3 Ways Having a Child with Special Needs Can Help Your Career

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I want to highlight how parents of children with special needs are able to succeed in their careers.

Being a parent is hard work. Toss in things like autism, illness, or a chronic condition and it can get a little more interesting. As the mom of a son with some challenges, I’ve discovered there are some really great qualities I and others in my “tribe” share.

1. We look at things differently. We’ve quietly watched other children who are the same age as ours do things our child is still struggling with. We celebrate the smallest of victories where others may take those for granted. How does this translate to work? We are always on the lookout for what’s working, what is not, how to improve the process and how to see through problems with a critical and honest eye.

2. We can pivot when needed. So many of our children have good days and bad days. When those good days are here, we want to take advantage of them and go, go, go! But we also know what to look for when things may be slowing down or come to a screeching halt. We have adapted to be flexible in our thoughts, our actions, and our lives. This can be a real advantage when something at work is just not going well. We can pivot and find ourselves looking at the situation in a new way. When we come back we often times find ourselves looking at that troublesome situation with a fresh perspective.

3. We investigate. Technology has increased so much that those who have a rare disease can find others with the click of a few buttons. Parents of children with special needs are research experts. We can find everything online and are voracious readers. With social media we’ve been known to find and directly correspond with the Doctors and researchers who are at the forefront of the research we are interested in. Ask us to solve problems! We know how to look into situations, research, do field studies, and report back with our best suggestions.

I’d love to hear from you. How have you been shaped by your child with special needs? What strengths and positive traits have you developed that have enhanced your career?

A version of this post originally appeared here.

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Student Project Exposes the Part of College Life No One Talks About

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When Abby Belani was elected as the Director of Emotional Wellbeing on Stanford University’s student government board, she knew she wanted to focus on issues pertaining to emotional and mental health.

The 21-year-old senior from the Bay Area in California has worked as both a peer counselor and a residential advisor at Stanford, so she’s had firsthand exposure to the sorts of issues students face.

“There was always a problem of expression,” Belani told The Mighty in an email. “Almost everyone felt some sort of struggle and also felt isolated in their struggles — the happy faces of campus simply weren’t showing what was really going on.”

Belani assembled several students to comprise Stanford’s Emotional Wellbeing team, and the group began brainstorming ways to start conversations about mental health on campus. Together, they decided to encourage other students to speak up about mental health issues through artistic expression. With that, the idea for “Release.Restart.Review,” a student-made mental health anthology of art and literature, was born.

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The students put out a call for writing and artwork submissions, expecting enough to fill a 15 to 20-page literary magazine. Within a month, with no additional exposure, they received more than 100 pages worth of material. The final version is 129 pages long.

“It became clear to us that people were ready for and wanted a way to express themselves, but they just didn’t have the space to do so yet,” Belani told The Mighty.

“Release.Resart.Review” includes essays, poetry, short fiction, photos, paintings and graphic designs. The pieces cover topics such as anxiety, eating disorders, depression, suicide, stress, grief and other issues students experience daily. Some pieces were submitted anonymously, but most students chose to keep their names associated with their works. Each entry gives voice to a topic students may not have felt able to openly discuss before.

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“Untitled” by Chase Porter
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“Gentle Reminder” by Cynthia Truong

“We all go through life differently with different responses or different experiences, but emotion is universal, and that’s what this anthology sought to capture,” Belani told The Mighty. “At Stanford, like in so many other places, emotions are highly devalued — everyone is expected to be happy or occasionally stressed, but any other emotion is stifled. The anthology sought to normalize the full range of emotions and let people feel safe enough to feel.”

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“Life in Color” by Marisa Tashima

After the anthology was released in March 2015, Belani and the Emotional Wellbeing team hosted a series of workshops in which the artists and writers featured in the anthology worked with other students about how to productively channel emotional distress into something artistic. Each workshop ended with an open discussion about the different issue they were facing.

Belani says she hopes the anthology will continue to inspire Stanford students to keep an open dialogue about mental health and, in turn, reduce the stigma surrounding these topics on campus.

