When a Stranger Pointed Out What I’d Been Missing About My Daughter’s Disability

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When my daughter was a toddler and should have been walking, making eye contact, and babbling, I got looks from people. Their eyes said they felt sorry for me. They had pity for her.

I hated it.

I didn’t feel sorry for us. I felt many things, but not pity or shame. I wavered between elation and depression, joy and sadness.

No one saw all the hard work I put in at home with her. Our tribulations weren’t witnessed. Our small victories went unseen.

On the flip side of that, I remember there was this time in a public restroom when Emma was younger. She was dancing and laughing, flapping her hands about and twirling. Her soft wavy red hair was flying about. I was tired and weary that day — I must have had a frown on my face.

An older woman came out of one of the stalls and she was absolutely beaming at Emma. She said something to me like, “Momma, smile. Look at her. She’s so happy.”

That woman was right. I think I expected her to give us a dirty look and give a grumpy “hmph!” That seemed to be how most of our experiences went.

I returned the smile and that day I learned something — I needed to show others how joyful and appreciative of life we are. I needed to show by example that my daughter is a treasure. Her spirit is amazing.

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I asked some family and friends recently what is the first word that comes to mind when they think of my daughter. Some answers were, “Beautiful soul,” “Kind,” “Dancing” and “Fashionista.”

“Always says what’s on her mind,” “Takes the time to stop and talk to me” and “Notices every detail of my outfit/purse/shoes” speaks volumes, don’t you think?

The following is a quote from my collection of thoughts about my kids.

“Sometimes the best way to be reminded to not take life too seriously is just to take a cue from Emma. Dance. Everywhere you go. There’s always music playing in her head. If you listen closely, you can hear it too.”

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a time you saw your disability, illness and/or disease through the eyes of someone else. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Teen Who Carried Brother With Cerebral Palsy for 40 Miles Has Something Big Planned

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In June 2014, Hunter Gandee and his younger brother Braden made headlines when they walked 40 miles over two days in the name of cerebral palsy awareness. Hunter, then 14, carried then 7-year-old Braden, who has cerebral palsy, on his back. The two traveled all the way from their hometown of Temperance, Michigan, to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, The Mighty reported last year.

This year, the brothers are taking cerebral palsy awareness even further. Hunter and Braden are currently planning a three-day 55-mile walk, The Associated Press reported. Like last year, Hunter will carry Braden on his back the entire time.

The upcoming “Cerebral Palsy Swagger” walk will begin on June 5 at Douglas Road Elementary, Braden’s elementary school, in Lambertville, Michigan. There, they will participate in the ceremony for the CP Swagger Shipyard, an inclusive playground at Braden’s elementary school the duo raised money for last year. The brothers are scheduled to complete the walk on June 7 at the University of Michigan.

“This year’s goal will be to get the attention of the leaders, innovators and engineers of tomorrow to show them the need for a truly accessible world,” Hunter says in the video below. “A world that will be inclusive and embrace people with cerebral palsy; one that lets people with different abilities not only become included but excel.”

Learn more about the upcoming walk in Hunter and Braden’s adorable press conference:

Feature photo from the Cerebral Palsy Swagger Facebook page.

For more information about Hunter and Braden’s upcoming walk, visit the Cerebral Palsy Swagger blog. Follow the project’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

Related: The Incredible Bond Between These Siblings Keeps Blowing Us Away

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When a YMCA Employee Became a Superhero for My Son With Autism

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Superheroes do exist.

I’d like you to meet one named Chuck.

Chuck works at our local YMCA and has bonded with my son, Griffin, who has autism, over video games, Pokémon and all kinds of topics. He’s even done math with Griffin, which is amazing to me because math is not my thing.

A few weeks ago, Griffin and Chuck had a tentative date to hang out for a few minutes. But when Chuck was working and unable to show up, Griffin had a huge meltdown. Although Griffin continues to work hard, he still has a hard time being flexible and expressing his emotions appropriately. This meltdown was a combination of yelling, crying, kicking on the wall and cursing. It all happened right outside the childcare center.

The staff at the YMCA are all so kind to Griffin, and each one of them has become a superhero in my eyes. But this was the first time they witnessed one of his meltdowns, which usually happen in the privacy of our own home.

As I tried to get him outside, I said, loud enough for everyone to hear: “I know the cursing helps you express your feelings, but other people might not understand. Let’s get to a safe place.” I hoped explaining it this way would give people a better understanding of what was going on.

When we got outside, I just held him. He was so upset and kept saying, “I want Chuck! I want to talk to him about video games! I want to talk to him! I want to talk to him!” I tried hard not to show outwardly what I felt inside. I didn’t know how I even got him outside, and I sure as hell didn’t know how I was going to get him back home. It’s typically a lovely 15-minute walk, but in this moment, I just didn’t know what I was going to do. 

And then, just like Batman or Superman, Chuck came outside in the nick of time. He went over to Griffin and hugged him, and then sat with him and talked to him. I started to cry because I was so grateful. He sat with Griffin for a generous amount of time and told Griffin he wasn’t having a great day either. He said talking to Griffon helped him, too. I thought, My God, I could never properly express how grateful I was to him.

As we were leaving, Chuck hugged Griffin and told him, “You’re a good kid.” And he really is a good kid. I just wish I could help him more in those moments. God, I wish I could be a superhero.

When I talked to Griffin later, he said, “Mom, I’m sorry I embarrassed you.”

“You didn’t embarrass me,” I told him. “Maybe just 1 percent, but 99 percent of what I was feeling was heartbroken. I couldn’t help you, no matter what I did, and I love you so much.”

