Miriam's daughter

When My Child Felt Left Out, a Stranger Had a Powerful Response

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Have you ever had a stranger do something so incredibly awesome it just makes you want to cry? I have. And it happened just this week. I pray the kindness and power of what the stranger did for me and my 4-year-old daughter impacts you the way it has impacted me. Some people make a mark on other lives that can never, ever be erased.

We went out as a family to a local place to eat. Everyday events like this have their challenges for every family, but more so for mine due to the complexity of my son’s needs and the fact we need to balance his needs with that of my daughter’s. We opted for the local carvery. No waiting to get orders taken, the kids can see what they want on their plates and we can eat together without the usual demands for nuggets and fries.

It’s a challenge to feed my daughter in such places because her diet is so restricted, but a little mashed potato, a few selected vegetables and a little gravy got her picking at her dinner while quietly coloring. Her twin brother had his usual loaded plate and was eating like a child who had never seen a dinner before. I promise you they are twins, but you would never believe it to see them eat!

However, even with food, my son’s attention span can only last a limited time, and he was soon clambering over his dad, wanting off to run around. A knowing look and wink of the eye was my signal that I was going to take over. To my 5-year-old son’s flapping, smiling delight, he was getting Mum. He brought a smile to my face, but then I glanced at my daughter and my heart sank. Eyes bunched up with tears ready to explode at any minute, and a tender voice so timidly saying through her beautiful blue eyes, “I want you to stay, Mummy.”

They both need me so differently. And whatever I do, one of them is about to protest publicly. I really must get that cardboard cutout of myself done. It’s the only way I can think of being in two places at once. And tonight I so want to be with both my babies.

I “chose” my son but prayed my daughter would know she wasn’t being rejected. I kissed her cheek quickly as my son vanished out of sight. “Come find Mummy, baby, when you have finished your dinner.” I worry she feels like her wants and needs don’t matter. This isn’t true, but how do you balance the physical and communicational needs of one child with the social and emotional needs of the other? Dad reassured her and encouraged her, but it just wasn’t enough.

As my son ran up and down in a little garden outside, a group of strangers watched on as they drank and ate and talked. One young couple watched him with smiling faces and pleasant eyes. And then my little girl appeared and held my hand in the warm sunshine as we stood side by side watching her energetic brother. The smiling strangers asked if it was her brother, to which she smiled and nodded. They invited us closer and handed her two coins, one for her and one for her brother. So very kind of them. And without prompting, my daughter said thank you. We exchanged a brief conversation that her brother had special needs and that the children were twins. The lady reached into her handbag and fished for something. I hoped it wasn’t more money. She found what she was searching for and beckoned my daughter to come nearer.

Looking my precious daughter in the eye, she spoke lovingly and tenderly to her as she asked her a question. “Would you like to see a picture of the most beautiful girl in the world?”

A whispered, “Yes.”

To which the stranger opened a little love heart makeup mirror and showed my daughter her reflection. To see my daughter smile and touch her reflection as she realized this stranger was talking about her was incredibly touching.

Little girl holding heart-shaped pink mirror

“You are so beautiful. Inside and out. Every time you look inside here, remember you are special.”

The words of a stranger were the exact words I believe she needed to hear that day. The lady gave her the mirror to keep, and my daughter has barely let it go since.

I thanked the lady and her partner for the coins, the gift and the joy they had brought to my heart. But how do you truly thank a stranger for saying exactly what you believe your 4-year-old needed to hear? I believe God puts people across our path at exactly the right time, and I’m thankful for that.

I believe we all need to hear this message, too. We can all feel left out at times. And every one of us needs to know we are beautiful inside and out. We are special. And my daughter now loves to tell me, “Mummy I am the most beautiful girl in the world.” Yes, baby girl, you are indeed.

Follow this journey on Faithmummy.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. 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.

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What Keeps Me Up at Night as a Special Needs Mom

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What keeps me up at night — my list is endless. I imagine yours is, too. In the very early days, the worries were somewhat smaller. When will you catch up? At some point, that when turned to if. Around the same time, my concerns turned to: Will other children include you? Will they adore you as I do? Will your teachers be kind? Will they treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve?

What will medical insurance deny this time? How many months and endless follow-through will be required to straighten it out? How many doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions are scheduled today, this week, this month, this year, and how do we continually coordinate your care? What obstacles will our school district force us to overcome? What happened to kindness, integrity, respect?

Will you take your medicine? Or will your sensory system prevent you from getting it down? Will you end up in the hospital as a result again? Grow resistant to antibiotics?

Are you making progress? What more can we be doing?

Over time, the worries change, but they still systematically infiltrate what feels like my every waking moment.

What happens when you grow up? What happens when I’m gone? Who doesn’t worry about that? No matter how much we try to plan and prepare, will it ever be enough? How does one heed the advice to live in the present, when so many of our actions are driven to plan for the future?

Will you be able to be independent? If not, who will care for you? Is it wrong to ask your sister to step in? What if she simply chooses not to? Who then, if not her?

Will you be able to drive? Meet the person of your dreams and get married? Have children? Who will see to your medical care? Who will see to your needs, that you live comfortably, are well-nourished, have proper clothing? Who will manage your finances?

