The Brilliant Way This Special Ed Teacher Starts Class Every Day

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Chris Ulmer first caught our attention earlier this year when he launched “Special Books by Special Kids,” a program that will allow students in his special education class to publish their stories in a book.

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Ulmer, 26, who teaches at Keystone Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, posted a Facebook video showing exactly what goes on in his classroom. The kicker? He spends 10 minutes every morning complimenting his kids and giving them high fives. “I have seen their confidence and self-worth skyrocket,” he wrote in a caption in the video.

 

Children learn to love or hate at an early age.I think it's time we actively work towards teaching love and acceptance.

Posted by Special Books by Special Kids on Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ulmer says many of his students were previously in an educational atmosphere where they felt defeated. “I consider it my job to reverse this psychological hardwiring and build up their esteem,” he told The Mighty. “Simple reminders of their positive attributes shifts student focus from what they can’t do to what they can do.”

“Instead of focusing on deficits I focus on talents,” Ulmer wrote in his Facebook video. “Instead of talking about peace, love and harmony I display peace, love and harmony. A child’s reality is shaped from early life experience. If they have a mean, jaded teacher they will think [of] the world as mean and jaded. But if a teacher displays love, harmony and peace…THAT will become their norm.”

“The children have become much more social and their communication skills have grown incredibly, both verbal and nonverbal,” Ulmer told The Mighty.

After just a few weeks of complimenting, he noticed his students started complimenting one another regularly. “They praise each other for accomplishments as if it was their own,” he added in the video caption. “They never insult one another and actively work towards helping each other.”

Many of his students have also developed the ability to look him in the eye and praise his teaching, which can also be seen in the video.

“Hate is a learned behavior,” Ulmer concluded. “Love is natural.”

Watch the video above and be sure to check out the Facebook page for Special Books by Special Kids, which is updated daily.

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This Is So Much More Than a Picture of a Peeled Potato

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To Leone Edwards, this isn’t just a peeled potato. It’s a symbol of hope.

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On Sunday, Nov. 15, Edwards, from Cumbria, England, was preparing dinner when her daughter Rachael asked if she could help. Rachael, 10, has global developmental delay, dyspraxia and muscle weakness, which often makes small tasks difficult for her. But on this night Rachael was determined, and although it took her 20 minutes, she peeled a potato for her mother.

Edwards, touched by her daughter’s efforts, took to social media to share the accomplishment.

Proud Moment an TRIUMPH!!! Congratulations!!!

Posted by Parenting Special Needs Magazine on Sunday, November 15, 2015

The post read:

‘Wow, it’s a potato,’ some of you might think, but this is a massive achievement for my 10-year-old daughter who has significant muscle weakness and global delay. She struggles to hold a pen and write and ‘yes.’ It took her 20 minutes to peel one potato, but the satisfaction it gave her to reach that goal made it worthwhile. [It] makes you realize how easy everyday things are for most of us.

 

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Edwards posted photos of the achievement to the Parenting Special Needs Magazine Facebook page, where it received an outpouring of congratulations and support.

“I was really proud of her and all the work it took, the fact she never gave up,” Edwards told The Mighty via Facebook message. “It might be something small to most people but it’s a big deal, a massive achievement. It gives hope to others and to us as a family who are deeply worried about how Rachael will cope in the outside world. These small things gives us hope.”

 

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When People Respond to My Child’s Diagnosis With ‘God Only Gives You…’

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“God only gives you what you can handle.”

Over the past few years, I’ve heard the phrase over and over again. People say God gave us our son, Von, who is medically fragile, because he knew we could handle it. While talking to my pastor about it recently, he said this: “God doesn’t give sick children to some people and hand others children that are well. We live in a world that is broken and has disease. If God had a choice, no one would have disease or be sick.” I said, “People always say to us, ‘God only gives you what you can handle.’” He responded, “There is no biblical relevance to that statement. At no place in the Bible does it say that. God would not be for one person and against another.”

It finally all made sense. After years of hating this phrase, I felt vindicated. I believe our God is crying with us. I believe he’s guiding us and helping us find the best resources we can to help Von. I also know that if something happens to Von, it won’t be because God decided it was his turn to die. I’m realizing now that in faith and in life, we have choices, and I believe we can sit behind faith and God and feel powerless, or we can make the right choices and find the strength we need to be the best we can for our children.

