These Mentors With Learning Differences Have Messages for Kids Like Them

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If you’ve ever been discouraged because of a learning disability, these counselors have a message for you.

Camp Eye to Eye, run by the national organization Eye to Eye, is a week-long day camp for students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD entering 4th to 8th grade. The counselors are college and high school-aged mentors with similar learning challenges. Activities at the camp include creating motivational art projects, zip-lining, swimming and even creating their own Eye to Eye My Advocacy Plan, a tool they can use in their upcoming IEP or 504 Plan meeting. The program also holds daily hour-long seminars for parents.

We’re creating mentor memories for a lifetime,” Fred Miggins, Eye to Eye’s director of marketing and communications, told The Mighty. “Seeing there are people in your shoes who have gone to college and have accomplished so much is so important.”

According to Miggins, Eye to Eye focuses on the social-emotional piece of living with a learning disability/ADHD — encouraging self-esteem, self-advocacy and hope. Eye to Eye has 50 mentoring chapters in 20 states, as well as diplomats who speak throughout the country.

Because we know having a learning difference/ADHD doesn’t mean you can’t succeed, The Mighty asked Camp Eye to Eye counselors what messages they want to send those with learning disabilities. Here’s what they had to say:

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“You are not alone.”

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“I dream big.”

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“You can excel!”

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“Confidence”

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“You are awesome!”

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“Never give up!”

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“Thinking different rules.”

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“LD/ADHD – proud to be!”

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“Be YOUrself!”

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“Own your label!”

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“You think in amazing ways.”

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“Think outside the box!”

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“Thinking different is cool!”

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“The struggle makes you stronger.”

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“Your L.D. [learning difference] does not define you!”

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Fred Miggins from Eye to Eye

For more information about Eye-to-Eye and their programs, click here or find them on Facebook.

Editor’s note: Fred Miggins’ position was previously stated incorrectly.

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Town Elects the United Kingdom's First Mayor With a Learning Disability

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There’s a new mayor in town, and he’s making history for people with learning disabilities.

Gavin Harding, former deputy mayor, was recently elected to be the mayor of Selby, North Yorkshire, making him the United Kingdom’s first mayor with a learning disability.

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I had to keep pinching myself, saying is this real,” Harding told The Guardian. 

Harding, who has a form of cerebral palsy, has lived in Selby his whole life, where he was only one of six people with disabilities to attend a mainstream school, according to The Guardian. In 2011, he was elected to represent Selby’s North Ward on the Selby Town Council, and two years ago he was chosen to be the Chair of the National Forum for people with learning disabilities.

His advocacy resume goes on. Earlier this year he co-wrote the United Kingdom’s “green paper of proposals,” which gives people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions more rights around the care they receive. He’s one of the founders of Voices for People, a group from Selby that supports adults with learning disabilities and promotes self-advocacy. In 2014, he was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours and awarded his MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his services in the disability community.

According to the Selby’s Town Council website, he will “continue to be the champion for people with disabilities throughout his term.”

There is nothing stopping people with learning disabilities,” Harding told The Guardian. 

We agree.

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The Unforgettable Moment My 3-Year-Old Showed Me What Unconditional Love Looks Like

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My son showed me what unconditional love looks like when he was only 3 years old. He showed me how unfaltering love can be. He did this all through one tender moment that I carry with me every day.

That year, my sister Mary was sick with cancer. She’d just started her second round of chemo, and we were all sort of falling apart inside. This round had been tough on her system and left her skin raw and covered in a rash. I remember feeling so heartbroken to see my beautiful sister so ravaged by this horrible disease and the medicine that was supposed to make her better.

