A Letter to Those Who Bully People With Special Needs

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Dear Bully,

When I was in public school, I used to be bullied by people like you. You would see me in the corner, usually trying to keep to myself, and wonder why I was there. Other times you would see me having issues reading out loud in class and snicker while I tried to pronounce different words. You’d take my inability to understand sarcasm as a way to get me in trouble. Worst of all, you’d make me feel like an outsider when more than anything I wanted to fit in.

Words can hurt people. Whether or not you understand the impact you have, please try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you harass. If you did, you’d know that I struggled as a kid, and many people do at times — not only those with special needs, but anyone who may not be classified as “normal.” Some people can’t stand up for themselves due their different limitations when a bully attacks them.

Today most bullying has stopped for me, thankfully. I spent 15 years working on physical, occupational and speech therapy to become an adult who has been able to thrive. I’ve become a speaker, traveling around the country to share my personal experiences with bullying and to help educate people on the harmful effects that behavior such as yours can have on others. 

I want to share this letter with you in the hopes that if you ever read it, you’ll think again before you bully someone who may seem a little bit different than you are. You may not know this, but one in five Americans today has a disability. I hope you can learn compassion. I hope if you ever have kids or someone who looks up to you, you can help them understand the harmful effects of bullying. People just don’t bully in school. They can be bullies anywhere.

With your support today, we can break down barriers of hate and intolerance. Then we can spread awareness. Then we can spread education.

And finally, then we can see our loved ones, people like me, being accepted for exactly who they are. What a wonderful world that would be to live in.

Your friend,

Kerry

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

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability and/or disease. 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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To the Man Who Screamed at My Son With Special Needs as He Got on the Bus

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To the guy who was late for work,

I get that it’s Monday. We all get that it’s Monday. In fact, everyone most likely has a case of the Mondays, but here’s the deal: If you’re late for work and having a bad morning because of it, that’s all on you. Nobody else. So screaming out of your big truck, “Get that f*cking retard on the bus” and laying on your horn is not going to help you in the slightest. This just shows the world what kind of a person you really are — a person with a small heart and not enough love to give to the world.

I don’t know the situation you’re in that prompted you to scream at my son as he got on the bus, but let me tell you about ours since you felt the need to scream a derogatory name at him. You see, he can’t help being the way he is. Some days we move at turtle speed and some days we don’t. Some days he is cooperative with his bus aide and some days he’s not. He’s but a child, a child who has special needs. He can’t help that the world is magnified 10 times more for him than it is for you. He gets caught up in all five of his senses some days, which distracts him. But you sounding your horn and screaming at him won’t make him move any faster. And it’s only going to anger me.

I don’t want to think the worst of you. I truly hoped you were late for work and frustrated about being behind a bus, and in the heat of that frustration, you said the wrong things. But then you drove past me and flipped me the middle finger. So all those possible hopes I might’ve had for you to be a decent person were lost.

I hope you never have to experience the heartache most of us special needs parents have to deal with sometimes on a daily basis. I hope that level of ignorance and cold-hearted, mean-spirited behavior never enters your world. I hope in time you realize that acting so disrespectfully will get you nowhere. That people will see you for who you really are — an ignorant, close-minded person.

As for my son, the bus is his favorite part of his day, and I’m not going to let people like you ruin that for him. There are so many little joys he has, and the bus is one of them. With everything he has going on in his life, he doesn’t need another person who doesn’t understand and makes his life worse.

Respectfully,

The advocate of a little boy who deserves to respected as a human being

Follow this journey on Andrea’s personal blog.

Spread the Word to End the Word! You can head here to pledge to stop using the R-word. It’s a step toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.

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Mental Health Advocates Outraged Over ‘Psych Ward’ Halloween Costume

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A Halloween costume was recently pulled from costume stores in North Carolina after an outcry from local mental health advocates who claimed it perpetuated dangerous mental health stigma.

The costume, a blood-splattered hospital uniform with the words, “Dorothea Dix Psych Ward” written across the front, was being sold at two Halloween Valley locations, according to The News & Observer. The Dorothea Dix Psych Ward, named after mental health advocate Dorothea Dix, was located in Raleigh, North Caroline and closed in 2012.

