Last year, special education teacher Chris Ulmer earned praise for the awesome way he starts class every day. Now, he’s posted a video showing how he wraps up the week with his kids. Spoiler alert: It’s just as amazing.

Ulmer, 26, who teaches at Keystone Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, uploaded a Facebook video in January and captioned the clip, “Beautiful things happen when you play a Jason Mraz song inside a special education classroom…”

Ulmer explained that when his kids are tired, a little bit of music quickly perks them up, and more importantly, encourages them to cheer on their peers.

“Music in itself can raise a child’s self-confidence and social skills,” Ulmer told The Mighty. “I’ve created a technique to include music in everyday academics which has raised student attentiveness and productivity.”

“I join in to encourage their behavior,” he says in the video below. “Notice how they sing louder in response … Let’s encourage all children to sing a little louder.”

Music in EducationBeautiful things happen when you play a Jason Mraz song inside a special education classroom… Posted by Special Books by Special Kids on Friday, January 8, 2016
 

In another video (below), Ulmer plays the guitar and harmonica for his kids and uses the music as a way to get them to interact.

“Today I discovered that music can break down communication barriers in a special education classroom,” he wrote on Facebook. “And it was beautiful.”

The Beauty of MusicToday I discovered that music can breakdown communication barriers in a special education classroom.And it was beautiful. Posted by Special Books by Special Kids on Tuesday, January 19, 2016

 

Ulmer first caught our attention last 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.

Be sure to check out the Facebook page for Special Books by Special Kids, which is updated daily.

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“You can do anything if you want it bad enough.” Say that to anyone and I think it’s likely they’ll want to roll their eyes at you. Say that to someone like me who is dealing with a chronic illness, and I may never talk to you again.

I don’t act on it, of course. People don’t actually tell me I have to “want it.” But it’s the little riffs on this saying: “Think positive thoughts.” “Do you have a job yet?” “You could just try doing something easy.” “You seem fine.” “But look at how much fun you had!” They may seem like totally unrelated sayings to you, but to me they all try to define how I’m supposed to feel or what I’m supposed to do. Whenever these sayings pop up, I feel like I should be ashamed of my illness, and then I feel like I have to explain myself. I doesn’t matter if you’re sick or not — having to explain yourself is likely something no one wants to do. However, if I don’t, I feel that ignorance may continue.

Why don’t I feel the need to be super positive? A. Science has found it may not actually help you get better. B. I feel like sh*t. Why should I be positive? You probably have no idea how often I’m faking it anyway. Why don’t I have a job yet? I sleep 10 or more hours a day, and I can never tell if I’ll be able to get out of bed, much less get to and perform a job. Why don’t I try doing something easy? Sorry, but learning a new language isn’t easy. I’d rather try to do things I want to do when I feel like I can do them, and I have to be mentally ready to take something on. Why do I seem fine? I want you to think I am fine at that moment. Who wants to wallow in their misery all the time? I just want to pretend for a few hours. Why did it appear I had so much fun? Maybe I did, maybe I really tried to. But does that mean I have to suppress all my other feelings?

That probably seemed really defensive, but that’s exactly what I’m thinking when I have to sugarcoat my explanations. Let’s face it: Illness is no walk in the park for the sick person or anyone around them. It’s probably really hard to know how to approach someone who is chronically ill.

So after being sick for nearly five years, here is the best advice I have for being a good friend:

First, just be there. You can say the most absurd thing, but to me just being there is the first and foremost way to show you care. The rest is just semantics.

Second, allow this person to complain if they want to, and even if you feel really uncomfortable, I think the best thing you can say is, “Dude, that sucks. Sorry you are going through that.”

Third, allow the friendship to be two-sided. Tell them about your life, even if it’s about problems you may think seem trivial. To put it another way, you are probably thinking, “This person has cancer and I’m complaining about my boyfriend.” But your friend may be thinking, “Thank God I can focus on something else other than this d*mn cancer.”

And last but not least, I’d recommend trying not to make assumptions about your friend’s state of being, because it can change day-to-day. Continue inviting them to things, even if 90 percent of the time they have to decline or bail at the last minute. Just being included can mean all the difference.

Being a good friend can be one of the hardest jobs in the world. But if you can pull it off, even with hiccups along the way, I believe it shows that you have matured and gained wisdom that will certainly help you later in life. You can do anything if you want it bad enough.

four women with arms around each other
Bradley (second from right) and her friends.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


I am a new mom to the special needs community. My 4-month-old son has an undiagnosed condition that is believed to be a genetic neurological disorder. This disorder has required him to use a feeding tube since birth, at first a nasogastric tube and now a gastronomy tube (G-tube). We may be able to wean him off one day, but he may also remain tube-fed for the rest of his life.