One summer afternoon she was sitting in my sister Annie’s sun-drenched living room beside the giant picture window. We were all lounging around talking and just taking in the lazy summer day. My son, Cosmo, came running in to see Mary, his beautiful blonde curls shining in the sunlight. I remember feeling that pit in my stomach, worried he would see her and be startled or say something that might hurt her feelings. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Cosmo climbed up into Mary’s lap. He cupped her face in his chubby little hands and peered into her eyes, which were the same bright blue as his own. “Boo boos?” he asked her. “Yes, Cosmo, I have boo boos,” she whispered back. He then leaned in, gave her two gentle kisses on each cheek and nestled in her lap. Mary held him close and planted a dozen kisses on his little head. He reached over for a book and asked her to read to him. They could spend hours together lost in storybooks.

mother kisses son playing in toy car
Mary and Cosmo

Tears spilled out from my eyes. I had to leave the room and collect myself. I was so amazed by my spirited, rough-and-tumble little boy, by the love and kindness he displayed with such a little gesture. I could see how much my sister was moved by his little words, his little hands, his sweet little kisses.

A few months later on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her family, my sister passed away. We miss her every moment of every day. We keep her spirit alive, we play her favorite Bruce songs, we read her favorite stories, and we tell our children how much she loved them and how that special love is a gift.

Seven years have passed since that day. Cosmo is 10 years old. He struggles with a learning disability and sensory disorder. Some days are difficult for him and frustrations build… for all of us. But I hold that moment from seven years ago in my heart. I know his capacity for love and kindness. I’ve seen it with my eyes and felt it with my heart. It isn’t something you can learn in school. It’s a gift he was born with… and he will share it with all of us.

For all of December, The Mighty is celebrating the moments we gave or received a gift that touched our lives in a special way. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post describing this moment for you. Include a photo and 1-2 sentence bio to [email protected].
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My Son Had a Meltdown on an Airplane and Everyone's Responses Shocked Me

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I’ve been saving for our family to go to Disney World in Orlando for years. So I decided in November 2013 that is was time to finally plan it. My partner’s mom and her husband gave us their points on their Disney timeshare and booked us at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge overlooking the savanna. It wasn’t just any room – it was a beautiful two bedroom suite.

I did everything I could to prepare our son with autism for the trip. We even went to the airport on a tour for kids with autism and explored the plane a month early.

Fast-forward to the day of take-off. We get on the plane, and as it backs out on the runway, our son completely and utterly loses it. My partner was sitting next to him, with a gentleman in the aisle seat, while I sat behind them with our other two kids. I had to change places with that gentleman to help my partner with our son, who shrieked loud enough for the whole plane to hear, tried to climb over the seats in front of him. He just wanted to escape, and there was no place to go. This lasted for around a half hour. It was awful — one of the worst experiences we’ve ever had with him. By the time it was done, the three of us were a sweaty mess with adrenaline coursing through our systems.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have blamed the people around us for being irritated. Honestly, I’d expect some people to be judgmental. But no one was.

A lady sitting near me asked if there was anything she could do and told us we were doing a great job with him. She even gave us a salad she’d bought in the airport for an outrageous amount of money and insisted we take it. I cried; I didn’t expect anyone to see how we were trying to comfort him and get him to be OK and restrain  without hurting him. It was hard, it was awful, it was loud, and someone saw through it all to the love and care we were using with him.

When we landed, the people behind us weren’t judgmental but kind. The gentleman I traded places even stated that he had to be sedated to fly or he’d feel inclined to do what my son had been doing.

I never expected people to understand and care like that. In fact, as I type this, I have tears running down my face. That was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received – the kindness and caring of strangers.

Family at Disney Land

The Mighty is celebrating the moments we gave or received a gift that touched our lives in a special way. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post describing this moment for you. Include a photo and 1-2 sentence bio to [email protected].
Hint! Some gifts don’t come in packages.

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Dear Holiday Advertisers, This Is What the Perfect Gift Actually Looks Like

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Dear Holiday Advertiser,

Your attempt to convince me that the best gift I could ever receive would be parked in my driveway with a big red bow on the roof is in vain. There’s also no chance I would believe a small velvet box under the tree would make my season the brightest ever. You see, I have a child with special needs, and I learned the true meaning of “gift” years ago.

