I was at an IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting for my son, Sebastian, who has autism spectrum disorder. During the meeting, while the coordinators are putting together their findings and the paperwork for you to review and sign, they place you in a room with other families. One time, I shared the room with a young lady who had a newborn and a 4-year-old daughter. Sebastian was also 4 at the time. However, I noticed she was a little higher on the spectrum than he is.

The little girl and Sebastian began to play together and she started to play a little roughly. I felt she didn’t understand what she was doing, so I didn’t make a big deal out of it. They’re children, and it’s to be expected sometimes. Her mom asked me if Sebastian had autism because of the flapping he does and the fact that he’s nonverbal. I told her yes, and we proceeded to talk about how smart our children are despite what others might see. We also began to discuss how difficult it can be sometimes, and the stares we get when our children make certain noises or exhibit certain behaviors deemed “not normal.”

As we continued talking and our little ones continued to play, her daughter hit Sebastian in the head with a ball or something, and she went to give her a time-out. Her daughter began to have a meltdown and the mom looked so uneasy. As she sat on the floor cradling her daughter while her daughter struggled to get loose, I came over and sat down on the floor with her and began to share some of the things I learned from attending therapy with Sebastian. I explained to her that trying to control her meltdown wasn’t going to work; it would only make things worse. I told her to allow the meltdown and then when she calms down, explain to her why you wanted her to sit for a moment.

We continued to talk and share information. I told her about places she may want to check into for assistance. She was so grateful and wanted to keep in touch. I gave her my email address and told her she could contact me anytime because we all need to support each other.

As I was sitting with the parent, one of the IEP coordinators came in and saw what took place. She pulled me to one side and said, “That was a great thing you just did. We do not have many parents that will sit with one another and try and help each other deal with situations such as the one I just saw.” She then gave me a hug and said, “We need more parents like you in the schools to help parents who might be struggling with a child with special needs.” I thanked her and explained to her that we need support and it’s difficult to get. As the parent of a child with special needs, my responsibility is to support those going through the same thing.

I want to be as supportive as possible to parents like me because there are so many obstacles we already have to face in this “normal” world. As an advocate, parent and student of a child with special needs, I stand with them to offer support, guidance and understanding. Together, we can make a huge difference in how our children are viewed and treated in this world. We are their voice!

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.


There’s a new officer patrolling the streets of Minneapolis.

In June 2015, Sam Hesla was sworn in as a reserve officer, KSTP News reported. Hesla, 24, is one of the first reserve officers with Down syndrome to serve in the country, according to the outlet.

Before earning his title, Hesla completed 12 weeks of training in which he mastered skills like radio communication, CPR and traffic directing. Though Minneapolis reserve officers don’t carry weapons, their duties include crime prevention, monitoring events and backing up the Minneapolis police department when necessary, according to the Minneapolis government website.

Now that he’s achieved his lifelong goal of becoming an officer, Hesla is thrilled to serve in his community.

“I like helping people. I want to take care of people,” Hesla told KSTP News in the video below. “I want to risk my life to take care of others. I care more about other people than I care about myself.”

Hear more of Hesla’s story in the video below.

I know it can be hard not to stare. But I am the mother of that child you’re staring at. I am the mother of that child who is screaming, biting and yelling while running wild around the store.

I am the mother of that child who is far too old to be “behaving” like that.

I am the mother of that child no one wants to play with, who no one invites anywhere, who no one offers to sit with…

I am the mother of that child you can’t take your eyes off. The loudest child, the roughest child, the most aggressive child you may have ever seen.

I am the mother of that child, the one your child runs from, the child you intentionally or unintentionally encourage your child to run from.

I know it’s hard not to stare. I do. I also know you don’t mean to stare. Maybe it’s like watching a social experiment or something.

Mother and three sons enter store. One son starts screaming as soon as he spots people. The middle son takes the baby son and pushes the buggy away, clearly embarrassed. The mother doesn’t scold screaming son, oh no, she does not. You wonder why. You go through all the things you would do while staring at the unfolding  scene.

