How ‘Pitch Perfect’ Reminded Me of My Journey With Autism

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When I was growing up, I dealt with many challenges when it came to motor and sensory issues because of my autism. I also had emotional issues because of my limited speech growing up. That’s why when I was 6, my parents got me involved with a multi-handicapped summer camp to get me interacting with kids. This was when I first had the opportunity to sing.

I remember singing one of the biggest songs of 1994: Elton John’s “The Circle of Life.” I got through about one chorus before I started crying from stage freight. Being in front of an audience full of strangers for the first time was overwhelming, and I felt overloaded.

The thing was, though, no matter how overloaded I felt then, I still loved the music. The next year I came back to camp and was ready to belt my heart out, and that’s exactly what I did. This led my parents to get me involved with theater programs for children with disabilities. I would end up doing drama for the next 12 years; it became part of my therapy.

In college, I began to take another look at how I could tie my love of theater into being an autism advocate. I started consulting for films starring characters with autism, like “Joyful Noise,” starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton in 2012. I felt like this was my big break. Then, later that year, I got to reflect on my journey with autism when the movie “Pitch Perfect” came out.

“Pitch Perfect”  is about a girl named Beca (played by my crush, Anna Kendrick) who comes to college ready to be in her own little world of music and the hope to one day moving to Los Angeles to become a DJ. She’s later convinced into joining an all-girl a capella singing group and facing off in collegiate competitions. To be honest, I had minimal expectations for the movie. However, I was shocked by how much I could relate to Beca. I was drawn to her love of music — but I was also drawn to her because she felt exactly like I had when I started college.

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I wanted to be in my own little world with my music and my activities, and it was hard for me to branch out on my own. My saving grace freshman year, though — like Beca — was joining a group on campus where I could make my first friends. I was an outsider who found my niche later in my story.

While I sat in the movie theater as the credits went by, I couldn’t help but think about how Beca had tried something new and came out of it with a different outlook on life. It really made me think of what my life would have been like if I hadn’t tried theater. Would I be as confident as I am today? Would I be a national speaker?

What “Pitch Perfect” might have reminded me about the most was what Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the leading autism-advocates in the field always says — that you need to stretch these kids in our community. You have to show them what’s out there for them and try to help them reach to the stars. My parents put that mentality into me at a young age with the “three strikes rule.” I would have to try something three times and after that, if I didn’t like it, I could give it up. No questions asked.

I hope for our autism community that we can keep that mentality. The potential is out there for many of us to do great things as we progress as individuals but also as we learn more about autism.

Now let’s look forward to “Pitch Perfect 2” coming out in May!

This blog originally appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

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This Candid Facebook Post Perfectly Explains Why We Need to Talk About Mental Health

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I have a friend who’s as wise as he is funny. Ely Henry recently introduced me to a stigma-fighting day called Bell Let’s Talk. On January 28th, each time people used the hashtag #BellLetsTalk to open up about mental health, Bell donated 5 cents toward mental health initiatives in Canada. This amounted to more than $6 million in one day. In the spirit of the day, Ely posted this candid message on Facebook that makes a brilliant point about how we view mental illness:

Alright, it’s #‎BellLetsTalk day. So let’s talk.

I have Dysthymia. It’s basically Diet Depression.

I’ve been treating it for the past year and a half with regular therapy and some medication.

These are steps I wouldn’t have taken if I hadn’t started talking to friends about how I was feeling.

The person I have to thank the most is Torre Catalano. I was complaining to him about… oh, f***, everything probably… and he told me I should consider seeing a therapist. 

When I said I didn’t have the money, he stopped me and asked, “If you had a tooth that was rotting out the side of your skull, would you pay $70 to get it fixed?” I said that, well, obviously I would. He stared at me for a beat and shrugged his shoulders “So…?”

I called a therapist a few days later.

If you are in pain. If you are scared. If you are anxious and you feel like there’s nowhere to go — please, please talk to someone. It’s a tough road to go down but I promise you it will be worth it.

I’m still struggling. I will always be struggling. But when I look at where I am now compared to a year and a half ago? I’m kicking ass. I can’t wait to see where I am in another year and a half.

Much love, everybody. 

Talk talk talk.

(In typical Ely fashion, he followed up his serious Facebook post with a funny compilation of cute dogs.) But the bulk of what Ely posted resonated with more than 100 of his Facebook friends. His message needs to get out even further — to our Mighty readers and beyond. Because a day like #BellLetsTalk day should be more than 24 hours long.

10943523_10152536190951493_399485144_n  Ely Henry is an actor in Los Angeles. You can follow his witty tidbits @ElyHenry.

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What You Can Learn From the Scariest Day of My Life

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May 12 was the scariest day of my entire life.