I’m no stronger than you or anyone reading this story. I am simply a mother who refuses to give up on her child. I will go to the ends of the earth to find the resources he needs to thrive. I will call every doctor I need to call in order to find the medications we need or services we need to help him thrive. This is not about being stronger than anyone else or having the resources or a brain that is better than someone else. It all comes down to a mother’s love.

I believe any mother in the same situation would do the exact same thing. Your ability to get through difficult times is truly marked by how you manage adversity. I’ve always believed that I will never allow myself to be defeated by any of the obstacles life presents me. My view has always been to use all these obstacles as a way to learn and improve myself as a human and as a mother. There is nothing “super” about what I do. Many days, I don’t even think I do enough.

When we got the diagnosis for Von almost three years ago, so many people uttered that phrase to me. Now I realize it’s not because God thought I could handle it, but because sometimes life just doesn’t go the way you thought it would go. I will fight until my dying day to help Von and not allow this diagnosis define him. If his final breath happens before mine, I will know I did everything I could for him. When or if it happens, I will not be angry with God, because I believe he’s given me all the guidance he possibly could, and no matter what, he doesn’t control the outcome of each person. I’ll know we will meet again in Heaven.

I’ll know I wasn’t given it because I could handle it — I will know I was given Von because Von is supposed to be my child.

Follow this journey on Von’s Super Hero Facebook page.

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To the Loved Ones Wondering Why I’ve Disappeared From Your Lives

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I haven’t made it easy for you. I can take two or more months to respond to your emails and have become a ghost on Facebook. Sometimes I’m quick with my responses, but other times computer screens and other bright things make me feel sick. This can go on for a while, and I know you worry when I give you nothing but radio silence. You might even feel frustrated but then quickly feel guilty when you remember my situation. I’m telling you to let go of that guilt.

It’s not easy being my friend. I cancel things at the last minute. When I do come, I’m always late. Then I make you late, which must be frustrating for you. But if it is, you never show it. To someone like me, where five painful minutes can feel like 10 hours, empathy is worth more than gold.

Thank you for sticking around.

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I want you to know you’re fabulous people. You may feel helpless when it comes to me, but you do more than you will ever know. For all those times I’ve had to try restrictive doctor-mandated diets or refused to dance for fear of falling, thanks for not being weirded out or being judgmental.

Thank you for showing me you’re thinking of me when I’ve been out of touch. Thank you for sharing some great laughs and writing letters when you know emails or phone calls are too hard on my senses. Thank you for sharing your good news and bad and letting me be a good friend to you.

There’s a confession I need to make. I’ve lied to you in the past. You see, I’ve had this illness all my life. Early on when I seemed full of energy and did those stupid and silly things to make you laugh, that was me pretending to be healthy. I’ve always been sick, but I’ve been pushing myself to appear as normal as possible.

When I don’t think you’re looking, I can be found slumped in a chair, cradling my head in my hands. Do you remember the day we chatted while I was leaning against a wall in a way I hoped looked leisurely? I was actually trying to brace myself against severe abdominal pain. One day, the condition got worse, and I found I couldn’t hide everything as well. Why did I pretend? Because I was worried you might distance yourself if I looked weak. I’m so happy to be wrong, and I’m sorry I underestimated you.

To my sister and parents, you’ve stuck by me and encouraged me beyond what any person deserves. I know I’m lucky and feel incredibly wealthy because my story is not the typical experience, sadly. You even love and support my husband when things are extra tough. I feel like I’ve been a part-time daughter, sister and friend, but you’ve never acted like a part-time family.

While this is a letter of thanks to a particular set of people, I’d like to tell anyone who might be reading this that your goodness doesn’t go unnoticed. If you know someone with a chronic illness and haven’t gotten in touch because you fear it might be awkward, go ahead and give it a shot. Be that familiar human voice on the other end of the phone. Write a letter or send a text message.

Chronic illness can be isolating. It can eat away at our lives piece by piece, and we don’t always realize how cloistered we’ve become until it’s blatantly obvious. Unfortunately, we have come to expect impatience from strangers and dead ends in the simplest aspects of our lives. Even a small gesture can go a long way toward brightening somebody’s day.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? 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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What You May Not Realize About Your Child's Runny Nose

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Dear Parents,

I would like to introduce you to someone…

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This is my son on his first and second day of school. Today is his third day of school in the special education preschool. He has an adorable smile and an infectious laugh. He’s so tiny that they had to order him a smaller chair since the preschool ones were too big and not supportive enough for his weaker areas. He has strengths, including the fact that he’s already learning how to read and write. But he also has weaknesses, such as gross motor delays and intense sensory sensitivity.

