

Danielle has now become a Special Education Teacher and is doing a great job. When she got married almost two years ago, Keith and her dad walked her down the aisle, well, actually danced and laughed down the aisle.

When Danielle and her husband Trey announced to her dad and I that we are going to be grandparents in May 2006, to a baby girl, she also announced to her brother that he would be ” the world’s greatest uncle”.

I have learned so much from my children, but I have also learned that God did listen. He was listening before Danielle was born, and He was listening before Keith was born. He was always listening and still is. He gave me two beautiful and special children because He knew that we could handle anything with Him by our side.

So, yes, God is listening always and he gave us Keith and Danielle because these are the children we were meant to have, and we wouldn’t have it any other way! Sometimes there is no reason or understanding. All you can do is trust God.

Author Unknown

* 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: When Sarah Smiles

In May, 2004, my husband and I were in Pretoria, South Africa, visiting our daughter and son-in-law, their toddler, Grace, and newborn Sarah. We met Sarah in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where she lay attached to monitors.

Born with three holes in her heart, the defect had been detected before birth. Because this problem is a marker for Down Syndrome, more tests were done. The baby did, indeed, have DS. Although shaken by the diagnosis, her parents immediately established a positive attitude for family and friends by declaring, “The baby is still a gift; just in different wrapping.”

We all eagerly awaited the birth of the little person we already loved. Sarah went home at three-weeks-old, with open heart surgery looming in the near future. Lacking the strength to breast or bottle feed, she took formula and medication through a tube. A monitor watched her oxygen level; if it dropped too low, a buzzer sounded. She did well, and never “turned blue,” as we’d been told she might.

Admiration spilled over when I watched my daughter care for this fragile infant. The hospital sisters had taught Mom how to change the feeding tube, and she did it with speed and precision.

Within a week, we relaxed a bit and began treating Sarah like any newborn. She was a baby first, an invalid second. At three months, the cardiologist determined that time was of the essence; Sarah must have surgery. The surgery on her heart, the size of a walnut, went well and the organ began functioning as it should.

But a day later one lung collapsed, and doctors began a treatment that they warned might not be successful. We collectively held our breath and prayed. Sarah rallied, but we later learned that she almost didn’t survive. An infection kept her hospitalized a few days longer, but after three weeks in intensive care she went home, where she learned to suck a bottle and began life as an active baby.

Now back in this country, Sarah participates in physical therapy and speech therapy and has learned sign language. Through this early intervention, she has met all the goals set by her therapists and functions within the range of “typical” children in her age group.

Emily Perl Kingsley explained in an essay titled “Welcome To Holland” that when you become pregnant it’s like planning a trip to Italy, a place you dreamed of going. But when your baby is born with Down syndrome you feel as if something has gone wrong. You’re in Holland instead. After a while, she says, you learn that Holland is not a horrible place; it’s just different. In fact, it has much to offer. Still, all your friends have been to Italy, and always brag about what a wonderful time they had there.

Kingsley concluded: “For the rest of your life, you will say, ‘Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.’ And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a significant loss. But, if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”

I’ve been to Italy and Holland. None of their treasures is as charming and captivating as Sarah. We don’t know what challenges lie ahead for Sarah, but we’re confident she has the strength and determination to excel in whatever she tries. Each advance she makes is a significant blessing.

Her special gift is a dazzling smile, which comes easily. Her message, I believe, is that we all need to lighten up and wear a happy face. And we do, each time her impish grin and sparkling blue eyes remind us to do that.

By Madonna Dries

* 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: Cartwheels

Jesus Rios came into our lives when we were in the 7th grade. At the time, my friends and I were eating lunch on our usual table and spot in the lunch area. Jesus came down to eat lunch with us with a huge smile on his face saying, “I’m Jesus, Jesus Rios.”

We welcomed him with open arms into our lunch area, but we were a little surprised. We had never had anyone named Jesus, or anyone with Down Syndrome, come to eat lunch with us. I’m not sure if we had ever even talked to anyone with special needs before.

Jesus soon became just like any other person in our group. He loved to smile, make jokes, and tease just like anyone else would. Jesus loved to show off for all of us girls. He loved to have us all sit around while he put on a show doing cartwheels and dancing.

Jesus gave each of us a name of our own because he could never remember our names. My friend Jazmon became “Crazy Hair.” Our whole group was nicknamed “Pretty Girls” or “His Girlfriends.” The only person Jesus could ever remember by name was Gracie. She was always the heart and soul of the group and it wasn’t surprising that he only remembered her.