“I hope it’ll be a step in the right direction toward fostering the kind of emotional conversations that Stanford needs and providing people with relief in knowing that they’re not alone in feeling what they feel,” Belani said.

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“Self-Portrait” by Ryoko Hamaguchi Top: “Some days, I still cannot bare to face, let alone love, what I see in the MIRROR. Middle: “My value lies not in the FALL, but in the steps I take to get back UP. Bottom: “My beauty is grounded in my PAST but extends into my FUTURE. My beauty is my ability to STAND TALL. Look forward and REJOICE in the day that lies ahead.
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“Untitled” by Sung Woo Kim
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“Untitled” by Sung Woo Kim
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“Untitled” by Sung Woo Kim
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“Spontaneity” by Anika Nagpal
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“The Butterfly Project” by Anika Nagpal

For more information about “Release.Restart.Review,” head here. To purchase the anthology or view a free sample, search for the project on iTunes Books.

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I Cried on My Son’s First 2 Birthdays. Here’s Why I Won’t on His 3rd.

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So Drew is turning 3 tomorrow and this year, I can’t help but be grateful not only for this boy, but also for this place we have found ourselves in, surrounded by amazing people and looking forward to all that is ahead of us.

I think of how hard the beginning was when we first were seeing Drew struggle with things. There were tears and sleepless nights, constant worry and begging God that the doctors were wrong, that Drew would indeed develop typically…

If only I could go back and tell myself to stop all of that, I would.

I wish I could tell myself what an amazing journey this was going to be. I wish I could tell myself that yes, it was going to be hard, but that it was going to be worth it a hundred times over. That there would be appointments all week and visits to CHOP, hard decisions and fights with the school district, but that there would be lessons with all of these trials and that those lessons would be the most priceless part of life.

I wish I could tell myself that while I was worrying about what my husband was feeling and thinking, he was becoming the kind of man who would be looking up baseball programs for kids with special needs, the kind of man who would take his son down to the tennis courts to practice using his walker, and the kind of man who would tell me he wouldn’t want Drew any other way.

I wish I knew that while I was worried about how the world would treat Drew, we would have friends who would be the kind of people who would take turns helping Drew bowl at a birthday party, family like Drew’s great-grandfather who is learning sign language so that he can communicate like Drew, and people who just love him and accept him for all that he is and cheer him on to be all that he can be.

I wish I knew how so many people were going to surprise me… Basically I wish I never doubted the good in the world.

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Drew has been the most amazing teacher to everyone who is a part of his life. He has taught us about humility, strength and perseverance. He has showed me the true meaning of tough. But most importantly, he has taught us that God’s plans will ALWAYS be better than the ones we have for ourselves.

This life was not what we pictured during my pregnancy with Drew, and I cannot stress enough that this life is a million times better than anything I could have ever imagined. I used to think, If only I could make life easy for Drew; now I have realized that Drew is who he is because of his struggles and I wouldn’t trade who he is for anything.

He’s a boy who loves to go to bed, but hates to sleep through the night. He can’t say a word, but his facial expressions can say a million. He loves loves loves to make people laugh and so he will randomly snort like a pig. He enjoys giving hugs and open mouth kisses. He is the kid who when I take him to a store, he always makes a friend. A boy who people feel the need to come up to me in restaurants and in church to tell me how happy my child is. He is amazing, almost magical, and all of this would be different if Drew were different. Mike and I, our family, our friends, all of us would be a little less without Drew and who he is.

So on Drew’s third birthday, I will not cry like I have for the past two (well, maybe a little…). I will try to just continue to be grateful for this little boy who I always say is so perfect for me and for all the lessons he has taught us. I absolutely think our worry and trepidation in the beginning of this journey was natural and necessary, but I am so grateful that Mike and I and all the people who now surround us have risen to the occasion.

I hate that Drew is growing up so quickly, but every birthday gets a little easier and that’s because I know he has so many people looking out for him. I know his life will only get more beautiful with every passing year and I know that he will continue to make all of our lives more beautiful as well.

Happy birthday, little man, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being exactly who you are.