What amazes me is how much my perspective of the world has changed in this short time. One of the ways is in how we handle our kids when they stare at others. I remember once telling my daughter while we stood in line at Target that it was rude to stare at a young girl, probably about 5 or 6, who was in an electric wheelchair. I cringed when I saw her mother see us and hoped she didn’t realize my daughter had been staring. And if she did, I prayed she understood that I would “handle it.” That mom has so much to worry about, I thought, and I don’t want her to be embarrassed.

baby with g-tube in pillow seat
Elisabeth’s son.

Now that I am that mom, I am very aware that other people notice my son being fed through his G-tube, and not usually through positive encounters. Now I realize it is kind of awful to think I was discouraging my daughter from noticing another child. I have seen other moms shush their children for curiously asking about my son and turning them away. It hurts me to see innocent, curious kids noticing my son and wanting to learn more but firmly being told, “No, that’s not nice.”

The thing is, some babies eat by bottle, some nurse, some have tubes. It has taken time to get where I am, but I can comfortably say my son’s G-tube is now a part of our family’s normal. Our other kids have stuffed animals with G-tubes. They’ve learned how to start feedings and how to give medicine. I realize, though, that most children haven’t had exposure to a feeding tube, or many other special needs kids can have. And that’s OK! Just like my husband and I have increased our children’s exposure to feeding tubes and taught them how they are used, other children want to learn the same things when they come across them in public.

And this is one of the many lessons my son has taught me: It was me who was being rude that day at Target for teaching my daughter to ignore that young girl. To her mother, I am so sorry. In that moment, I am sure what you needed was to have another mom show her child that your daughter is very much the same. “I’m sure she likes Elsa, too,” I should have said. “Let’s find out her name.” I am sorry I instructed my daughter to ignore yours. She was trying to teach me an important lesson in accepting others, and instead I instructed her that it was impolite to accept your daughter. It breaks my heart to know I did that.

To all the moms out there: Your child doesn’t stare to be rude. Your child is looking because he is curious. He’s soaking up information from all around his world, and my son’s feeding tube may have him perplexed. We eat with our mouths, he may be thinking. So why not that boy?  He could want to understand, to learn more. And every time he is shushed or told it’s rude to stare, he is likely getting the message that he should ignore my child. This has been my biggest fear for my son: that he will be ignored by others. You have the power to put my biggest fear to rest.

Instead of shushing your child, please introduce him to us. I would like to show your child that my son is like any other baby: He wants to be held, he likes to cuddle, he has favorite toys and siblings he looks for when he hears them enter a room. He coos at us when we smile and talk to him. If I could show your child that this tube is how my son eats, then maybe the next time your child saw someone being fed by tube, he wouldn’t be curious anymore. He might be more comfortable introducing himself and just might make a friend with a child who may not have many.

We don’t know why my son is missing his suck reflex, and we hope he doesn’t need his tube forever. The next time you catch your child staring, try taking that awkward first step by reaching out to that other mom. Your kindness will go a long way. Introduce yourselves, show your child what accepting others looks like, encourage him to value the uniqueness in himself and others. This one small act may help that child’s mother worry just a bit less about the world her child with special needs is facing. This one small act could brighten the day or week for that mother and child much more than you know.

If anyone can truly value a friendship, I believe it will be my son. Let’s teach our children how to be that friend.

kids feeding baby lying on pillow
Elisabeth’s children feeding their little brother.

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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Despite being many years into this “new normal” of being chronically ill, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I may never truly get “used to” this new life. I may never become completely accustomed to and unfazed by endless pain, countless symptoms and spending more of my time in waiting rooms than I would care to compute. In some ways maybe it would be easier if I was “used to” all this, but when you think about it, why should anyone ever get used to this? That’s actually a disturbing thought.

However, there are some aspects of this spoonie life I have become accustomed to. I’m used to getting to doctor’s appointments on time, even though I know I’ll be losing a good hour waiting on that doctor anyway. I’m used to the unpredictability of symptoms. I’m used to piles of medical bills, reading explanations of benefits, fighting with insurance companies, etc. Yet there is one lesson I learned early on that was a bitter pill to swallow: Not everyone is equipped for spoonie life.

I can’t say I blame them. I know from experience that it can be overwhelming having a family member or friend with a chronic illness. You want to help; you wish you could “fix” them. But you can’t. And the sad truth is, odds are you never will be able to. So early on in my journey as a spoonie, I had to swallow the bitter pill that, on top of losing my health and possibly my career, dreams, ambitions and countless other things, odds are I was going to lose friends. Even family. Not necessarily because they don’t care, but just because they cannot cope with the illness. They’re overwhelmed. They don’t know what to do or say, so they say nothing — they do nothing — and sometimes, that means they walk out of your life. It may be one of the most difficult things we experience with this “new normal.”

But then, something amazing can happen. Something that makes up for all the loss. Something that can restore your faith in humanity, something that gives you hope and strength to keep fighting.

People step up — people you might have never expected suddenly become the ones who are now the major players in helping you survive this journey. People you did not even know come forward. People enter this life of yours, knowing full well what they’re about to take on, and you suddenly realize that anyone who walked out of your life when things got tough was probably not worth your tears and regret.

