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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