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Watch This 6-Year-Old Cancer Patient Light Up the Hospital With a Dance Party

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Braylon Beam, from Denver, North Carolina, is receiving chemotherapy for a brain tumor on his optic nerve, according to his YouCaring page. However, the 6-year-old isn’t one to let anything get him down.

Braylon and his dad came up with the idea for a Friday dance party after Braylon’s weekly treatment to help keep his spirits up, People.com reported. They practice their dance the night before and then perform it for family, friends, patients and hospital staff.

Braylon’s dancing is wonderful, amazing, it fills us with joy.” Braylon’s oncologist, Dr. Jessica Hall, told the outlet. “This is what the treatment really is all about — surviving and maintaining their childhood joy throughout. That’s why we’re doing this.”

Check out Braylon’s sweet dance moves in the video below: 

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To the Donut Shop Owner Whose Crazy Act of Kindness Helped My Sick Friend

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Dear Marge,

My natural inclination toward frugality only allows a donut when the neon Krispy Kreme sign beckons with the offer of a free one. I haven’t partaken in ages, though, because five bites of pleasure fail to outweigh the embarrassment of taking the freebie without further purchase, violating some unnamed principle of thrift. Despite rarely eating anything I haven’t bought in bulk and cooked in my own kitchen, I visited your shop a couple of years back, discovering your donuts shame Krispy Kreme’s in both size and taste.

My friend, Pam, used to sell items online, specializing in American Girl dolls. Each year she’d purchase discontinued goods at a steep discount, storing them to resell at Christmastime when demand peaked. Pam stayed home with her girls. Selling on eBay made a great home business and supported her daughters’ American Girl habit.

Whenever I’d see Pam at church, we’d catch up, bragging about recent bargains (Pam loved Goodwill.com) and celebrating notable sales in our online shops. So when I learned of her terminal cancer diagnosis, making a meal or sending a card didn’t spring to mind (I’m horrible about sending cards), but “She needs me to sell her things” did.

I picked up a carload of dolls and doll outfits she’d been intending to list and helped organize her storage room. We went through household detritus, thankful for the attention the task required. Pam opened a giant Rubbermaid tote and fingered a baby outfit, remarking wistfully, “I planned to make a quilt from Ava’s things, but now I never will.” We both cried. Our church had a quilting group. A few phone calls found a sweet woman — aptly named Sugar — eager to tackle the project Pam could not. People from church brought meals, took the girls to music lessons, prayed and supported the family in myriad ways. A line from a sermon that touched me deeply shortly after learning of my own son’s autism diagnosis comforted Pam, too: “This is not all there is.” The loving embrace of a church family in a time of need is no small matter.

But Marge, what you did was no small matter, either.

I administered Pam’s eBay account, but, overwhelmed by the number of doll outfits and despairing they might not all sell online by Christmas, I placed a free ad in the newspaper. The first caller wanted a doll, not just an outfit. I received just one other inquiry — from you, Marge — also wanting a complete doll for your granddaughter. When I explained my motive for selling, you asked, “How many outfits do you have?” Then, undeterred by the quantity, offered, “Take them to Marge’s Donut Den. I’ll buy them all.” You hadn’t wanted a single outfit, let alone a pile of them.

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My friend, Pam

So my friend, Tammy, and I headed to your shop, stopping at every thrift store on the way (I like to combine trips and always need more inventory for my own online shop). Along with payment you included two gift certificates for Pam’s family and a donut for me and my friend. I wasn’t embarrassed to get these freebies. You treated us as if we’d done you a favor, not the other way around.

Wanting Pam to know you cared but not wanting her to feel like a charity case, I opted not to tell her why you bought the outfits. She appreciated the certificates and insisted I keep one. A few months later, Tammy and I made another thrift store run, picking up a dozen donuts with the gift certificate en route. I won’t admit how many we ate (I adore apple fritters), but, while we savored them in the Goodwill parking lot, a life-worn man loaded his purchases into a rusty pickup. I rolled down my window. “Want a donut?”

