I smile as a little boy’s giggles ripple through the house.

At one time my son never laughed and rarely smiled.

But his confidence has come back in abundance since I withdrew him from school and began to home educate him. He was a stammering, nervous little boy back then.

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When he first started mainstream school, I was concerned he wouldn’t be watched closely and asked for what was then a “statement of special needs.” But he was refused one-on-one support despite having three diagnoses: autism, expressive language disorder and dyspraxia. This left him vulnerable to bullying by children and a teacher’s aide. The day I found out how bad it had gotten, I pulled him out and deregistered him the following week.

It’s now been two years since he began his journey of home education, and he now has a glimmer in his eyes. He attends play therapy, music therapy, speech therapy and animal therapy. We read together, and he does online tutorials and lots of sensory play to calm and regulate him. His hobbies include photography and collecting little soccer player toy figures. He has an amazing knowledge of soccer scores and players and enjoys playing it every Wednesday on a team for children with special needs.

Every two weeks he goes to the National Autistic Society‘s Saturday club and enjoys socializing and playing with the other children. He adores his private tutor he sees once a week. We go to museums, the woods, the library and the park. He loves being with his little sister and older brothers who are also on the spectrum.

There are many things we already do with our children we don’t realize are educational: Playing with small figures and cars is small world play. Listening to a play on the radio is drama. Baking and cooking is science and math. Reading stories is literacy. Drawing is art. Playing with teddies and dolls is role play. I love the freedom of going for a walk in the woods with the children and watching it turn into an impromptu nature lesson: What plant is that? What sort of insect is that?

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Since being home, my little boy has come a long way from the melting down, upset and angry child he once was. He sleeps now, and occasionally almost through the night! He takes his own “time out,” going to the bedroom to play and chill out with his football cards and sensory toys. With the pressure to interact constantly in public school, he would have never been able to take this time. Now, he engages on his own terms, and knows when he needs to walk away.

Would I ever send my son back into the mainstream school system?

No.

Of course, with the right support, children with autism can thrive in a school setting. But I often notice some children on the spectrum find schools too overwhelming and the endless interaction exhausting. Children with autism and sensory problems might be told to hold in their feelings, only to erupt at home.

If your children are unhappy, you are not failing by withdrawing them from school. It’s simply a different way of educating. Not every peg will fit a round hole.

Pound a peg hard enough, and you will chip the paint and eventually splinter the wood. My peg is a bouncy, cheeky one, and his paint is now shiny and vibrant.

That’s all you can ever want for your peg.

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In previous years, Sandy Himsl’s son, Zechariah, had birthday parties where no one he’d invited showed up. The 10-year-old has autism, as well as behavioral and sensory issues, and often has difficulty connecting with kids his age. So for his 11th birthday, his mom took to Facebook.

On June 1, Himsl asked her social media friends to send Zechariah a card with a little something extra to make his birthday one to remember: Legos.

“If you happen to have a single Lego piece laying around you’re willing to part with and could toss it in the card that would be so cool,” Himsl wrote in her Facebook post. “I know this is out of the ordinary but we are under some strict financial budgeting and won’t be able to do much for him this year. Getting some cards to help him feel special on his birthday would help all of our hearts feel happy.”

OK Facebook world, this will be a little lengthy but I hope you stick with me and are able to help.As many of you know...

Posted by Sandy Himsl on Monday, June 1, 2015

 

Himsl said she hoped around 50 cards would arrive. But as of June 16, 385 cards and packages have been sent to their home.

“I asked two months early thinking I would need time to beg people to send a card,” she told The Mighty in an email. “I never thought it would become as big as it has and that we would receive anywhere near the amount of items he has.”

After such strong support from friends and strangers, Himsl decided to plan a birthday party for Zechariah  at a park near their home in Kalispell, Montana.

11143327_10205843117148902_8280638564005625628_o “I’m hoping it will give Zechariah the chance to meet some people with the same interests as him,” Himsl told The Mighty, “but most importantly I want him to see that there are nice people out there, while they get to see how awesome he is too.”

Although Himsl is excited for her son to have an amazing party, she’s also grateful for the opportunity the event will bring. She plans on incorporating autism awareness into the party, which she’s named “Zechariah’s Lego-tastic Extravaganza.”