Chuck reminded me that we all have the power to be a superhero. You don’t need the ability to fly or leap tall buildings in a single bound. To be a superhero, all you need are kind words, a smile and the willingness to see a situation in a different way, led by love and not judgment.

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A version of this post originally appeared on What Will This Day Bring

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. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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A Lady at the Airport Left Us This Note When We Needed It Most

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It was our second time leaving our quiet home in Texas to see the specialist in busy Pittsburgh. We were surprised by how well the first visit had gone —  we’d brought family to help us carry bags and for mental support. We felt comfortable going by ourselves this time, just the three of us. It was our first trip as a little family.

Traveling with my son is no easy journey. Going through security usually takes a while because of the tube feeding formula, his medications and the rest of the medical equipment. You can imagine how exhausted we were by the time we got to the hotel. Two quick days later, it was time to leave the Pittsburgh airport and head back to Dallas. The doctor visit didn’t go as well as we’d planned. We were told our son was in the last stage of the disease. I was so shocked, disheartened and possibly depressed. We’d had so much hope and well wishes for our baby boy. This was the last thing we expected.

We waited to board the flight and get back home where we knew Lucas felt the most comfortable. I pointed out a cute, short old lady sitting across from us. She looked as if she was confused and needed a few questions answered. My husband and I were discussing how incredibly rude the staff at the terminal seemed to be to her.

They soon called for early boarding, and we followed the little old lady onto the plane. Before the rest of the people could board, the lady came to our seats and angelically explained that she felt safe on this flight because Lucas was here. She said the Lord will definitely not let anything happen to this miracle child and that when we fly, this is the closest we can be to Heaven without actually being there. We exchanged kind words. She lifted my spirit within seconds. She then shook my husband’s hand… and folded in her own was a $50 bill. We of course tried to give it back, but she wasn’t having it. The generosity in that woman was breathtaking — not only in the way of giving but in her words. She had no idea what we’d just gone through, and she had no way of knowing how badly we needed this sweet gesture.

As we exited the airplane, I made a run for the potty room. I’m claustrophobic and dislike the small airplane bathrooms (not to mention all the germs compacted into that one stinky place). I returned from the ladies room to see the lady catching a ride on those nifty little cars I always wished we could ride on through the airport. When I arrived back to my family, my husband had a Post-it note in his hand that read “A COINCIDENCE IS A SMALL MIRACLE WHERE GOD CHOSE TO BE ANONYMOUS!”

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Before leaving, the woman had delivered us this one last message. To me, she was an angel sent down from Heaven to lift us back up and get us out of our negative notions that our son was losing his battle. It also floored me that her handwriting looked identical to my father’s, who had passed away nine years prior. I showed my little sister the note, and the first thing she said was, “That looks like Dad’s writing. He always wrote in capital letters. The only difference on this note is that the words were all spelled correctly on this one.”

So, whether it was the sign from our guardian angel, my father saying hi or just a genuinely sweet lady’s kind words, the message was clear. And oh, how badly we needed it. I will forever remember this day.

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. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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He Needed a Boost to Finish the Race. His Classmates Gave Him One.

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Wayne Haselberger is a student at Paw Paw Later Elementary School in Paw Paw, Michigan. He’s 11 years old and is in a class for students with special needs, Mlive.com reported.

During his school’s annual fifth grade track and field meet held on May 22, Wayne struggled to finish his race. Then, his classmates decided to step in and help.

They surrounded him, cheering him on and chanting his name as he ran toward the finish line.

Wayne’s mother, Diana Haselberger, was moved to tears by the kindness and support the other students showed her son.

The tears of joy were just running down my face,” she told Mlive.com. “I just want to thank all the mothers in Paw Paw who have such wonderful children.”

Watch the awesome moment below:

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Paw Paw Later Elementary School is in Minnesota. The school is in Michigan.

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The Comment a Woman at Walmart Made About My Son With Autism

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It finally happened. I was on the receiving end of my first comment about my son, Lincoln’s, behavior today. The comment came from a woman in Walmart, of all places.

Lincoln has Asperger’s and he has trouble with impulse control, especially when it comes to wanting toys. Some days he’s good; some days, well, not so much. He wanted a Lego toy while we were at Walmart, and we made it clear that he wasn’t getting it today. Of course, this wasn’t the answer Linc wanted to hear and he was getting upset. In that whiny voice kids have, he stated quite loudly, “But I wannnnnnt it!”

At that moment, a woman came by with her cart and felt the need to comment, “Oh my God, how old is he?”

Without missing a beat, my wife (the anchor, the rock and all things strong in our family) said quite calmly, but oh so sternly, “Um, excuse me, but he has autism.”

I wasn’t quite so calm, and between gritted teeth, yelled with as much venom as I felt toward this sad, ignorant woman, “SO F*CK OFF!” She sped off saying nothing more, not even an apology.

My wife immediately chastised me, saying my reaction was inappropriate, making me no better than the woman who made the comment. In retrospect it was inappropriate, but it was a reaction. I’ve never been one to make excuses for my son and I never will. But at that moment, when someone felt the need to comment about my son, that’s when my angry dad side took over. Did it make her feel better about her life to make a comment like that to a total stranger? Was my son’s minor tantrum disrupting her wonderful shopping experience at Walmart? Who knows. And in the grand scheme of things, who cares?

Later at home, I watched Linc enjoy himself on our trampoline — innocent, happy, being himself — and I couldn’t be prouder. I’m not ashamed of my son. I’m not embarrassed of my son. But I am defensive and protective of my son, and I always will be.

I love you, Linc. Thank you for being my son and for letting me be your dad.

A version of this post originally appeared on Ink4Autism’s Facebook page.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a time you saw your disability, illness and/or disease through the eyes of someone else. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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