Perhaps donuts engender trust. You believed my story about the outfits — enough to spend quite a bit to bless someone you didn’t even know — and the man in the parking lot threw caution to the wind, eating a donut from a pair of strangers.

I’m more of a procrastinator than a card writer, which is a poor excuse. But here’s my shamefully belated thank you. Pam thought you were crazy buying all those outfits. When you’re so giving that people wonder, it speaks volumes.

I don’t know if big donuts make big hearts or if big hearts make big donuts, but there must be a correlation. There must.

Love,

Laura

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog [email protected]  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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The Term That Describes My Daughter Better Than ‘Special Needs’ or ‘Disabled’

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I have a child with special needs. I am that guy, we are that family.

The ones you see at the park and you think, I wonder what is wrong with that kid. That is us.

I knew nothing about people with special needs until I had one, a child with brain injuries, a “special needs” kid.

I hate all these terms: special needs, disabled, brain damaged. All these terms seem like dirty labels and the words fall out of my mouth like chewing on dry sand.

It seems stupid that we have to label anything that is different with a term deemed politically correct, yet each term is nothing but another way to let people know my daughter is “different.”

I like the term “a different kind of perfect.” My daughter has cerebal palsy and she is a different type of perfect.

People tell us we are amazing for what we do for our daughter. They say we are strong and she came to the right place. They say these things when we catch up with friends or family, usually on a day when we are having a good day. That is the only reason we left the house (could leave the house).

They see her when she is OK, when the pain is under control and she is happy and smiling. When she is like this, we have a moment to catch our breath, be normal.

What they do not see is the times when I am not strong, when it is all too much and I want to scream at her to stop: “Please can you just stop and be normal, please.” They do not see her when she has screamed for hours, days or sometimes weeks. They do not see the times when we can just hold ourselves together and we are not strong.

I wonder if they notice how we have changed. Do they see that behind our eyes there is a deep sorrow? A sorrow that has been there so long it is impossible to comprehend being the people we once were.

Sometimes it feels like the light inside us has gone and we just stumble from one day to the next waiting to see what type of day awaits us.

I worry about her, I worry about my partner and I worry about me. How long can we do this, is this forever? How can people do what we do and not go insane? Years and years facing the impossible and fighting to get through today knowing the same awaits tomorrow.

We cling to the good moments as much as we can. When she smiles or laughs, when we can open the windows in our house on a hot day. On bad days, the screams are so loud we are scared the neighbors will hear.

No one understands the pain and the sorrow we have for our children; they will never understand what challenges we face every day.

We are not strong or awesome. We are just people who have to do whatever it takes to get through the day.

We yell, we say awful things in whispers or under our breath, too scared to say them out loud. Moments when we just wish our kids were “normal” and we are not those people with the special needs kid.

I try to forget she is different. At home, in our own space, it is easy to believe this. As soon as we venture out past our gate, these illusions are shattered.

Every time we see other kids, other families doing normal things, a little part of me aches and I wish that we were not the ones with a child with special needs.

Our daughter has taught us many things. It is important to keep positive and seek for the joy when you can find it, and that can be the only thing keeping your head above the water.

I am tired, I am having a bad patch and I am unsure if I want to scream, get drunk or most likely just pull myself together and get on with it.

That is why people think we are strong, because we just get on with it. Keep going, just keep going. If I was strong, I would not have bad days. If I was strong, I could deal with the emotions in my life. I don’t. I bury them and pretend they are not there.

I have no time for self-pity and I do not have the luxury of having time out. I have no choice but to take a deep breath and keep going.

I am not amazing, I am grumpy, I am tired, I am scraping through one day to the next. I am just a person that became the parent to a different type of perfect child.

I wonder what today will bring. Will we have a good day? I hope we have a good day. One good day can carry me through a week of bad days. As long as we have a good day, I can regather myself, take a deep breath and start again.

Who knows what we will face today, tomorrow or forever, only time will tell.

I am that guy at the park with the daughter with special needs. I am the parent to a beautiful daughter who is a different type of perfect.

A version of this post originally appeared on Behind the SmileDial. Learn more about Kelly Boy’s charity, SmileDial.

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