Taylor Swift Personally Invited This 7-Year-Old Pianist With Autism to Her Show

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Jacob Velazquez is one of Taylor Swift’s biggest fans. The 7-year-old listens to her albums every day and loves watching her videos on YouTube, his mom, Tina Velazquez, wrote on Autism Speaks.

Jacob, who was diagnosed with autism at age 4, is also a jaw-droppingly good pianist. In the hopes of getting Swift’s attention, he created a medley of Swift’s songs, which he plays by heart in the incredible video below:

When Autism Speaks tweeted the video on August 19, something wonderful happened. Swift saw the video and invited Jacob to one of her upcoming shows:

The invitation comes just in time for Jacob’s birthday, which is on September 29.  Way to go, Jacob!

Lead photo from Jacob Velazquez’s Facebook page.

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When People Ask What’s ‘Wrong’ With My Daughter With Autism

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My daughter, Caroline, is joyful, jovial, sweet and so smart. She’s also a nonverbal sensory seeker who flaps her arms and screams uncontrollably when she becomes excited or frustrated. Caroline has autism; she is not deaf and she is not without feelings.

I am Caroline’s mother, caretaker and biggest advocate. I am not deaf and I am not without feelings.

On more than one occasion a seemingly typical but curious adult has asked — within hearing distance of Caroline — “What is wrong with her?” My visceral response: “Nothing is wrong with her, but I question your upbringing and manners. And to be clear, when I say nothing is wrong with Caroline, I meant there was nothing wrong with her before she heard a total stranger ask: ‘What is wrong with her?’”

Caroline communicates using sign language, a communication device, a few words and gestures. She doesn’t really communicate her feelings other than to share that she’s mad when access to a preferred item or activity is denied. So I don’t know exactly how Caroline feels when she hears someone ask a question such as “What is wrong with her?” but I do know she hears it and understands what it means. And for that reason alone, I become enraged that a total stranger would feel it appropriate to express their curiosity in such an inappropriate manner. When inquiring about Caroline’s differences in such a thoughtless matter, that person is putting their idle curiosity before Caroline’s feelings and mine.

I would much rather someone ask about Caroline’s behaviors than simply stare at her, but the questions need to be worded in a way that’s not hurtful. For instance, instead of “What’s wrong with her?” ask “Why does she flap like that?” Or when Caroline is jumping up and down, screaming and flapping, I’ve had other moms ask with concern if those are happy screams. To which I generally respond with a smile and, “Yes, those are very happy screams. Caroline has autism and she absolutely loves the pool. What are you are seeing right now is Caroline expressing pure joy. Thank you for asking.”

It’s normal to be curious. But when one assumes that something is wrong with another because they act differently, it’s thoughtless. Caroline would not be the person she is, the person I love, if she did not have autism. When I look at Caroline, I don’t see a bunch of “strange” behaviors related to autism — I see my wonderful, hard-working daughter who overcomes countless challenges every day. So, no, there is nothing “wrong with her”; she is simply amazing.

She’s different, not less.

Follow this journey on Failure to Thrive or Ability to Overcome?

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. 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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See the Amazing Photos Taken by a Legally Blind Photographer

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Tammy Ruggles
Via Tammy Ruggles.

Tammy Ruggles knew she had trouble with her vision from an early age. She got her first pair of glasses when she was just 2 years old. She remembers holding books close to her face and sitting near the front of the classroom to read the chalkboard. But it wasn’t until she turned 40 that Ruggles learned she has retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a rare progressive disease that affects the retinas, eventually leading to blindness.

Ruggles, 54, is now legally blind, and she’s pursuing her passion for art in a completely new way. Ruggles grew up loving art but stuck mostly to sketching. But in 2013, she started her professional photography business, taking pictures and editing photos with the help of today’s technology.

With a point-and-shoot digital camera set on auto, a 47-inch computer monitor and her remaining vision, Ruggles photographs landscapes, flowers and abstract objects. She doesn’t usually photograph people, as it’s difficult for her to tell if the subject is looking at the camera or what type of facial expression someone is making.

Her process is a little different than most photographers’. Ruggles, from a small town in Kentucky, shoots a bunch of photos, but she’s cannot really view them until she uploads them to her computer.

Lights Over the Land
Via Tammy Ruggles.

“When people look at my photography, I want them to say she’s an artist first,” Ruggles told The Mighty. “I want them to see the art before the visual impairment. I want them to look past my disability.”

On Aug. 28, Ruggles’ photographs will be in an exhibit for the first time. Art Beyond Boundaries, an organization that promotes artists with disabilities, is holding the gallery called “My Mind is a Camera” in Cincinnati, Ohio.