Most of all, he’s a miracle. He was only 1 pound at birth and on life support for quite a while. His lungs didn’t work when he was born, and as a result, his lungs and several places along his airways were damaged. So any illness he comes across, especially a cold, can turn into a medical emergency. 

It was a difficult decision to send him to school. What if he caught a cold? Can I trust the people at his school to make sure he’s safe during snack time (he has to be fed differently so the food doesn’t go down into his lungs) or on the playground where motor skills are a challenge? 

Our decision wasn’t made lightly and followed many nights awake trying to decide what was best. It’s certainly the most agonizing decision we have made since he left his first hospital stay. A typical parent may worry about whether their child will make friends or behave. In addition to those thoughts, I worry about whether his lungs will fill up with fluid or if his airways will close up. If his airways do begin to close, will they recognize it in time to help him?

I want you to know this, parents, because you may not think of this when you send your child to school or to church or any other place my son (and others with severe medical issues) may be. I understand it’s an inconvenience to have to stay home from work or miss out on other activities, but I’m begging you to think of the other children your child may come across who weren’t blessed with good health or an amazing immune system. What may be an annoying runny nose to your child could put mine in the hospital.

I’ve experienced every parent’s worst nightmare by watching my child breathe through tubes and machines and waking up in the middle of the night with my child unable to breathe. We rushed him to the ER several times with doctors swarming all over him to open his airways back up.

In other children, this same illness would have been just a mild runny nose and cough. I know you may not fully understand the feeling of watching your child kept alive solely by machines, and I hope you never do, but I hope you can understand how it could feel to fear for your child.

I know most parents simply don’t think about sending their children out into the world sick, because they haven’t seen or experienced being around these fragile children. So I would like to put a face and a story to these medically fragile children so you think about them before sending your children out the door.

Follow this journey on Tiny Salutations.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? 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 Store Clerk Whose Job I Made a Bit More Difficult

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I saw you look at us when we walked into your store — me and my little girl in her wheelchair. We perused the narrow aisles, trying to move aside and make room for other shoppers as they came through. We were smiling.

When it came time to try on clothes, I headed to your dressing rooms and my heart dropped. The handicap accessible stall was locked, and it was clear from the boxes, racks and bins inside that it wasn’t being used for customers.

You didn’t see me try to get myself and my little girl into a smaller dressing room. For a second, I considered if we could make it work; we couldn’t.

You didn’t see me considering my next move, wondering if I really needed to try on the clothes after all. I paused and wondered, maybe we should leave.

Then I looked at my little girl. 

You see, I’d promised her she could come shopping with her mommy, a girl’s day out. I remembered taking many of those trips as a child with my mom, watching her try on outfits and turn every way in the mirror and telling her she was so pretty.

My body stiffened with determination.

I probably didn’t have the nicest tone in my voice or look on my face when I asked if your handicap accessible dressing room was usable. You smiled and said no.

You likely saw my hair prickle when I gestured toward my daughter and said, “We don’t have another option.”

I saw the panic on your face as you headed to the back to ask your manager what to do. I’m sure you have no idea the speech I was rehearsing in my head if your answer was still no, which included references to the Americans with Disabilities Act and accessibility for everyone.

But you came back and said you had to move some items, but we could use the changing room. 

As you lugged bins and totes out of the room, I saw your frustration. They did look heavy.

For a second, I questioned if I was being too stubborn. We could leave. I didn’t need to try on those sweaters.

Was it really that big of a deal?

Yes it was. 

It wasn’t about that changing room anymore. 

This was about standing my ground for my daughter and everyone else like her.

It isn’t OK to use the only handicap accessible changing room for storage. Because when you do that, you take away our mommy-daughter shopping day. Those slightly larger changing rooms, the closer parking spaces and the doors that automatically open may seem like nothing to you, but to families like mine, they offer the opportunity for us to be like any other family.

So, while my request may have made your shift that day a little bit more difficult, I hope it drove home a message for you and anyone else in that store watching: families like mine shouldn’t be ignored and cast aside.

I also hope you didn’t move all those boxes and bins back into the changing room after we left.

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