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

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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Disability Scoop: Oscar Contender Depicts Parents Coping With Son’s Diagnosis

A short film documenting the intimate thoughts and fears of a couple after learning that their baby was born with a rare disability is up for an Oscar.

Polish film student Tomasz Śliwiński and his wife Magda Hueckel turned the camera on themselves when they learned that their son Leo had congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, also known as Ondine’s Curse. The condition keeps the boy from breathing while he sleeps and means he will likely face a lifetime of relying on a ventilator.

“We really felt our life ended at that time,” Śliwiński told TODAY. “We thought we had to be locked at home with Leo, have no friends, so filming was therapy for us.”

Called “Our Curse,” the documentary follows the couple as they adjust during their son’s first months of life, coping with an array of medical equipment needed to keep the boy alive, confronting their own fears and learning to love Leo.

The footage includes frank conversations between Śliwiński and Hueckel on the couch in their Warsaw home with Śliwiński going so far as to express his concern that his son may commit suicide when he’s able to understand his disability.

Now 4, however, Śliwiński told TODAY that Leo is doing well and learning to speak and the family is moving forward.

“The therapy is over and we have to start living. It was natural we had to stop shooting this and start enjoying life as fully as we can,” the filmmaker said.

The 27-minute film is one of five nominated in the documentary short subject category. The winner will be announced at the Academy Awards on Sunday.

Disability Scoop: Pets May Boost Social Skills In Kids With Autism

Living with dogs, cats or other pets may help children with autism acquire social skills, researchers say in a new study that finds greater engagement among those with animals in the home.

In a survey of 70 families with children on the spectrum ages 8 to 18, researchers found that those with a pet displayed more prosocial behaviors.

“Children with any kind of pet in the home reported being more likely to engage in behaviors such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people’s questions,” said Gretchen Carlisle of the University of Missouri who worked on the study published recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Carlisle said that animals may serve as a social catalyst for children with autism, prompting kids to interact more than they might otherwise.

“Kids with autism don’t always readily engage with others, but if there’s a pet in the home that the child is bonded with and a visitor starts asking about the pet, the child may be more likely to respond,” she said.

Social skills continued to increase the longer families owned a pet, the study found. Children reported the strongest attachments with smaller dogs, though parents also indicated that their kids had deep bonds with other pets including cats and rabbits.

Of the families in the study, 57 had a pet of some kind. Most had dogs or cats, but the research also included families with fish, farm animals, rabbits, reptiles, a bird and a spider.

“Dogs are good for some kids with autism but might not be the best option for every child,” Carlisle said. “Kids with autism are highly individual and unique, so some other animals may provide just as much benefit as dogs.”

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NYT: Hoping for Smiles, Mother Gives Autistic Son a Spider-Man Party

The boy stood alone in the dim hallway of the housing project community center. He stared at a row of lockers, at a vending machine, at nothing.

In the next room, children and their parents and grandparents shouted and laughed over dance music booming from somebody’s speaker. The party was up and running.

The boy’s name was Jamel Hunter, and the party, on a Saturday night in East Harlem in November, was for him. He had just turned 8. His family did not notice him leave the party room and slip outside to the hall. They were used to that.

After a while, Jamel came back.

Every available surface of what, an hour earlier, had been an empty community room had been decorated in the colors and likeness of Jamel’s favorite superhero, Spider-Man. There were Spider-Man balloons, cupcakes, a spider made of frosting on the birthday cake, even a homemade pin-the-tail-on-Spider-Man game.

Jamel’s mother, Phyllis Atwood, 46, sat and looked around. A Spider-Man mask dangled around her neck. She was already wiped out. She had put a lot of work into this night, from reserving the room to finding the theme song to the Spider-Man television show to making her famous potato salad. The night was part party and part prayer, for it was a first for Jamel, and she wanted it to be perfect.

Jamel has autism, and slight variations from his routines can be jarring, sending him into screaming fits or silent retreats to his own thoughts. The party was a huge leap. The volume of the music, the rows and rows of trays of barbecue and soft drinks and desserts, the brightly colored balloons — it was as if Ms. Atwood were making up for lost time, throwing him three or four parties at the same time. Continue reading NYT: Hoping for Smiles, Mother Gives Autistic Son a Spider-Man Party

Irish Times: My Spina Bifida life: ‘Hi, I’m David. I’m a stand-up comedian’

Corkman talks of his journey from mainstream school to university in London

“I had a lifesaving operation just after I was born. I was diagnosed with spina bifida before birth. These days, you can treat babies for spina bifida in the womb, but that wasn’t an option for me. My back had to be mended because I had a huge wound for a small person.