Mother bends down to son and starts gently rocking him. You think he might have autism. Mother gets kicked in her stomach. She falls. Son starts crying, trying to punch her while she tells him over and over, “It’s OK.” By now there are a good few in the audience, so you don’t feel uncomfortable. You think maybe he’s “bold” or spoiled. Now he’s screaming, “I kick you. FUG OFF,” while banging his fists together. You stare, mouth open.

Her other sons are by the door, one in a buggy and the other asking, “Are you OK, Mom?” There are tears in his eyes. The mother smiles, she actually smiles! She tells her son to stay right there like a good boy.

Mother looks back at the “bold” boy who is now a little calmer. He’s still kicking her but asking for sweets! She gives him sweets! Well, that caused you to have a chat with the stranger beside you who also can’t believe the mother didn’t march that “brat” right out of the store.

Mother sits down and laughs with said boy as they both eat a sweet. She nods for her other two boys to join them, which they do. You can’t believe what you’re seeing. And you’re still staring.

I do know that scene would be hard to ignore. It would stop me in my tracks, too.

Here’s something anyone could do if a scene like that should unfold. Ask the other children if they’re OK. My middle guy gets so embarrassed and hates the crowds watching and whispering. He’s asked me, “Mom, why don’t they ever help? Why do they just stare and whisper?”

I’ve told him, “They just don’t know what to do. They don’t know Ethan (my son) or us, so they’re afraid to help.”

To stare or not to stare… It’s simple, really: don’t.

Don’t stare. You’re sending such bad messages to not only my children but to your children and other children watching your reaction.

If you’re too afraid to offer help, keep on walking. I beg you. But if you want to help, go see if my other boys are OK. Stay with them until I have Ethan calm. Or if I’m alone while he’s having a meltdown, maybe have a look around and move objects that may harm him, me or even you if he’s lashing out. Or if I had to drop bags to run after him, maybe you could pick up the bags.

I wish someone would ask me, “Can I help you?” I’ve never been asked that and I do know why, but once in a while, I would love someone to ask me that instead of pointing and staring.

I am the mother of that child you’re staring at.

He’s my baby, my boy, my life. So please don’t stare.

Follow this journey on geraldinerenton.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: “Staring” is a topic that comes up so much in our community. Tell us about one unforgettable “staring” experience you or someone you love had that’s related to disability, disease or illness. 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.

A school trip to the zoo is exciting, especially for kids 7- to 8-year-olds.

Except when your son has autism. And sensory issues. And severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And severe food allergies. And the list goes on.

My son was excited and wanted to go, but I knew it wouldn’t be a good experience for a number of reasons. It was an hour away, which was too far, especially for a bus ride. Who knew what the weather would be that day? He doesn’t like getting wet, so rain is out. The heat and sun bother him, so that’s out. What was the likelihood of it being 70 degrees and breezy with light clouds on the day of the field trip?

Would he have a good day or would it be one of his bad days? Would he meltdown over the sheer excitement of it? That happens often. He’ll get exhausted and scream before we get into the car sometimes.

What exhibits will we see? Elephants are his favorite land animal. If we don’t see them, he’ll have an instant meltdown. He’s getting bigger, too. I can’t pick him up and whisk him away to comfort and calm him anymore.

My son’s food allergies are significant, too. They have peanuts at the zoo. We avoid peanuts at all costs.

So for these reasons, we declined to go on the field trip. I never thought about contacting the teacher or principal or trying to change the trip. We had declined before, and I didn’t want to ruin the trip for anyone else. While we were asked our feelings about the trip, I never expected any special treatment.

I never expected what happened next either.

A mother had a conversation with her child about my son not going on the field trip. He decided that if my son couldn’t go, he wouldn’t go either. Another soon followed. And then another. They refused to go on the trip in support of my son and their friend.