“I hope someone thinks about kids in their lives who maybe need a little extra love,” Himsl told The Mighty. “I’ve experienced an overwhelming amount of messages from families who have children that seem to be excluded from life outside of their home for one reason or another. No child should feel alone.”

Zecheriah’s birthday is August 18. If you’d like to send him a card and/or package, you can address it to: Zechariah, 2248 Pintail Ct. Kalispell, MT 59901.

Correction: The original version of this post wrongly stated Zechariah is 9 years old. He is currently 10 and will turn 11 in August.

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Shortly after my 31st birthday, I was diagnosed with a rare disease called dystonia. Dystonia is a movement disorder that effects my neck, also known as cervical dystonia or torticollis. My brain and my muscles do not communicate correctly, causing my neck to involuntarily twist and turn. The condition is very painful and there is no cure. In my case, there doesn’t seem to be a cause, either. Every blood test, MRI and x-ray were normal. I’ve never been in a car accident or had a head injury. It felt like it literally popped up out of nowhere. Every day is different for me. Some days I struggle to get out of bed, other days I feel somewhat normal. The hardest part is the isolation. I had to quit my job, and I spend most days at home. I’m grateful for my family, fiancé and friends who have stuck by my side. 

Recently I was visiting the beautiful country Panama. We had just gotten off a ferry from Contadora Island to Panama City, and I was walking down the street. A large group of friends dragged my suitcase on a pretty bumpy road, trying to find a taxi to bring us back to our hotel. I was so concentrated on walking straight, and worried about bumping into someone or something, I didn’t realize a homeless man approach me. He walked with a cane, carrying a few objects on his back. His hair was knotted and he was missing a lot of teeth. His presence initially didn’t scare me, and he walked right up to me and put his hand on my shoulder. He asked me if I was OK, and what was wrong with my neck. I told him I had a neurological disease and he said he’d pray for me.

You could see the sadness in his eyes when I told him there was no cure. Taken off guard, I held back my tears. I didn’t want to break down in front of my friends or this man.

Most people are too busy to notice someone struggling or to even take time to ask if they are OK. Yet, his man with nothing still had the decency to ask. This disease has opened my eyes to see the world differently, appreciate kindness in others and step back from the usually fast paced lifestyle to look around. You never know who you can meet along your journey that will inspire you to help others. I’ll never forget this man. 

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. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Every so often, something will pop up on the internet about people with disabilities being a burden to society, and it’s a bit like, “Oh, is it that time already?” The usual feelings wash through – anger, showing the internet article one or both of my middle fingers, general annoyance, and that slight tinge of guilt of “Well… my daughter is sort of a burden.”

Except she’s not. No more than anyone else, really.

Yet it happens all the time. Something will come up and I’m reminded how my child is a burden to our family, to the education system, to society. She has been put squarely in the category of “Will not contribute to society.” She won’t find the cure for cancer. We’ll likely be supporting her for the rest of her life. She supposedly has nothing to give back to those around her.

And all that is total bullsh*t.

When I was a child, I got a book that became a favorite – “The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.” I loved it enough that when I spotted it at the store, I bought it for my children. It’s a tale of a little girl bunny who wanted to grow up to be an Easter Bunny (as there were several of them who made Easter deliveries). She was told she couldn’t possibly ever be an Easter Bunny because she wasn’t the right type of rabbit, and she was a girl who then became a mother of 21 little bunnies. (Spoiler alert – she becomes a great Easter Bunny.)

I was always enchanted by how she found tasks for all 21 of her little fuzzy offspring. She paired them up, two by two, to perform tasks that would help out the entire family. So two cooked, two dusted, two made all the beds. Two painted pictures, two made music, two danced – because the arts are important. And one… one pulled out the mama bunny’s chair every night.

Every bunny had something they could do that contributed to the family’s well-being, even if all they did was pull out a chair for their mother, so she could sit down after a long day. No task was deemed “more important” than another. Everyone contributed their talents, and all contributions were appreciated.

In our household society, we all contribute different things. My daughter, Maura’s, contributions are usually the least helpful in one way, but in other ways, they’re priceless. She brings out the best in her siblings and her parents. She brings out the best in so many people. She brings joy and laughter to our lives, as well as reminders to enjoy the simpler things in life. Most of all, she gives love unconditionally. As I remind her siblings, no one will love you the way Maura loves you.

If you tally up facts and numbers and all sorts of tangible things, no, Maura doesn’t contribute much to society. But if you look at the love she gives, the smiles she causes, the experiences she causes – then her contribution to life is huge.