My mother is a nurse and I have an uncle who’s a doctor. Because of their medical backgrounds, they were able to make decisions that were necessary for me. They built up their knowledge of spina bifida. I had other health issues associated with spina bifida, but nothing long term. My health is very good, considering.

I was only three when I first started using a wheelchair. Until then, I used to crawl a lot. I don’t remember being told what I had, but from the age of three I developed an awareness of being somewhat different. That really came to light in primary school. When all the boys in the class were playing soccer and I couldn’t, it affected me. But to compensate for that, my parents encouraged me towards doing wheelchair sports. I did swimming and athletics, but I didn’t make it to the Paralympics.

Children can be cruel, but the funny thing was that anyone I had a problem with wouldn’t actually make light of my disability or say anything about my wheelchair. It’s a taboo subject and not something that people generally would use as a weapon. It was always something else; your hair, or your teeth, or your glasses.

When I started going to school in 1996, people with my condition were still going to special schools. My parents didn’t want that in any shape or form.

They were always pushing me to my best potential. They sent me to a mainstream school and I wanted that too, even though I didn’t know the difference at five years of age.

Disability rights
In my teenage years, I started to develop a consciousness about the rights of people with disabilities. When I got to the age where I was able to go into town, I started to notice a lot of places that were inaccessible to me.

A lot of nightclubs in Cork are upstairs, some without lifts. My dream would be that Ireland would catch up with some states in the US where every facility has to be fully accessible. In some places in the US, if a pub, club or cafe doesn’t have wheelchair-accessible toilets, they’re closed down and there’s no arguing about it. I’ve always pushed myself to get to places. I’ll get out of my wheelchair and crawl up a stairs if I have to.

I’m ambitious. I’m always thinking one step ahead. I won the UCC Graduate of the Year award for 2013. To win it, I had to get first-class honours every year in my exams as well as taking on extracurricular work.

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NPR: How Hema Ramaswamy Found Healing Through Traditional Indian Dance

Jewish girls go through the bat mitzvah, 15-year-old Latinas celebrate the quinceanera. And for generations of Indian-American girls, the culmination of years of studying classical Indian dance is a lavish solo performance before a crowd of hundreds. Reporter Arun Venugopal of member station WNYC attended what may have been the first such performance by a woman with Down syndrome.

An arangetram, which literally means “ascending the stage,” is a major accomplishment that takes years of preparation. This moment, when a student of dance or music asserts her artistic independence, usually happens in the teen years. Ramaswamy is 23.

Ramaswamy, who has Down syndrome, originally began dancing for health reasons. “But then it became part of her, and she really loves and enjoys it, and it took her 13 years with a lot of challenges, midway, to complete this,” explained her father, Ram. “And now today is a perfect day for her — her graduating in this art.”

She was able to achieve this despite her diagnosis and despite two major surgeries for a dangerous leak of cerebrospinal fluid. Her father said dance has strengthened Ramaswamy’s muscles and given her fine motor skills she simply didn’t have before.

“I feel so happy in dancing,” she beams, surrounded by a flurry of doting aunties while preparing for her performance.

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The Spirit Club

Their mission  is to create socially inclusive and integrated opportunities for those who may need extra guidance and encouragement to learn to maintain and appreciate a healthy & active lifestyle.

From the Spirit Club website:  “The S.P.I.R.I.T. Club (acronym for Social, Physical, Interactive, Respectful, Inclusive & Teamwork) is an 8-week health and fitness program for teens and adults with developmental disabilities. Since April 2013, our weekly class of 6 people has grown to 6 weekly classes of over 60 people!

Physically, the S.P.I.R.I.T. Club focuses on improving its member’s balance, stability, flexibility, agility, strength, cardiovascular endurance and nutritional habits. Mentally and emotionally, the program is designed to encourage high levels of social interaction and integration to ensure that every member feels comfortable and excited about the healthy and active choices that they are making. Each class meets once per week and lasts for one hour.”