This Woman Is Empowering Kids With Special Needs With Superhero Capes

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In August 2012, Robyn Rosenberger thought it would be fun to sew a superhero cape for her nephew for his birthday. She’d never made a cape before and it was her first sewing project, but she enjoyed it and continued to make capes for her son, her dog and her friends’ children that same year.

During this time, she was following the site Blessed by Brenna, a blog about a young girl around her son’s age who was born with a severe skin disorder called harlequin ichthyosis. Rosenberger was reading Brenna’s story on her phone while rocking her son to sleep one night when she had an “aha” moment.

“Brenna needed a cape,” Rosenberger told The Mighty in an email. “My son looked super cute in one, but Brenna needed one.”

Rosenberger sent Super Brenna a custom-made cape in January 2013. With that, TinySuperheroes, a small business that sends homemade capes to children living with illnesses or disabilities, was born.

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Rosenberger runs TinySuperheroes out of her home in Saint Louis, Missouri. The capes are custom-made, come in a variety of sizes and colors and each feature the child recipient’s first initial. Families can purchase a cape for their child or nominate a loved one to be placed on the TinySuperheroes waiting list. With every cape purchased, an additional cape goes to a child on the waiting list.

As of summer 2015, Rosenberger has sent more than 6,000 capes to kids all over the world. But, she says, she’s just getting started.

Rosenberger can recall the exact moment she realized TinySuperheroes was her calling. She received an email from a father whose son had passed away days after receiving his cape. He wanted her to know the impact it had on his son and on their family was so great they decided to have him buried in his cape.

“This is the hardest part of this journey, to know that some of our TinySuperheroes will not make it to kindergarten, or to their 16th birthdays,” Rosenberger told The Mighty. “But to know that I have the opportunity to provide something tangible that could provide a single ounce of joy to a family during the most difficult moment of their lives meant that I was in this for the long haul.”

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Rosenberger hopes TinySuperheroes helps the children feel empowered and proud of who they are. She wants families to feel bolstered and encouraged when they see their children wearing the capes.

But more than anything, Rosenberger hopes TinySuperheroes can change the way the world thinks about illness and disability in children.

“I hope that through superhero capes, we can train people to see their TinySuperPowers instead of their differences,” she told The Mighty.

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Super Tayen Gilbert GOOD

Learn more about the TinySuperheroes mission in the video below.

To learn more about this project or to order a cape for the tiny superhero in your life, visit the TinySuperheroes website.

Photos courtesy of Robyn Rosenberger.

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Dad Creates Superheroes Who Use Their Disabilities as Superpowers

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Dan White couldn’t find a character anywhere in the media that his daughter Emily, who uses a wheelchair, could relate to. Emily was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the spine and nerves.

White eventually noticed there were some characters in wheelchairs, but he none who he felt really showcased disabilities in a way children of all abilities to admire. So, he decided to illustrate his own set of characters — ones who use their disabilities as their superpowers.

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Aimee, Dan and Emily White. Via Dan White

“I wanted a broad range of diverse characters that would be unique, original and be fun for all kids to look [to] and emulate,” White told The Mighty in an email. “[The characters] show the wider world that disability can be a power, that it’s easy for disability to be mainstream without being frightening or misunderstood.”

The characters, who are all part of what White calls the “Department of Ability,” include Emily, an alien, a ghost and two animals. They all use what makes them different to their advantage. Pawsy the cheetah has a prosthetic leg, which helps him outrun everyone he meets, and Emily has a multi-functional airborne wheelchair. Her catchphrase is “Eat my wheels.”

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Emily as a character in the Department of Abilities. Via Dan White.

White quit his job to focus on the “Department of Ability” full time. Right now, he’s working with charities in the U.K., such as Strongbones Children’s Charitable Trust, to distribute the comic once it’s done (hopefully in 2016). In the future, White hopes the “Department of Ability” characters will go global, and he wants to turn the comic book into a television show.

You can watch the Whites’ interview with the BBC below.

They’re the “Department of Abilities” – Comic book heroes whose special powers are their disabilities. Its the work of…

Posted by BBC South Today on Wednesday, July 22, 2015

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How ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Helped a Little Boy With Dyspraxia

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We never know the full scale of how what we do can impact the lives of others.

James Gunn, known most famously as the writer and director of the 2014 film “Guardians of the Galaxy,” was touched by a post a fan recently shared on his Facebook wall.

