Teen Goes From Special Ed To Valedictorian

For Chance Mair, sometimes emotions are hard to express.

And it was certainly an emotional night in suburban Seattle at Marysville Arts and Technology High School’s graduation earlier this week, where the students filed into the auditorium in black gowns and royal-blue stoles.

Not only was Mair graduating with the 50 seniors in his class, he was the class valedictorian. And he would be giving the valedictorian address, a momentous occasion for a student who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at an early age.

Mair had never told most of his classmates he has Asperger’s. Never told them he had started his schooling in a special education classroom, or that he received social therapy treatment when he was younger.

“It’s one of those things that for the longest time I didn’t want to tell people,” he said earlier in the day. “But now that I’m graduating, I don’t want to hold it back. I want people to know me for who I really am.”

Growing up in Marysville, Wash. Mair spent his childhood learning how to overcome sensory struggles that come naturally to other children.

Having Asperger’s meant he didn’t talk much, and he had difficulties understanding the nuances in body language. He was overly sensitive to loud noises and strong flavors. His parents recount stories where he would struggle to tell his peers he wanted to play with them, standing quietly by their side.

“I can know that I need to say something and I can feel the confidence to say it when I’m playing it out,” he said. “But then when I get to that step where I actually have to do it, like the execution, that’s when I tense up and get really nervous, really scared.

“Sometimes it’s not even a shyness, sometimes it’s like a fear, a fear of socialness.”

His parents knew his success depended on finding a place where he could build his social skills — and have fun doing it, too.

One way he did that was through bowling. He became fascinated with the sport when he was about 5 years old, playing with different teams in bowling alleys around the Marysville area.

“Diversity is one of the reasons I like it. There’s no one kind of person, there’s no one way you can bowl,” he said. “There are so many possibilities, I guess.” Continue reading Teen Goes From Special Ed To Valedictorian

One woman’s fight to improve mental health care in China

In 1985, Meng Weina set up China’s first private special needs school in the southern city of Guangzhou.

As a single mother she was motivated to help those who are often overlooked by the country’s health care system and stigmatized by society.

From her first center in Guangzhou, Weina now has Hui Ling operations in a dozen cities across China providing a range of services, from kindergartens and primary schools to youth workshops and adult residential homes.

The expansion of the donation-funded NGO shows not just the success of the Weina’s vision but the desperate need for mental health care provision in China.

“We estimate that only 10% of people with intellectual disabilities in China are receiving some kind of care or help,” said Weina.

According to a 2009 study published in British medical journal The Lancet, around 173 million Chinese suffer from a mental disorder. However there are only 20,000 psychiatrists, equaling 1.5 for each 100,000 people, or a tenth of the ratio in the United States.

Mental health legislation

Last year saw the introduction of China’s first mental health legislation, which took a reported 27 years to pass.

Among the changes from the law are new financing initiatives for mental health services and training for primary care-givers. Perhaps the most significant was a new set of rights for patients, including not being hospitalized against their will.

Negative perceptions of those with metal health problems are often portrayed in the media in China; they are either victims or perpetrators of violence.

Weina knows that each individual that comes to a Hui Ling center has their own set of needs and unique personality, and helping bring out their best encourages her to keep working.

“I wanted to do something to make my life worth while,” said Weina.

“When I see the smiles on their faces, when I see that these adults are truly happy to be at Hui Ling, that for me is the happiest moment.”

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Honoring the ADA and the History, Art, and Culture of the Disability Community with the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center

The weekend of July 24 through 26, 2015 brings a nationwide celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26th, 1990, capping decades of legal efforts and activism to end discrimination against people with disabilities. To honor this historic event, leaders in the disability rights community, advocates, community members and politicians will gather on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History to mark this historic moment and highlight the ADA’s ongoing legacy in American life.

The Smithsonian Institution’s celebration will start on Friday, July 24, 2015, on the terrace of the National Museum of American History with a large discussion stage where topics such as the passage of the ADA, legal issues, advocacy, employment and the future of disability rights will be explored. Also on hand will be exhibits by federal agency partners and workshops in theater, dance, music and visual arts. Visitors can view a modified Corvette race car. There will be a number of hands-on activities and demonstrations. The museum store will host a trunk show of items from artists with disabilities. The celebration will start winding down on Sunday at noon with the ADA birthday party and a reading of a letter from George H.W. Bush along with a visit from the legendary ADA25 Legacy Bus, which has been traveling the country.

Inside the museum, the celebration will continue with a showcase of objects from the national collections that capture the significance and legacy of the ADA through the stories of four people. There will be a film festival of documentaries from filmmakers with disabilities followed by a discussion and a facilitated conversation on Latinos and the ADA. Additionally, actor and performance artist Mat Fraser will perform his one-person, original piece, “Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability Was Kept in a Box.” Fraser’s creative take on attitudes about disability is equal parts cabaret, incisive lecture and humorous commentary on museum displays of human difference.

From July 16 through 26, 2015, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 40th anniversary of VSA with 11 days of free programming highlighting the rich history, art and culture of the disability community. VSA, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program of the Kennedy Center, is dedicated to providing opportunities for people with disabilities of all ages across the globe to learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts.