My mother called me on my cellphone while I was at work and told me my son, Ethan, wasn’t acting right. His lower body was ice cold, and his upper half was on fire. He was going in and out of consciousness, and his eyes looked swollen like half moons. I told her to put him in the car and meet me at Winchester Hospital. She ended up having to pull over on the way there and call 911. A friend from work drove me to Winchester, and I sobbed the entire way. Ethan’s dad flew down from New Hampshire, and as soon as the ambulance arrived at the hospital, they took us to his room.

I saw about seven people around Ethan. I took one look at him and lost it; he was pale as a ghost, moaning, and every muscle on his body was twitching. When he did manage to get something out, it was gibberish. I just kept yelling, “Help him! Somebody help him!” Ethan’s eyes were glazed over, and he continued to twitch. The ER doctor said Ethan needed to be transferred to Mass General. As we waited for the ambulance, I stood over my son, rubbing his head and crying. I had no idea if he could hear me, but I told him how much I loved him and that he’s the funniest, happiest little boy I know. My mind was racing, and I kept thinking, Please, God, don’t take him yet. He has so much more life to see. He isn’t ready to go. I’m not ready to let him go. It’s not supposed to happen like this. I expected more warning. Please don’t take him.

The ambulance arrived. I felt like I was in a dream. I was lightheaded. All I could think was that Ethan was never going to wake up again and if he did, he wouldn’t be the same.

At the hospital, Ethan’s eyes remained half open. He already looked better and recognized me. Part of the neurology team came down and asked a bunch of questions over and over again. They said it didn’t sound like a seizure, but they ordered an EEG just to rule it out. One of the residents asked what Ethan’s official diagnosis is and when I told her, she said she’d never heard of it. All I could think was, We are in a world renowned hospital and we are teaching them about a disease. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? 

We waited all day as Ethan had blood drawn and an EEG done. He slowly became more and more alert, and we knew he was on the mend when he farted and laughed. He loved having Doritos fed to him and that he got to drink Sprite. He asked so many times to go home. Every time a nurse or doctor came near him, he cried or told them to go away.

Finally the results came back; they found no seizure activity and all his blood work was normal. We still have no clue what happened. Maybe progression of his diseases (muscular dystrophy and leukodystrophy) or just a one-time thing. I’m praying it’s the latter. We were able to take him home, but we have to go back to the neurology department soon. They upped one of Ethan’s medications and told us to call 911 if his mental status changed again.

Ethan and I were up all night. His body wouldn’t stop moving, and he couldn’t stop talking. He became aggressive a few times, which is not like him at all. He finally fell asleep for a few hours, and when he woke up, he was pale and his arms were having tremors. I held back tears as he tried to feed himself cereal and couldn’t even get the spoon in his mouth. He looked at me as this was happening and said “Mom, I just need patience.”

I was taken aback. It’s true; if he wanted to feed himself independently, he would need extra patience today. He wouldn’t let me feed him, and it took him over half an hour to eat a small bowl of cereal. I had to refill the bowl a few times because a lot fell on the floor, but he finished his Frosted Flakes. He’s slowly getting back to himself, still weak and shaky but he’s still laughing at everything.

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When people tell me they’re sorry this is happening to us, I tell them not to. There’s no reason to feel sorry. Feeling sorry is not going to change our situation. All I ask is that you enjoy your kids, your family and your friends. Tell that person you love them. Hug and kiss them. Do what makes you happy. Leave that dead-end job, leave the wrong relationship. In the end, just make sure you are happy. Life is so short. Life is precious. Every breath you take is amazing. Be thankful when you wake up every morning. Ethan is happy no matter what his situation. He knows how to live. Wake up and look around you. Make sure you are truly living and not just going through the motions of life.

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12-Year-Old With Down Syndrome Blows Us Away With Her Special Talent

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Madison Tevlin,12, can sing with the best of ’em.

Madison was born with Down syndrome, and therefore singing is more difficult for her than for others — people with the condition need to use twice as much energy to activate their vocal muscles as people without Down syndrome do, according to a study recently published on Down Syndrome Education International. The study also showed that people with Down syndrome tend to have voices with lower pitch.

But Madison isn’t letting any of this stand in her way.

Watch her tackle John Legend’s, “All Of Me” in the video below: 

 

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Why Asking for Help With My Eating Disorder Was a Sign of Strength — Not Weakness

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Perfectionist: an adjective that once held an infinite amount of power in my life. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I always felt the need to be perfect. The pressure I created both inside and outside the four walls of the classroom was unimaginable. At such a young age, I forced expectations and standards upon myself. The intention was not to please my parents or my teachers but rather myself.

Perfectionism carried on into my years in pursuing my degree in Education at McGill University. We all know how important it is to balance everything life throws our way in life – friends, family, work, school, and of course fun. It’s inhumanely impossible to perfectly do this. I once believed it was, in fact, achievable — to live this perfect plan. I was the girl with my academic advisor at the beginning of every single semester ensuring I was on the right track.