I have family members that have been to Dorthea Dix, so for me that is like a punch in the gut,” Jack Register, Executive Director of North Carolina’s National Alliance on Mental Illness told ABC Eyewitness News. “We wouldn’t be displaying what breast cancer looks like in a Halloween costume.”

Susan Brightbill, owner of Floretta Imports, the company that owns Halloween Valley, told The News & Observer the company didn’t mean to offend anyone.

It’s Halloween,” she said. “I think people can lighten up a little bit.”

But Nicholle Karim, public policy cordinator at NAMI North Carolina, said while Halloween is a time to dress up and have fun, mental illnesses aren’t something to make light of. The costume implies those with mental illness are violent when in fact they’re more likely to be victims of violence themselves.

“To us, it’s not funny to joke about someone having a chronic illness that impacts every part of their lives. It’s an outrage,” Karim told The Mighty. “We’re thankful it got pullled. It was nice to see the whole community coming together over this issue.”

See more from the story below:

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Tot With Down Syndrome Goes From Orphanage to Modeling For Target

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Kayella Aschoff is the new face of up & up Training Pants, on shelves in Target stores.

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Courtesy Jodi Aschoff

The 4-year-old, who lives in Minnesota with her parents, Ted and Jodi Aschoff, has Down syndrome and was adopted from Colombia in 2011.

Kayella Cali
Courtesy Jodi Aschoff

The Aschoffs didn’t originally plan to adopt a child with special needs, according to Children’s Home Society of Minnesota. They were open to the idea but were at first unsure how to parent a child with extra needs. Then they were notified that a family of a child with Down syndrome had chosen them, and they said yes. However, this first attempt at adoption fell through after the child’s birth parents decided to parent him at the last minute.

After this experience, and all the preparation they had put into welcoming a child with Down syndrome into their home, the Aschoffs knew they wanted to adopt a child with special needs. Later, they were able to adopt Kayella from an orphanage when she was just 9 months old. Since then, the Aschoffs have also adopted another child with Down syndrome — their son, Leo who is from China.

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Courtesy Jodi Aschoff

In 2014 the Aschoffs responded to a Target casting call for child models. Kayella wasn’t chosen at the time, but when Jodi Aschoff followed up with the company months later, they asked her to bring Kayella again, according to ParkerMyles.com, a blog about Down syndrome. Kayella was chosen to be in the final group and brought in for a shoot in February. Then, in the end of September the family was told that Kayella’s photo would be used.

Fam pic
Courtesy Jodi Aschoff

“Kayella loves being in front of the camera,” Jodi Aschoff told The Mighty in an email. “She’s quite the ham. When you take a photo though, she has to check it and then says ‘cute picture’ or she’ll tell you to take another one!”

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Courtesy Jodi Aschoff
Nicole LaCoste Photography-2
Courtesy Jodi Aschoff

The Aschoffs also hope Kayella’s modeling can help raise awareness.

“We wanted to show Kayella and others with differing abilities that they can do what any other child can do,” Jodi Aschoff told The Mighty. “Every child can be like other kids and have the same opportunities. We are all about inclusion and will not let our children’s disabilities define them.”

Kayella’s parents have not been given an exact release date for her photo to appear on the up & up Training Pants packaging in Target stores, but were told the packaging will be out as soon as the old stock is sold out.

Check out the Aschoff family blog to keep up with Kayella and the whole family.

h/t Parker Myles

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How Something I Thought I’d Never Do Is Helping Me Manage My Mental Illness

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As a young woman attending a local state univesity, taking this fall semester off was the right decision for me. This decision came to fruition because I was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia. When I say recently I mean within the last month, although I’ve been living with it for three years.

A lot of people have said I suffer from schizophrenia. I would rather say I live with it. Learn with it. Learn to tame it. Learn to work around it, live beside it and within it. But I’ve never once suffered from it. I’ve never once been a victim of schizophrenia. After all of my turmoil, I am at least a survivor.

All that being said, yesterday I walked into the registrar’s office and withdrew from the semester for medical reasons. I’m not ashamed of withdrawing, although the experience was not without tears. I know this is the right thing for me to do, but I still feel a little scared — this is the first time I haven’t been a student since I was 4 years old. I never thought I’d be withdrawing from my university after three years. But that’s what I’m doing. I need to work on myself.