You can view Ruggles’ digital photography portfolio here and see some of her photos below.

Botanical 5
Via Tammy Ruggles.
Clouds 2
Via Tammy Ruggles.
Grazing
Via Tammy Ruggles.
Polaroid
Via Tammy Ruggles.
Botanical 4
Via Tammy Ruggles.
Fence Line
Via Tammy Ruggles.
As a Cloud
Via Tammy Ruggles.
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10 Small Victories in My Life With Cerebral Palsy

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Ah, victory — that wonderful feeling of winning a race, getting a promotion or finding the man (or woman) of your dreams. There’s nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment that comes from succeeding at big things. That sense of accomplishments can come from small things, too, especially for me. Living with cerebral palsy has caused me to think about a lot of everyday things as victories, and I wanted to share some of them with you. Here are my top 10 “small victories.”

1. Getting my feet under the blankets on the first try.

The way my body moves makes getting settled in bed at night more difficult than it should be, especially when it comes to blankets. My arms have a natural reflex to pull the blanket up instead of over my body. Usually this results in the blanket covering everything but my feet and a struggle to get it back where it should be. I love the nights when I manage to get the blanket set up just right and it slides over my feet with ease.

2. Plugging in my chair in the dark.

I use an electric wheelchair. Since I drive it around all day, I have to charge it in my bedroom at night. My light switch is across the room from my bed, which means I have to turn off the light, transfer to the edge of my bed and then plug in my chair. Finding the charging hole on the joystick is easy; putting the cord in the right way is not. It’s a lot like trying to plug in your phone when it’s dark, but worse. I often end up resorting to “let’s just put the end of the cord into the charging hole and twist the cord around until it slides in.” This can sometimes take a while, so I’m quite grateful when it happens quickly.

3. Turning 20-minute bathroom breaks into 10-minute bathroom breaks.

I don’t need to do this often. It happens most when I need to meet friends or squeeze in a bathroom break before an assembly or choir performance. It always feels good to know I can run to the bathroom and make it back before anything important happens.

4. Having a substitute aide I liked.

I’ve graduated now, but this was a huge thing when I was in school. I was never happy to hear that the aide who worked with me every day had to call in sick. I’d developed a nice routine with her and the routine was never quite the same with a sub. I also found it awkward “training” them, explaining what I did and did not need them to do. It was significantly less awkward when there was a substitute who had a similar personality and interests as me. Conversations flowed much easier when we actually had something to talk about.

5. Reading out loud and sounding good.

While I don’t have a speech impediment, talking out loud for long periods of time is hard for me. My tone kicks in and I often end up talking too fast or running out of air. For this reason I feel a real sense of pride when I read a presentation or passage from a book out loud more or less flawlessly.

6. Landing a transfer when I realize too late that I’ve positioned for it wrong.

I do this more often than I’d like to admit. I’ll be transferring from my chair to another surface and think I’ve positioned my chair close enough to said surface, then realize during the transfer that I didn’t. I transfer like a paraplegic. It’s a lot of sliding from one surface to another. If I make the mistake of positioning my chair too far away, I don’t always land on whatever I’m trying to transfer to. When I do manage to land it, I consider myself lucky.

7. Finding clothes that are both cute and comfy.

I’m very much a girly-girl. I love being cute and stylish. Comfort is also a huge priority since I’m sitting a majority of the time. Shopping, especially for pants, was a nightmare while skinny jeans were in style. Skinny jeans just don’t work for me. Not only do they usually dig into my stomach, but the bottoms don’t fit over my leg braces. It wasn’t my favorite style trend. You can imagine my happiness when comfy, stretchy, funky-patterned leggings came into style. I live in them now.

8. Going out and not having a single accessibility snag.

Going out — especially when it’s somewhere I’ve never been before — can be stressful. My brain plans for every single problem: stairs, inaccessible bathrooms and staff members who aren’t comfortable with disabilities. I have backup plans for everything, but I absolutely love it when I don’t have to use them.

9. Making food and not dropping it in the process.

This applies to anything from cereal to sandwiches. If I manage to make food for myself and don’t drop it, it’s a good day.

10. Recognizing little victories.

The fact that I can even make this list is a little victory in itself. I love that even on bad days, I’m able to feel good about one of these things.