Was I hearing these moms correctly? Not only were they voicing camaraderie, but they were backing it up, too. And their little kids would rather stay home than go to the zoo? I didn’t even know if these kids talked to my son during the day. They had always been nice to us and supportive behind the scenes. But in the world of special needs, sometimes you never really know how genuine people are or if they’re just being polite.

When you’re raising a child with special needs, sometimes you wonder what the community around you is thinking. Do they say he should be at a special school? Do they say he doesn’t belong? These questions often go unanswered. Until now.

I later heard that the boys in my son’s class had talked about the field trip. At one point, half of the class refused to go.

To say that my husband and I broke down and cried when we heard about this is an understatement. Not only were the parents supporting my child in a way that had never been done before, their children had also been taught to show support, too.

I received a phone call from the principal, who wanted to make the field trip work in any way possible. She was wonderful in her support of my child and wanted to provide any accommodation that would allow for my child to attend.

In the end, we decided that it wasn’t safe due to the food allergy issue. We certainly didn’t want to deny anyone else a trip to the zoo. After all, they may not get another chance.

While most went on the trip, four of us did not. But it’s really not about the field trip. The willingness of the principal to provide any assistance necessary was overwhelming. Her unwavering support of our family is unmatched. The parents who showed us support and their amazing children have become our friends. Good friends. Friends we haven’t had since our child’s diagnosis. Friends who don’t judge. Friends who create special zones at their house for my son if he gets overwhelmed and have special foods he can eat. Friends who ask us how we are and don’t get annoyed if we can’t talk because we’re helping a little boy who’s having a bad day.

An admission ticket can’t buy that.

Tracy Boyarsky Smith the mighty.1-001

Tom and Arnisteen Clark, from Fayetteville, Georgia, have hardly been apart from one another in their 68 years of marriage, according to a post on the Piedmont Fayette Hospital’s Facebook page. The only time they were separated was when Tom, an Army veteran, was stationed in Korea.

The couple was recently admitted to the orthopedic surgery floor of the Piedmont Fayette Hospital and it was particularly difficult for them because they had to stay in separate rooms. None of the rooms on that floor are built for double occupancy and so it is against state regulations to house two people in one of the private rooms.

They couldn’t be together,” Charlsie Niemiec, the hospital’s social media specialist, told ABC News, “and it was clearly breaking their hearts.”

Seeing this, Tina Mann, Manager of the Orthopedics floor got help from the clinical staff to make a special arrangement for Tom, 96, to visit his wife, 92, in her room for several hours a day.

I just can’t be away from her,” Tom Clark told hospital staff, according to the Facebook post, “she’s the finest woman in the world.”

Fayetteville residents Tom and Arnisteen Clark have been married for 68 years. The only time they have been apart during...

Posted by Piedmont Fayette Hospital on Thursday, August 6, 2015


The Clarks have both been released and moved to a rehab facility together.

For the last six years of my life, I’ve spent more time thinking about food than nearly anything else. For five of those six years, I was in the throes of an eating disorder. Only in the last year have I started to edge back into a remotely healthy diet. In that time, I’ve had lots of people say lots of truly terrible things to me, things that sent my brain spinning merrily back into the labyrinth of restriction.

Most of those people thought they were helping.

So as a service to everyone who knows, meets or interacts with someone with an eating disorder, here’s a guide to what not to say. Even if you’re intentions are good, your first instinct might not be the best when it comes to what to say to someone who discloses their eating disorder to you.

1. “You don’t look sick.”

There are all kinds of eating disorders. Anorexia is one of them, and yes, it does include a weight criterion. However, it’s the only one that does. The vast majority of people with eating disorders are not underweight. So while you might think you’re paying a compliment, or trying to keep them from blowing a problem out of proportion, you’re really just sending the message: Your problem isn’t real.

2. “Maybe if you just exercise more you won’t want to restrict.”

One thing to remember is that people with eating disorders have a wide variety of symptoms. One you won’t see in the media as often is excessive exercise. You could inadvertently be pushing someone into an unhealthy behavior. Beyond that, eating disorders aren’t caused by a logical desire to lose weight. They’re complicated mental illnesses, and “healthy” ways of losing weight just won’t serve the same functions.