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A true gift changes your perspective on life. It takes something you initially thought was a disaster – a diagnosis, a surgery, a bad prognosis – and turns it into something of value. It makes you appreciate every day a little more going forward.

A true gift doesn’t get unwrapped in ten seconds. It unfolds across a lifetime to reveal unexpected and amazing surprises, like the string of positive impacts the life of your child with special needs has on others.

A true gift turns the routine into celebration, so it feels like there are many holidays in a year. A 4-year-old taking his first steps. An 8-year-old with enough breath to blow out the birthday candles. A few first words from a child after so many years of waiting. Moments taken for granted unless you’ve received the gift of knowing nothing can be taken for granted – ever.

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I’m sure you’ll sell a lot of cars and necklaces to people who think that is what the holidays are all about. But this group – parents of children who have special needs – knows what truly fills our hearts. Don’t get me wrong – we’ll take that shiny new car or sparkling necklace any day – but they’re definitely not on the top of our wish list. If you really want us to be overjoyed, please redirect some of those advertising dollars to the hospitals and organizations that help us take care of our kids.

Wishing you the gift of true joy,

Davis’s Mom

For all of December, The Mighty is celebrating the moments we gave or received a gift that touched our lives in a special way. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post describing this moment for you. Include a photo and 1-2 sentence bio to [email protected].
Hint! Some gifts don’t come in packages.

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The Letter I Would Have Written for My Parents When I Was Still Nonverbal

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Baby KerryDear Mom and Dad,

I know it’s breaking your heart to see me as I am now. Most of the kids we know are starting to talk while I’m just making sounds. I’m lashing out because I’m struggling. I can’t communicate my needs, and things are just not going the way I wish they would. I scream and fight with you every time you try and bathe me because I can’t stand the feeling of water. I cringe anytime I hear thunder, and I don’t like to be touched because of my sensory issues. Even now, as we make all the adorable videos of me dressed up as one of the best looking toddlers of all time, I know things aren’t easy, and we don’t know what my future has in store.

I want to tell you, though, to keep fighting for me and believing in me because without you both — my best advocates — I’m not going to be the person I am today. There’s hope, and you both play a huge part in that. Things are going to get better, and without you that wouldn’t be possible.  

At 2 and a half, I’m going to say my first words, and at 4 you’re going to find out from a doctor that I have something called autism. In 1992, it will be something you would have only heard from some of the leading experts in the field and from the 1988 movie “Rain Man.” The road now is going to be difficult, but we’re going to get through it together. 

Supports are going to be difficult to come by. The numbers of autism are 1 in 1000 right now and so many people still don’t understand. Life is going to be difficult. Challenges are coming. But here’s why you should fight through the challenges…

By fighting for me every day and helping me go through occupational, physical and speech therapy for the next 16 years, while giving me support at home and in school, I’m going to grow into an adult who is a national motivational speaker and gives talks about autism across the country.

Because if you fight for me right now and never give up, not only will I be that speaker but I’ll have the opportunity to write an Amazon Best Seller, consult for a major motion picture that makes 30 million dollars, and be someone who gives you love every single day. I will grow into an adult who embraces affection.

Love,
Kerry

I hope for any parent who reads this letter — coming from a now 26-year-old adult on the autism spectrum — that you never give up on your loved ones. The autism spectrum is wide and everyone’s journey is going to be slightly different. Become an advocate because by doing what you’re doing now, you not only give hope to your loved ones but you give hope to the autism community. We’re learning more and more about autism every day and more and more answers are coming to help our community progress.

Most important, I hope you take this letter as a sign that all parents of children on the autism spectrum can make a difference. Some days are going to be more difficult than others, but just know that you’re never alone in this community. And if you ever need someone to talk to, I’m just one message away if you click on my Mighty author page.

A version of this blog originally appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

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