This month marks one year since the release of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which prompted Josh Dunlap, from Las Vegas, Nevada, to send Gunn a message concerning Dunlap’s son, Sawyer. Sawyer, 4, lives with a developmental coordination disorder called dyspraxia.

Sawyer connected with the character Groot from the movie, and Dunlap credits the character and the film with helping Sawyer learn to communicate better and eventually enter speech therapy.

See Dunlap’s touching message to Gunn below: 

 

Hi James...This is in response to your recent post about Guardians being released a year ago and the effect it has had...

Posted by Josh Dunlap on Friday, August 14, 2015

Touched by Dunlap’s words, Gunn shared the message on his Facebook page and said, “I love making movies because of stories like this. Thank you.”

See the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer below: 

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When a Little Girl Asked Why My Son Can’t Talk Like Her

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I can’t tell you how often I hear, “Don’t compare your child to others.” I’m also guilty of telling other parents and friends this same thing.

But I’ve never really believed it.

We naturally compare our kids to others. We compare ourselves to others. We compare our families to other families. And I don’t think we do this out of jealousy or competition. I think we make comparisons because we want to fit in. We particularly and desperately want our children to fit in. It is a hard-wired mommy concern. It’s why we do what we do. (Do you really love doing annual holiday photo cards and taking young children to Disneyland and going on all those playdates? I don’t love it, but I do ’em all.) While you and I know that fitting in isn’t of the utmost importance, it’s hard for our kids to realize this at such a sensitive and insecure stage. Even though you and I know conformity isn’t “all that,” we mighty still want it, at least part of it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, ever since my neighbor’s child said something about my son’s speech delay. She is nearly the exact chronological age as Ben (4) and she is a highly verbal child. Ben, on the other hand, can barely say his own name. He refers to himself as “Beh” and is limited in speech due to verbal apraxia. She asked me, “Why can’t Ben talk like me?” I felt a wince of pain in my heart but pushed it aside and answered her question. A year or so ago I would have held onto that pain, but I think I have gained more perspective and confidence in Ben’s abilities in the past year.

We might always compare our kids to others. But it’s important to do so with perspective. Be cognizant that your child is unique, and always keep your focus on both the future and the past. Some typical parents don’t have to worry about the past; they might be able to keep looking forward. But as a special needs parent, I feel tied to it. I have to keep looking back, comparing, analyzing and appreciating the past. It’s important to me to know what other kids are doing and what we have to aim for. It’s hard to compare without sadness or jealousy, and it’s something I actively work on by reminding myself of the past.

As a doctor, I understand developmental milestones. I know it will take years and years of speech therapy and dedication on my part to help Ben talk like other kids. I can understand this with my doctor brain, but my mommy brain aches for him. It aches when I see other kids running, dancing and talking circles around him. I know he’s behind in his verbal skills. But I’ve also seen him grow immensely over this year. Already at age 4, he has faced adversities that my neighbor’s child will probably never face — and he is overcoming them. As the years go by, I’m gaining strength, too — strength to keep running this marathon alongside him.

I have also learned that Ben’s apraxia is an opportunity to teach others about our diversity and acceptance. While this seemed hard to do at first, it went over well with my neighbor. When she asked me about his speech delay, I told her all kids talk and learn differently and that it’s hard for him to make words like her. I stressed that it was a chance for her to help him with his words. She smiled and ran over to play with him. That part made my heart a little happier.

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Former Michigan Football Star Opens Up About His Experience With Depression

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“I’m from Ann Arbor and I was playing football for the University of Michigan, and yet here I was, 19 years old, hating myself and my life,” says former University of Michigan football player Will Heininger in a video released by Athletes Connected, a collaboration between the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the University of Michigan Depression Center and the Athletic Department.

“I had all the classic signs of depression, but didn’t know what it was,” he says.

The video (below) tells Heininger’s story. The young football star silently experienced depression until an athletic trainer noticed he wasn’t doing well and set him up with therapy. The video is part of Athletes Connected’s educational campaign to teach athletes about depression and the benefits of seeking help. It was developed with initial funding from a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Innovations Research and Practice Grant, according to its website.

At a time where 13 percent of college students have been diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder, a study found only 10 percent of athletes who showed significant depression or anxiety symptoms used mental health services, according to the NCAA. The Athletes Connected program aims to combat that. Along with presenting videos like Heininger’s, the program also holds informational presentations for student-athletes and coaches, as well as drop-in support groups.