It’s time to learn to regulate my thoughts, function, self-care and love my own body and mind again. It’s time to get on the right dosages of the right medications. And those are things I cannot do while I’m struggling through a world of disorganized thoughts, self-destruction and advanced classwork. The actions of my unmedicated mind and a successful college student simply don’t go hand-in-hand.

There are a lot of positive writings about how we’re not defined by our mental illnesses, that even while coping with them, whether it be depression or schizophrenia, anxiety or agoraphobia, we can still go to school, we can still function, etc. All of this is important. We are not defined by our mental illnesses, and we can still accomplish great things in spite of them. 

But sometimes, after such a long battle with our own mind, not only should we take a break, but we deserve to. I’ve been grappling with the idea of taking a semester off for a year now. But it’s finally gotten to the point where my symptoms outweigh the possibility of continuing the semester. Taking a break is not giving up. Taking a break is the best way to manage my illness, which in the end will be the key to my success. If you feel like you need to take a break and have the resources to do so, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

I’ll use this time to seek counseling, write, blog, create art and destroy unhealthy habits. I have to rewrite my personality, my fears and my excitements. I have to uphold a level of commitment I haven’t yet encountered, but I’m my own testament to commitment, aren’t I? As long as I don’t give up, continue to face the fears of schizophrenia, find new ways to create happiness and let sadness in only when it’s healthy, I will and can recover to a point where I’m able to return to school and graduate. But all in due time. The healthier I become, the more likely I am to finally succeed and continue to fight the daily battles my mental illness presents to me. 

See more from Syrena at Art About Mental Illness and visit her Tumblr page

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The 2 Words I Don’t Use When I Talk About My ALS

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I recently spoke to a few people with ALS who all said, “I’m dying,” at some point during our conversation. I understood. They were recently diagnosed, trying to make sense of a sudden, terrible loss of control over their lives, their futures. To say “I’m dying” can be a way to acknowledge what is happening, while still taking back some of the power. “Now I know what’s going to kill me,” one man said.

Or it could just be a way to begin to cope with what we’ve all been told is the inevitable conclusion of having this disease.

But I’ve found it doesn’t work for me. I once tried looking in the mirror and saying, “I’m dying,” out loud to my reflection. It just made me want to laugh. I don’t feel like I’m dying. Even though any one of us could look into a mirror and say those words, and they would technically be true, when I said them, they sounded false.

If I die of ALS in two years, six years or 10 years, does that mean I’m dying now? Do you, healthy people of the world, get up and announce you’re dying? Probably not, even though you might wake up tomorrow and get hit by a car, be bitten by a poisonous spider or maybe contract a deadly case of dysentery. (I sincerely hope that none of this happens. Also, that last one would probably only be an issue if you were playing the video game “The Oregon Trail,” but it’s still best to wash your hands regularly.)

These words we use, they matter. Is my disease terminal? What if it’s the dysentery that gets me? More optimistically, what if all of the current attention on ALS results in treatments that take me off death row? Will I then be told, “Well, you were terminally ill, but the good news is now you’re not. The bad news? You’re still gonna die.”

It’s certainly accurate to say that I’m disabled, a word that I have a rather fuzzy relationship with. Sometimes I don’t mind it, or its close cousin “handicapped.” Sometimes I don’t care enough to mind. Other times, the words are like waking up and discovering you speak another language fluently. They sound wrong, as though they are clearly meant for someone else.

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I remember being asked in a college class how I identified myself. There were a host of words I could have used: woman, white, Italian, brunette, daughter, sister, student. And later: wife, mother, runner, writer. At the time, I thought woman first. Then for a while after college, I used my job as a primary identifier. Now I think it’s mom that comes first, if something must.

But ALS defines me, too. In fact, it differentiates me in a way that most of those other words don’t. I can’t run from it, which isn’t saying much, since I can’t actually run from anything. Stupid jokes aside, it’s a part of me.

I can’t run, can’t walk. I’m disabled. There’s no getting around that word, either. But none of these: ALS patient, disabled, dying are very far up on the list of words I use to describe myself. There’s more to me than my disease, just like there’s more to my disease than just the dying part.

When we talk about life, I think we are talking about something that (we hope) is long and lasting. When we talk about death, we are usually referring to a moment or series of moments leading to the actual end of life.

So if I don’t say that I’m dying, it’s not because I’m in denial. It’s because, today, I’m not planning to die.

Follow this journey at speed4sarah.com.

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