Jesus used to blame anything that went wrong on her. Gracie was always the patient one and didn’t mind to help him figure out a problem that was never her fault. I recall one time when he lost his pictures. He marched right up to Gracie and started yelling and pointing his finger at her and saying that she stole his pictures. Gracie very calmly took Jesus to find his pictures that mysteriously showed up at the bottom of his backpack.

My friend Malia and I invited Jesus to our double birthday party. Jesus was so excited, he could hardly contain himself. Everyday up to the party, he would tell everyone that Rebecca invited him to a party and that they weren’t invited. (Yes, he finally learned my name).

When his dad dropped him off for the party he stayed for awhile to give us instructions on what Jesus could and couldn’t eat. We would find Jesus sneaking all the candy he wasn’t supposed to eat anyways. Malia brought him outside and taught him how to hula dance. He probably had it down better than the rest of us. A few girls at the party put on a play with Jesus. Jesus really didn’t get what they were doing so he just ran around the yard doing cartwheels and dancing to his own beat. Jesus was the life of the party.

Jesus joined our group to the 8th grade dance. He looked very handsome with his bow tie and suspenders. He danced each of the slow songs with a different girl from our group. Jesus made each dance, party, and lunchtime more memorable than any I have ever had. Our times together were not always fun and dandy. We constantly had to defend Jesus and get him out of fights.

A certain group of boys never seemed to get off his back. None of us noticed that they constantly picked on him until they did right in front of us. (Not a smart move on their part) We defended poor Jesus until each of us had lost our voice and gotten into trouble for yelling. We were all angry until we looked at Jesus’ smiling face showing us that he appreciated everything we had just done.

From that day forward, no one dared to mess with Jesus. Jesus taught our whole group how to love and respect others even if they are a bit different. We would have never guessed that Jesus could be so much fun and just as crazy as the rest of us. He was a great person to talk to, and some of most meaningful conversations at that age were with Jesus.

We all reached high school together seeing each other briefly in the halls. But just like many wonderful friendships, our group fell apart. When I see Jesus in one of his classrooms, he always comes right out and says proudly, “This is my girlfriend.” And I proudly say back, “Yes I am!”
Thank you Jesus, you changed all of us for the better.

Author Unknown

* 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: It Was My Understanding

It seemed like my little sister was always happy. She only cried when Mother or I wouldn’t let it be her way. It was cute and made me happy inside. But my sister Vada wasn’t like my other sister’s. Due to complication’s at birth she was mentally handicapped.  I didn’t understand when I was younger. It didn’t seem to compute with me that my 2 year old little sister was handicapped. Over the years I did understand though, even if it wasn’t easy.

I was jealous often of her. My Mom was always telling me “Your sister has special needs Hun, you know that.” Yes of course I knew that, but didn’t want to accept it, and everything that it meant. I wanted attention too. I got wonderful grades and did great things and here this girl who could barely speak properly, didn’t seem to understand barely anything, and she was the star of the show. It didn’t seem fair.  I was so childish. Now when I think back about how I felt I’m asking myself, “Why was I so horrible?”

Vada would always be looked at differently. People would always treat her specially because she was special. I think I tried excluding her mainly when I was pushed on to take care of her. Mom and my Step-father needed my help with her, so I was stuck with Vada. I cooked for her, played with her, got her dressed, and put her on the bus to school. She was always with me, and I was with her.

Then one summer day I finally understood her. Her and I were playing outside with my friends. She couldn’t keep up with us, and everyone was getting aggravated that I had brought her along.

“Why did you bring that retard for?” they asked me. For the first time I was angry someone had said that. I look at Vada sadly and then back to them with a scowl. “She’s not a retard! She’s my sister and my best friend, and you will never understand her the way I do!”

That night when I put her to sleep, Vada smiled at me and asked, “Jewel love me?” I nodded and inside wanted to cry. “Of course, I will always love you, and always have.” Vada was my angel, my little sister who meant the world to me.

Now Vada and I are still close. Many times she annoys me, as little sisters often do, when I’m with my friends, or my guy, but I always take time to spend with her and let her know I love her.

I guess it just took a while for me to understand that just because she was different, didn’t make her wrong. Vada wasn’t a mistake, or something not meant to be: she was my sister. I wouldn’t change that for anything.

Author Unknown

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

Contact Info

Toll Free: 1-866-9AUTISM (928-8476)

New York Office: 244 5th Avenue New York, NY 10001 Fax: 1-780-416-4330,

Canadian Office: 11007 Jaspar Ave Edmonton, Alberta T5K 0K6

Copyright 2017 © All Rights Reserved

1 in
45

Diagnosed with Autism

Over
100

Autism Diagnosis a Day

Costs
238

Billion per Year

Boys are
4

Times More at Risk