3. “Shouldn’t you try eating healthier instead?”

Similarly to exercising, eating healthier foods and losing weight slowly is really not the goal of an eating disorder. The goal is control, self-harm, perfectionism or emotional management. Some folks even have something called orthorexia, meaning healthy eating is a damaging practice.

4. “You look so healthy.”

This one is tough, because for lots of people it seems like it’s circumventing the problem of commenting on someone’s weight. Especially as your friend/loved one starts to move towards recovery, it’s really tempting to comment on how much more alive they look. I can promise you, that most eating disordered brains know this is code for, “You’ve gained weight.” A better choice is to focus on compliments or comments that don’t address weight at all, such as “You seem really happy lately,” or “I’m glad to see you doing your favorite things again.”

5. “Don’t you know you’re hurting yourself?”

Again, this might seem like the kind of question that comes from a place of caring. You want your friend or acquaintance to know  you care about them and you don’t want them to hurt or deprive themselves. The problem is it comes off as condescending. If you’re in the midst of an eating disorder, you’re quite aware you’re damaging your body. I remember stopping to sit down halfway up a flight of stairs because I was too winded. I remember the whole world going blurry and dizzy on a regular basis. I remember sleeping constantly because my body just couldn’t get up and do anymore. My story is not even close to the worst either. Others are hospitalized, pass out, get osteoporosis, break bones or damage their digestive systems. We know we’re hurting ourselves and hearing about it inspires feelings of guilt, confusion and sometimes even a desire to continue hurting yourself.

6. “I was so bad last night, I ate a cupcake. Guess I have to hit the gym.”

Eating is not a moral activity. There are no foods that will make you a bad person or a good person. Skinny people are not better than fat people. Statements like these connect morals to weight or eating, and making those connections makes it that much harder for someone who struggles with food to find a place where they can be comfortable and happy with their diet.

7. “There are so many calories in that!”

In general, it’s good manners to not comment on the calories in anyone else’s food. What other people eat isn’t your business. But one of the biggest problems with encouraging talk about calories is that it can become a habit. When you talk calories around people who already have a strained relationship with food, you can send their brains back to thoughts they would rather leave behind. For some folks, calorie talk is enough to trigger a relapse. Those numbers have an addictive quality for many people with eating disorders and even hearing about them once or twice can start up the counting again.

From this girl in recovery, just leave the calorie chats behind. Count your own calories if that’s your jam, but your food choices are personal and bringing up calories when you don’t know someone else’s relationship with food can be unkind.

8. “You would be prettier if you gained some weight.”

This may seem odd to some people, but eating disorders have little to nothing to do with whether or not other people find the individual’s body attractive. For me personally, I was interested in my own conception of the perfect body and I didn’t care what other people thought. If you want to help someone with an eating disorder build up strong self-esteem, talk to them about something other than their body. Compliments about things they do, the way they think or the kind of person they are — you’re far more likely to leave a lasting impact.

9. “I just want to lose some weight.”

Generally putting your body down or talking about losing weight is a good way to promote a culture of dieting and body dissatisfaction. It can be much better to avoid body talk at all, especially if someone around you experiences body image issues. Talking about losing weight and hearing others talk about losing weight can activate the competitive part of many people with eating disorders, as well as communicate to them that it’s normal to want to lose weight.

These might seem like a lot of rules, but if you want a guiding principle for what you should say to people who struggle with food remember this: they’re overall pretty normal people who want to talk about things other than food. Treat them like that. Ask them what they prefer. The people who have made me cry in relief are the ones who kept treating me like me, and then were straightforward with me when they had a question or concern.

More than anything, keep showing up. It’s easy to isolate yourself when you’re not eating. Because food is so social, restriction is lonely. Say, “Hi,” ask your friend to hang out in non-food related ways and listen if they ask to talk. It makes a world of difference.

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