Let’s not fool ourselves – anyone can have a disability or have a child with a disability. Anyone.  Wouldn’t it be better to treat those with disabilities as worthy humans rather than calling them burdens? Because the next “burden to society” may be you or your loved one.

My child is a worthy human being. You are, too. Let’s just go with that.

A version of this post originally appeared on Herding Cats.

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I’ve always reveled in the euphoria and excitement that comes with dating someone new, but since stepping back into the dating world after my mental breakdown, that excitement feels short-lived. Instead, I find myself worrying. When is the right time to tell someone I have bipolar II disorder? How will they react? What if they don’t want anything to do with me anymore?

When I share these worries with friends and family, most will say that when it comes to timing, I’ll just know and that I shouldn’t put any pressure on myself to share that part of my life with someone I’ve just met. I think the trouble for me, though, is that because I publicly write about mental health and what I’ve been through, it’s a topic of conversation that has to come up a lot sooner than it would if I didn’t write about it or if I wasn’t actively involved in Madison’s NAMI community. If I’m developing feelings for someone and can clearly see they are developing feelings for me, I would rather them hear about my experience from my own word of mouth than to read about it in an article or on one of my social media sites.

For the most part, I haven’t had to think too much about this mainly because the series of first dates I’ve been on haven’t piqued my interest enough to want to go on a second one. Though I always give honest answers when asked about my life, what I’m passionate about, and what I do in my spare time, my answers are succinct and fairly vague. So when my third date with a guy I recently met turned into a fourth and a fifth, I started freaking out. Sh*t started getting real!

With him, I’ve put forth a lot of effort into hiding the more public aspect of my life (I won’t even be Facebook friends with him!) in large part because of my fear of rejection. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis and though writing about it is a means of me processing my experiences and fighting the stigma that comes with having a mental illness, I still carry with me a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Getting back into the dating world almost seems to exacerbate that as I constantly worry about being judged and question who would want to take on some of the darker parts of me.

I had just reached the conclusion there was no good time to tell this guy about my mental health diagnosis when I found out that my proposal to implement a pilot program (a writing workshop for youth at juvenile institutions who have mental health issues) was approved. The day I found out happened to be a day we were having lunch. Joy was beaming out of every crevice of my body and talking about my project with him opened the door for a deeper conversation about mental health issues and why I’m so passionate about the subject.

As my family and friends predicted, you do know when the right time to tell someone is, and I had reached that particular moment with him. With a wavering voice and shaky hands, I embraced vulnerability and told him I had bipolar II disorder. I also told him why I had been scared to tell him. I waited for the raised eyebrow, awkward silence, and “check please” reaction, but instead I got a, “That wouldn’t keep me away from you in a million years.” Those words almost brought me to tears because they erased every ounce of fear and worry I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Though dating in general is hard, it can be even trickier for those living with a mental illness. The things I question and worry about now are immensely different from what I used to think about before being diagnosed. I’ve spent so much time building this moment up in my head, only ever envisioning a doomsday scenario. In reality, I found the big “reveal” wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be. I credit that to the type of person this guy is – kind, compassionate and understanding, to say the least. I know not everyone I meet or date in the future will measure up to those standards, but I am thankful to at least had a good first experience.

For those of you out there who are also juggling dating with a mental illness – what have your experiences been like?

A version of this post originally appeared on The Scenic Way Home.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s a dating story related to your disability and/or disease that made you laugh, roll your eyes, cry or was otherwise unforgettable? 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. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


In 2004, SOZIALHELDEN e.V., a German nonprofit created Wheelmap, a free interactive map that allows anyone to highlight wheelchair-accessible locations. Registered users can also add comments and photos.

Locations are ranked as “wheelchair accessible,” “limited accessibility” or “not accessible.” “Limited accessibility” means most rooms at that location are accessible but there may be an entrance step.

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The app combines technology and community to raise awareness about accessibility and hopefully encourage more places to become wheelchair-friendly. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, buildings in the process of being built must be wheelchair accessible. Building design regulations were again updated in 2010 — you can view those guidelines here.

Wheelmap is available in both iOS and Android apps and comes in more than 22 languages. Since 2010, when the app launched, there have been more than 470,000 data entries by users across the globe.

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Download the free app on Google Play or on iTunes.

h/t Gizmodo

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