A version of this post originally appeared on CPExperience.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. 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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When a 3-Year-Old Told His Mom That My Daughter Looked ‘Weird’

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For months, my daughter Betty’s physical therapist had encouraged me to have a short answer ready to explain her condition when the questions came. I thought about it a little, but felt pretty confident in how I could handle the “she has special needs” conversation with a curious onlooker. Plus, our entire community — family, friends, neighbors, strangers — had cradled us so supportingly, it was hard to believe that any hard questions or uncomfortable comments might ever come. But then one day, one did.

The thing that caught me most by surprise was the fact that a 3-year-old was the one who broke me. He came into the room as we got ready to leave a playdate and simply said to his mother, “Mom, Betty looks weird.” From the days when we first started to notice that something wasn’t right, through my daughter’s diagnosis and now nearly 18 months later, I had felt and acted uncannily strong. But in an instant, that façade collapsed, and I immediately felt the need to flee. I shoved our things in a bag as I felt the tears and a thousand different emotions surge to the surface. My friend, embarrassed, apologized for what her young son had said, to which he replied, “No, but Mom. Jack [his older brother] said she does. And I think so, too.”

Within a few seconds the metaphorical bough broke and all of that cradling from everyone around us was brought into question. Does everyone think she looks weird? Have they been lying to us when they tell us how cute she is? Is this just a preview to what the rest of her life — our life — will look like? Will she ever even be aware enough to realize people around her are saying hurtful things? I tried to reassure my friend and address the child’s concerns. In a shaky voice, “Yeah, she’s a little different, isn’t she? I guess we all are!” And then I left as quickly as possible so I could cry in the semi-privacy of my car with my two kids in the backseat.

Before I had children, friends who were parents had warned me that when your kids go through tough things you ache right along with them. But what I didn’t realize was that raising my daughter with special needs might mean that I would hurt for her. Betty likely had no idea what had been said. She didn’t feel the sting, the sadness, the hurt. But I did. It’s difficult to carry that and anticipate a lifetime of curious comments that might hurt. And though it’s a sad prospect to face, I’ve realized that this is a tiny part of her burden that I can carry for her. How many times do we wish we could deal with the challenges of our child’s disease, disorder or delays instead of them? This is one thing I can do for my daughter, one part of her life I can trade. And I’m more than happy to.

Dear little daughter, I will happily hurt for you. I’ll cheer for you and I’ll pray for you and I’ll believe in you. But I’ll also feel all of the pain you might not be able to feel. And that’s OK. Because I’m your mom and I love you.

Sarah Evans the mighty.2-001

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When a Man in a Shoe Store Thanked Me for Inspiring Him

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Years ago I worked at a shoe store.

It was a full-service store where we helped every customer find the perfect shoe for their needs. Sometimes this meant taking down and stacking boxes of shoes up to your eyeballs. We’d sit the customer down and have them try the shoes on, then ask them to walk or run around to see how they felt, oftentimes even tying the shoes for the customer.

Not until years after the fact did I ever think about how my customers must have felt when I, a guy with only one hand, tied their shoes for them.

One afternoon as I was stocking our shelves, I had that feeling. You know that feeling when you can sense that someone is behind you. Well, eventually I saw him. He was much older than me, probably in his early 60s. He looked nervous, almost scared.

At some point, I approached him and asked how I could help. I’ll never forget his response.

“I’m actually on my way to a job interview and I stopped in here to try and calm down,” he said. “I’m incredibly nervous. You see, I have a bad foot and it makes me very insecure. Even though I know you can’t see it and that nobody will notice it unless I tell them about it, I know it’s there and it makes me feel like a loser. I just wanted to tell you … I’ve been watching you for a while now and you’ve inspired me to go to the interview and do my best. You’ve been helping people confidently and you’ve been doing all of your other tasks without even thinking about your arm, it seems like. I’m envious of your confidence, honestly! So, thank you.”

I just stood there, stunned. I hadn’t been doing anything out of the ordinary. I’d just been doing the same things I did every day. I was just doing my job.

That gentleman was encouraged by me that day, but really, he gave me a gift, too. He taught me we don’t have to do extraordinary things to make an extraordinary difference in the world. You never know who you’ll inspire just by being you.

We ended up having a great conversation, and I encouraged him the best I could to give it everything he had at that interview. To be confident. To focus on his strengths and to let them know why he was the best person for the job.

If this were a storybook, I’d tell you that he stopped in a couple weeks later to tell me he got the job. But, it’s not and he didn’t. And that’s OK. Because that’s life. We have a moment and then we move on.

I was happy he was able to learn something from me that day, but I’m even more grateful for the lesson he taught me.

Ryan Haack the mighty.2-001

Follow this journey on Living One Handed.

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