Kennedy Center performing arts programming will include ten Millennium Stage performances by artists with disabilities opening with comedian Josh Blue and ending on July 26th with a performance by Mary Lambert. It will also feature a dance party and film screening for the inaugural year of TiLT, a youth multimedia competition themed on the disability experience.

In addition, seven art exhibitions by visual artists with disabilities will be on display at the Kennedy Center. Highlights include the Focus Forward exhibition, which features work from previous VSA Emerging Young Artists, and an exhibit examining Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s contributions to the passage of the ADA legislation with two portraits from the VSA Permanent Art Collection of Senator Kennedy by well-known artists Andy Warhol and Jamie Wyeth. The other exhibits showcase the work of photographers whose art brought disability pride to the public’s attention, universal design, the VSA Permanent Art Collection and a look at eight individuals whose lives were impacted by VSA.

The ADA is not the end of the fight for equal rights for the disability community but it was a historic step that should be honored and celebrated. Over 75,000 people are expected to join in this celebration and we hope that you will be one of them. For additional information on both celebrations go to http://www.2540celebration.com/ (website will launch June 4, 2015) or email access@si.edu.

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NYT: Martin Sheets, Who Shone at the Special Olympics, Dies at 62

Martin Sheets, who became a face of the Special Olympics, winning more than 250 medals competing for more than 40 years in its events for people with intellectual disabilities, died on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C. He was 62.

He had dementia, his family said.

Mr. Sheets, born with Down syndrome, competed in golf, swimming, Alpine skiing, tennis and powerlifting at the Special Olympics, his participation in the movement going back to its first international summer games, at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1968.

He became ill after arriving there and was unable to compete, but at a banquet concluding the event, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics, having learned of his disappointment, walked over to his table.

“I understand you trained to come to the games but you got sick,” she said. “Well, Marty, for your guts and your effort, I want you to have a gold medal, too. Here you go. Marty Sheets, the winner of the special gold medal for bravery.”

She draped it around his neck. Continue reading NYT: Martin Sheets, Who Shone at the Special Olympics, Dies at 62

Chicago Tribune: Autism no obstacle for boy, 13, handling duties at former teacher’s wedding

Dressed in a freshly starched tux with a pale pink tie, Will McCall tapped the microphone, looked at the audience and began reciting the John Lennon lyrics chosen by the bride and groom.

He had practiced for days, memorized a sheet of instructions, and now the moment had come.

“Grow old along with me/ The best is yet to be/ When our time has come/ We will be as one

At 13, the Glencoe boy just wants to be like everyone else. He hates the word “autism,” a condition that has often kept him in separate classrooms and schools. So he was elated when asked to be in the wedding of his former teacher and baby sitter, Melissa Newman.

While people with autism often struggle socially, Will thrives around other people and has come a long way since Newman met him at age 4, when he used to hide from family members, she said.

“He’s grown up a lot in the past year,” Newman, 33,of Wheeling said. “He can be proud and comfortable instead of being scared.”

This month,Will and his sister, Taylor, 11, walked down the aisle as a junior groomsman and junior bridesmaid at Newman’s wedding to Benjamin Burke in Lincolnshire.

Will’s parents were nervous and excited about their son’s role — and admittedly relieved that he read the lyrics without too much embellishment.

“He might decide to sing a song,” his father, Chip McCall, said later. “I am glad he stuck with the script.”

At Will’s tux fitting a few days earlier, he admired himself in the mirror. “I am very handsome,” he murmured, then asked his mother, “Can I wear this when we get home?”

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WAMU: How A Blind Maryland Boy Defines His Life With His Music, Not His Disability

If you ask anyone who attended the 22nd annual Fiddler’s Convention in Berlin, Maryland, this past September, the moment they likely remember the most is when singer/songwriter Frankie Moran was strumming his guitar as his 12 year-old son Cole played the harmonica.

Their performance brought hundreds of people to their feet and many others to tears. And it wowed the judges enough to earn a 2nd place prize.

Cole waved to the crowd as he left the stage, but he couldn’t see the joy his music had brought the audience. That’s because Cole Moran was born blind, and was soon diagnosed with Charge syndrome. It’s a rare pattern of birth defects that can cause heart and breathing problems, along with a range of other medical conditions.

“He has cognitive delays”, says his dad Frankie, “So he’s on a much slower learning level. He’s got apraxia, so he didn’t start speaking until he was about 5. He has one kidney, and he has early on-set scoliosis.”

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The Arc: Conversation Guide and Pathways to Justice™ Video

This easy-to-use tool can be used to inform criminal justice professionals – law enforcement, victim service providers and attorneys – about the need for effective disability-related training in your state or community!

NCCJD’s new “Pathways to Justice™” video highlights challenges faced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system. This powerful tool educates criminal justice professionals, including law enforcement, victim advocates, legal professionals and others in the criminal justice system about cracks in the system that can have devastating effects. Only 4 minutes long, it’s a great conversation starter to use with local police departments, victim advocacy agencies, prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices and others to introduce the topic and explain why effective, ongoing training is needed.