Based on research done on the pilot phase of Athletes Connected, the program is having a positive impact on University of Michigan athletes. After going to the support group, 67 percent of respondents to a follow-up survey reported they used one or more anxiety-reducing strategies taught during the session. After the presentation, student-athletes said they were “more comfortable discussing mental health issues with their teammates.”

“I learned that depression is a diagnosed illness. It’s common, especially among college students. And it can be treated,” Heininger says in his video. “Because I opened up and got help, I became a better football player, a better student, a better friend and a better person.

You can watch Heininger’s story below: 

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What My Son With Autism Taught Me After His Chorale Performance

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I see their looks. I see their stares. I see their smiles bordering on a smirk. I see their patronizing high-fives. Sometimes, I wish I had a blindfold.

I hear their voices. I hear their silence. I hear the way they speak to him as if he were a young child. Sometimes, I wish I had ear plugs.

I feel my sadness. I feel my anger. I feel the ache deep in my heart. Sometimes, I wish I had no heart.

These feelings often sweep over me and settle on my chest, directly over my heart to the point of suffocation. But then the feelings go as quickly as they came, leaving me to breathe easy once again. These moments and these feelings are few and far between, but when they come, they leave a scab that I tend to pick at for days until eventually the scab heals with just a small scar visible only to me.

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It was a hot summer day in a church built in 1825, which meant no Wi-Fi and no air conditioning. A group of teenagers gathered at the front of the church, sitting among the pews, giggling, chatting and warming up their voices. At the end of the pew, against the wall, sitting alone and seemingly unaware of the buzzing activity surrounding him, sat my son, Ryan. Ryan sat quietly looking over his music and preparing for the day’s performance while I almost vibrated out of the pew. His sensory system, which is often so heightened, seemed unaware of all the buzzing activity going on around him. In fact, for a change, it was not my son’s sensory system on edge, it was mine.

It wasn’t Ryan who wanted to bolt out that old church door to escape the feelings that overwhelmed him, it was me. As I sat in the church, with little to no air moving, my chest felt heavy. I wanted to run out of the room with my old friends, Denial and Clueless, who had slid in next to me on the pew when I wasn’t looking, to escape what my brain and my heart were feeling. I had been so consumed with my watching, waiting and worrying for what had always been, there may have been a few moments that I missed what really was.

As parents continued to arrive and the temperature of the church continued to rise, I felt my heart beating in my chest and a trickle of sweat began forming on my brow. I watched, waited and hoped with anticipation. Would one kid talk to him? Would one kid see him? Would he talk to one kid? Would he see one kid? After all, he just spent a week with these kids at chorale camp so it was reasonable for me to get my hopes up, right? Nothing. Not even a nod, a hello or an acknowledgement on either side of the pew. And although my heart was pounding and my sensory system felt like it was on overdrive, Ryan looked happy, content and fine. As always, it was my problem, not his.

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But once the performance began, my son stood shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the chorale ensemble in front of the church. He blended in with the others. He didn’t stand alone, he didn’t appear “different.” There was no aloof stance, there was no awkward smile. There was just the music and his voice. Suddenly, I felt my heartbeat slow down and the church no longer felt so stifling.

Within the first few notes, the tears began to fall. Not his, mine. He immediately looked my way, seeing no one but me, and once he saw my smile, once he saw my tears of pride, his smile and his tears matched my own. You see, we have sat in many rooms together, the two of us, where no one saw him like I did. Where no one heard him like I did. Where no one felt him like I did. However, on this day, when his beautiful voice bounced off those church walls, I believe they all saw him, heard him and felt him as I always have. I had waited for that moment for a long, long time. Funny thing is, I don’t think Ryan has.

As he finished his song, there were smiles, there were high-fives and there were “good jobs.” Even after all that, a part of me still worried that their smiles, their high-fives and their “good jobs” may not have been sincere, that they may have been a bit patronizing because they saw “different.” But when I watched my boy take his bow then fight back his own tears of pride, I realized what matters most to Ryan is how sees, how he hears and how he feels about himself. Ryan spends little time concerning himself with how others perceive him. It’s a lesson we could all learn from him.

Had I worn my blindfold, had I brought my ear plugs, had I removed my heart, I wouldn’t have seen him, heard him or felt him, and there is no worry great enough and no pain deep enough worth missing that. As for their smiles, their high-fives and their “good jobs,” they may not have been insincere or patronizing, but, even if they were, I need to take a lesson from my son and recognize who and what really matters.

Once again, Ryan showed me it’s my problem, not his, and it’s a problem I believe he has already solved.

Follow this journey on The AWEnesty of Autism.

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