I’ve heard it asked many times in regards to servicemen and women, as well as civil servants such as police officers and firefighters: “How is it these brave men and women can run directly into the face of danger while the rest of the population is running from it?”

So this is my thank you to those who came rushing into my life, despite knowing they were about to encounter circumstances that others felt too overwhelmed by.

This is my thank you to those who have held my hand, both literally and figuratively, during times of excruciating pain, both physical and emotional. To those who have put aside their busy schedules to make time for me, whether in person, via text or online.

This is my thank-you letter to those who have sat up all night in the hospital with me, either in person or over the phone. This is my thank-you letter to those who have stuck it out with me during times when I was less than rational and helped me figure out serious issues. For those who helped me make difficult decisions concerning my health, and did so not based on what they would want, but what they knew was really best for me.

This is my thank you to those who had difficult conversations with me about topics most people probably would not want to discuss  and who did so with class, compassion and not a single complaint.

This is my thank you to those who came running in when so many others were running out.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


I sat in my kitchen with happy tears streaming down my face. It had been a long time since I had cried happy tears. Having multiple chronic illnesses, life is full of tears: sad tears, angry tears, frustration tears. Happy tears are few and far between. Reading the card from my friend Brandy changed how I look at myself.

open notecard with handwritten message
Brandy’s card for Tracy.

It was August of 2013 and I was having a rough summer. I had pain all over my body  aching, nonstop, life-altering pain. None of my doctors believed how bad the pain was. Test after test came back negative. It was a terrible time in my life.

Then I read the card. Brandy had no idea how much this card would change my perspective. She took the time to write a note in the card that still touches my heart. The part of the note that sticks out to me the most is when she wrote, “You are going through so much yourself and still you manage to be there for everyone else.” Being in poor health, I can’t physically go everywhere I want to. Most days it is a struggle to get out of bed. Brandy understands that while I don’t always feel up to hanging out, I’m always available to listen to my friends. That means the world to me.

I never thought of myself as tough. Living with several chronic illnesses, I used to see myself as weak. I’m not able to do the things I used to do  work, have a social life, travel, plan for the future, etc. This card reminds me that even through my struggle, I am tough. I wake up in pain every day, but I fight through it. My life is not at all how I pictured it, but it has taught me so much. I have learned to advocate for myself in ways I never thought possible.

Brandy signed the card from her and her son Robbie. Brandy is a close friend, and Robbie is also a big part of my life. Every time I see Robbie, he always has a smile and a hug for me. He knows how to make me laugh when I need it most. He is the sunshine when I can only see rain.

I will treasure this card for the rest of my life. It still makes my heart smile almost three years later. The card is displayed on a bookshelf in my bedroom. When I wake up, it is one of the first things I see. Recently I was having a rough day, so I called Brandy. She said, “You’re a tough cookie. I won’t let you crumble.” I am forever grateful to Brandy for the card that changed my life. Our promise to each other on the worst days still stands:

I won’t let you crumble!

front and inside of handwritten card
The front and inside of Brandy’s card for Tracy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us the story around a note or card you saved because of its significance. Send a photo of the note or card as well. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


A free identification card is now available to all people who stutter.

The card, available to download on The Stuttering Foundation’s website, is designed to help people who stutter identify themselves in tense situations but also educate others in a nonverbal way. This can especially come in handy during stressful and public situations where communication is necessary, like at airport security.

picture of the downloadable ID card

The card was created in response to a recent incident involving Kylie Simmons, a U.S. citizen returning home through an airport in Atlanta after studying abroad. On Thursday Jan. 21, the 20-year-old was going through customs at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport when a customs agent confronted her. When speaking to the agent and asked where she was coming from, Simmons stuttered on the words “Costa Rica.” She was then detained and questioned for an hour or more, causing her to miss her connecting flight and leaving her feeling bullied, discriminated against and traumatized.

After the questioning, Simmons went directly to file a complaint with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol office. A supervisor there issued her a verbal apology, but Simmons has since written a letter asking for a formal apology and that employees at this airport receive further training in how to work with people who stutter. She has yet to hear back.

Photo of a smiling woman
Kylie Simmons

“I hope that people who stutter use this card to educate others about stuttering awareness,” Simmons told The Mighty via Facebook message. “We all have a voice and we have something to say.”

Many activists came out to support Simmons after she went public about her ordeal, and a hashtag was created called #DDDetainedinAtlanta. People have used it to spread awareness and voice their frustrations, as well as to urge the airport to educate its employees.

Simmons worked together with the Stuttering Foundation to make the card available to the 70 million people worldwide who stutter so a situation like this can be prevented in the future.

“When questioned by someone in authority, we all may have difficulty maintaining our fluency. For someone who stutters, it can be a much greater challenge. We hope this tool will make a difference,”  said Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation, said in a press release. “It is designed to help people educate those who are not familiar with this complex disorder.”

“I do not want this to happen to me again,” Simmons wrote in her letter to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “and not to anyone else with a disability.”

The ID card is available to download here.

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