Halfway through my third year at McGill, my world began to shatter. The feelings and emotions associated with the realization that I was imperfect starved me of life — literally. Life was simply not going the way I’d planned. The stress and anxiety continued to build and consequently, I developed a severe eating disorder. I was lost, confused and unsure where to turn. Nearly two and a half years ago, I sat in my physician’s office and was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. I thought this was the end; I truly didn’t see a way out of the dark hole.

My first attempt at taking control of my mental illness appeared to be successful — from the exterior. Sure, I was weight-restored and back to my typical 21-year-old life. I was in a healthy body, but I wasn’t healthy-minded. The six months I spent in an intensive inpatient treatment program was not the cure, although I once thought it would be. After spending my summer with friends at cottages and working, I moved back to Montréal to continue working towards my degree. Leaving behind the support of my family and friends was difficult; my team of professionals called it a risk. 

Only a short six months out of the hospital, I relapsed – hard. In December of 2013, I finished my incredible student teaching semester and headed back to Toronto. I knew deep in my heart that I wasn’t OK; I needed more help — and I wanted it. I wanted the life that awaited me more than ever. I wanted to live a full life, and living with an eating disorder robs you of just that.

We often associate needing help with weakness. Seeking further help was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done for myself. My psychiatrist once told me the only thing harder than fighting for your life is being sick, and I can absolutely vouch for that. I admitted myself into the hospital for five weeks; I was there over the holidays and New Years Eve. I knew with every ounce of my being this would be my last time there. The journey I had ahead of me would be the hardest thing I will ever do in my life; I also knew it would be worth it. 

Just over a year has passed since I walked out of the hospital with my head held high as I looked forward and not back. I don’t try to forget where I’ve been, the pain I have suffered or the physical torture my body has endured; it’s made me who I am today. A year dedicated to me, to my well-being, was the best decision I’ve ever made for myself and my future. I sit here writing this on my break in between my 12-hour day of class. Yes, it’s taken me longer to get here than I’d initially planned out. My five years at McGill University turned into six… so what? I’m enrolled in my last semester, and this April, I’ll be a certified Kindergarten and elementary school teacher. Looking back on the day I thought my world was over, I realize it was actually just beginning. It was the beginning of rediscovering myself in a way I never imagined as possible.

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How My Sister Went From Illiterate to Becoming a Published Author

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My sister, Amanda, has long been a writer at heart. When she was a baby, she used to climb the stairs and sit with me in my bedroom while I wrote page after page on spiral-bound note paper. I wrote and illustrated hundreds of pages of horse stories while my patient companion was content to just sit cross-legged on the bed near my desk, watching me, quietly coloring or just waiting.

At that time, I didn’t realize the impact this was having. Amanda, who has Down syndrome, was just a baby then. I graduated and moved away to Alaska. In the meantime, Amanda grew up illiterate. When she was around 20 years old, I moved back to Michigan and was spending lots of time with her. I sat with her in the big gold chair in the living room, looking at the back of an Eddie Rabbitt album. Amanda was a huge country music fan. I was reading the words to the song, “I Love a Rainy Night.”

She was attentive as always, and I began pointing out the letters and sounding them out. When we reached the end of each line, we would sing it.

Perhaps it was the simplistic repetition of the song, but I thought she was catching on.

Later, watching a “Hooked on Phonics” infomercial, I noticed they were using music as a foundation for their literacy program. So, I saved my money, ordered it and brought it home, along with a couple of Dr. Seuss books. Mom and Dad wisely sent the program to Amanda’s school. It helped not only Amanda, but other kids in her special ed class learned to read, too. When I asked Dad about her progress later, he said, “Yes, she is learning, but it’s going to be limited.”

I will never forget the first time Amanda stumbled through, “Green Eggs and Ham.” I was in tears. She was 21 years old by then and opening a whole new door for herself.

From that point on, the household exploded with paper. Amanda was filling every spiral-bound notebook in sight, practicing her writing in her shaky, angular cursive hand. She copied pages of old paperbacks.  Eventually she began writing her own thoughts.

A writer was born.

When finally she began journaling after our mom’s death, I asked her, “How would you like to write a book with me? We can write about Mom and Dad and our experiences with the family.”

She loved the idea. We pored over our story, building it one page at a time, editing and discussing and reading to each other. We lost Mom, and we cried and wrote. We lost Dad, and we cried and wrote some more. Our siblings battled over Amanda’s guardianship, and we wrote on in determination. We were partners in a combined effort. This was our project. During our collaboration, Amanda and I agreed on several points:

  1. People with disabilities need to have a voice.
  2. It’s important for people to get their affairs in order, to make their wishes known in a legal, indisputable way.
  3. No one has the right to take your happiness.
  4. Real love can withstand anything.

We hope that our story will help others. When I asked her if she was ready to become a published author, she said, “I cannot wait! I. Can. Not. Wait.”

So the little girl who quietly sat by has become a literary force in her own right. Unencumbered by her disability, she forges onward.

“Limited.” Indeed! If Dad could see her now.

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The North Side of Down is available on Amazon.

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