Disability Scoop: Doctors Often Skip Protocols For Antipsychotics, Study Finds

As an increasing number of kids are prescribed powerful antipsychotics, a new study finds that many doctors are deviating from established medical guidelines when they dole out the scripts.

In nearly half of cases, physicians failed to conduct lab tests to measure cholesterol and blood-glucose levels in patients before and after they began taking antipsychotics, according to findings published this month in the journal Pediatrics.

Such lab tests are recommended to mitigate the elevated risk of conditions like high cholesterol and diabetes associated with such medications, researchers said.

Nonetheless, the study found that physicians were generally prescribing antipsychotics to the right patients. In 92 percent of cases, doctors were using the drugs to address situations where they were warranted, most commonly as a secondary treatment for aggression or mood instability.

For the study, researchers sent surveys to every physician in Vermont who prescribed antipsychotics to children covered by Medicaid between July and October 2012. Ultimately, 147 of the doctors — who accounted for prescriptions for 647 patients — responded to questions about their prescribing habits.

The findings suggest that more needs to be done to ensure that doctors follow established protocols when they prescribe antipsychotics, researchers said. Specifically, better training, greater sharing of records and use of electronic medical records to remind providers about blood work could help, they said.

“I’m not anti-antipsychotics; I just want to make sure they’re used very carefully,” said David Rettew of the University of Vermont who led the study. “These findings could help us design a game plan for measures to improve best-practice prescribing.”

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Online Bazaar Raises Funds for L’Arche International

As part of an international federation of 147 communities in 35 countries, L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. is committed to building awareness about and raise funds for L’Arche communities in developing countries. These communities receive little or no funding from their governments, often leaving them struggling to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, medicine, and assistant salaries.

According to L’Arche International’s web site, “Solidarity means to network with other international organizations, to contribute to conferences and public forums in order to influence society to bridge the gap between a society that neglects its weakest members and one that invites them to actively participate in public life.”

HuffPost: Dear Hiring Manager: All the Disability-Related Skills I Can’t Put on My Resume

Dear Hiring Manager,

By now, you’ve probably skimmed over my meticulously-worded resume, and maybe you’ve even made up your mind as to whether I’m as qualified as the nearly identical resumes of my fellow recent graduates. You may have even Googled me and seen the many blogs I have written about my disability and have formed your opinion on them. As I have been told by many human resources professionals, disability is a subject that can scare many off because of the perception of weakness, inefficiency and need. However, I could create a completely different application package including all of my disability and chronic illness-related skills and accomplishments, one that paints a far more complete picture of my potential as an employee. So, without further ado, here are my disability-related job skills, in cover letter form.

As a seven-year Crohnie (Crohn’s Disease patient) and proud member of the disability community, I am used to upholding my responsibilities in a fast-paced and challenging environment. From the time I was diagnosed in high school, I was intent on ensuring that my medical issues did not get in the way of my ambitions, and even completed my academic courses around the time of my diagnosis while completely bedridden. I was able to graduate from college a year early, Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, while adapting to a rapidly changing medical situation, including hospitalization for an intestinal blockage during my summer college courses. I am used to operating under pressure, and have gained experience with remembering complicated information while under a number of prescription pain medications. Despite the need for these medications at the time, I completed my coursework ahead of schedule while working part-time and completing three internships. I never let my medical situation hinder my determination to complete my work, once tottering to a class two hours after a minor surgical procedure.

Organization is one of my greatest strengths, and in 2014 alone, I was able to successfully schedule approximately two doctors’ appointments a week for five months (most after working hours) while working full-time, coordinating among medical imaging facilities and various specialists and organizing each appointment in a color-coded calendar. This organization and the coordination of my medical team led to the discovery of an infection, and although this was a difficult hurdle to overcome due to the treatments and pain, I upheld my duties at my job and never used my medical situation as an excuse to do less. My other skills include digesting complicated information, including possible treatment routes and unfamiliar medical conditions. Clear communication skills have been essential so that I can advocate for myself when I disagree with a proposed treatment route or procedure. I also have ample experience with multitasking by writing concise correspondence, conducting research and scheduling appointments while receiving IV treatments.

Most importantly, I want these skills to reflect that my disability does not define my usefulness, and my history with chronic illness should only be used to strengthen my accomplishments. Very often, people with disabilities are written off because employers are unsure as to whether they will be able to keep up with the work successfully. A person without a disability is not held up to this same standard of having to prove himself or herself, while a person with a disability is asked to repeatedly prove that their disability will not slow them down. My entire life since the age of 15 has shown that my complicated medical history has never slowed me down, and I am proud to say that I have achieved everything on my resume while dealing with my medical issues. The existence of my Crohn’s Disease only bolsters my accomplishments in my eyes, and it should never be used to question whether I am “less than able” to complete the job.

Dear Hiring Manager, I am not my disability, but my disability is a part of me. It causes complications in my life, but the ways in which I have overcome those obstacles should carry more weight than the obstacles themselves. I have been determined and passionate as I have challenged myself to strive for my ambitions, and those are the qualities I can offer you. If you want a determined, passionate, striving and successful individual, please consider hiring me, or any other applicant with a disability.

Sincerely,

Sarah Blahovec