Who will advocate for what you need and make sure you get it?

Will you be safe?

What does your future look like? Will it shine brightly, like you?

I know I’m supposed to stay strong, cast my doubts aside. I can’t always do that. Often I just don’t know how.

For tonight, I hope that what keeps me up at night will instead be my overwhelming gratitude for my husband for his love and patience, for my daughter/your sister for her understanding, for my parents who have gone above and beyond the role of grandparents, for your talented and devoted medical team, your amazing and dedicated therapists, for those who support us in this journey, and for you.

I love you with all of my heart, and with all of my soul, for your strength, your joyous spirit, your resilience, your grace, your beauty, for your smile.

I will be forever grateful, for you have transformed our lives in ways we could not have envisioned. You make me and those who surround you better, simply by being you.

Mom holding her daughter. They're on a beach.

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16 Songs That Have Helped People With Chronic Illnesses Through a Tough Time

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Living with a chronic illness can mean a lot of ups and downs. And sometimes, especially during the “downs,” the perfect song can make a rough day feel… well… less rough, even if just for a few minutes.

We asked our readers with chronic illnesses to share some of the songs that have helped them while they face tough times.

This is what they had to say:

1. “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten

“My mom heard it on the radio last summer when I was fighting for my life. It kind of stuck as my song.” — Lauren Gomez

2. “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan

3. “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J

“A couple seconds of shadow boxing, no matter how weak or halfhearted, (even if I’m laying in bed) and I feel tough enough to go on.” — Elizabeth Rajchart

4. “Human” by Christina Perri

5. “Warrior” by Demi Lovato

“[This song] is a top choice for my daughter who has common variable immune deficiency and for me with multiple sclerosis (MS) and three other autoimmune diseases.” — Betty Hallenbeck

6. “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson

7. “Harder Better Faster” by Daft Punk

“If I need the strength and motivation to get out of bed, [this song] is great.” — Monica Jean Cozadd

8. “Who You Are” by Jessie J

9. “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips

“I’ve been sick so long that mine is from 1990.” — Chronic Beauty

10. “Roar” by Katy Perry

11. “Murderers” by John Frusciante

“It has a steady, throbbing, continuous beat that also helps me push through when things are hard. Plus, I invent my own lyrics with the sound (since it is instrumental), usually ‘Oh my hands hurt, can’t you see I’m in pain?’ Over and over again — a mantra of acknowledgment and cry for help. I don’t know why it helps so much, but it does.” — Julie Pruitt

12. “Phenomenal” by Eminem

13. “Swim” by Jack’s Mannequin

“The line, ‘just keep your head above’ gets me every time.” — Alana Schuurs

14. “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic

15. “Heavy in Your Arms” by Florence And The Machine

“Honestly music in general has always been an escape for me. Singing along and listening to the lyrics sets me free for even just a short time.” — Lacey Harvey

16. “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus

What are some song that help you get through the rough days? Let us know in the comments below!

Related: 20 Songs People Listen to When Anxiety Keeps Them Up at Night

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When the Effects of My Chronic Stress Could No Longer Be Ignored

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Stress is an oft-forgotten factor in the equation to good health. Sometimes the tolerance for it is even glorified. More emphasis is placed on diet, exercise and sleep, with stress relief as a byproduct or afterthought.

Why? Is it because these factors are more tangible and easily measured or monitored, while stress is a variable that differs for every individual? And if that is so, then is stress just “all in the mind”?

Well for me, too much stress actually does yield a tangible feedback. This is reflected in my blood tests on a micro level and pain on a larger scale. It is something that touches me physically — something I not only can feel, but see. My joints start swelling up, or my muscles become so inflamed to the point where even medication does not ease the pain.

The emergency alarms of my body are all broken and wailing as it tries to dispose of the intruders, except for the fact that there is no intruder — it is attacking itself in the confusion.

Where do the sources of my stress come from? One of the main factors, as I am sure it is so with many people, comes from work. How did I find out? I was driven to a point of desperation in my first job, where working past midnight on a daily basis was the norm. An accumulation of taxi fares and dinners amounting to hundreds of dollars were often a badge of pride as to who the hardest worker was.

But my red blood cell count had dropped to the point where I was only surviving on half of what was required to function, and as my doctor put it best, “as if you were on a mountaintop with very little oxygen. Yet you are not out of breath because your body has acclimatized to it.”

Who would have thought, me, a Sherpa in the tropics at ground zero. That was the first thought that popped into my head, at least.

I had no other choice; I requested three months of unpaid leave to rest and plan my next step. To my ignorant surprise, my blood count started to improve a little. After it was over, I knew what I had to do and tendered my resignation letter.

That isn’t to say I lived happily ever after, but the increased amount of rest I got, simple as that, did wonders for me.

Many times we ignore the effects of stress because we think it isn’t an acceptable excuse or there isn’t a choice. It doesn’t help that there is nothing to measure it against.

I want this story to serve as a reminder that stress is a big factor in relation to good health, and for people with chronic illnesses whose immune systems have already been compromised from the get go, it might just be the one of the biggest factors of all.

Follow this journey on A Chronic Voice.

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.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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In One Drawing, Special Educator Challenges the Way We Teach Kids

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“Children learn in many different ways. It is time we adapt to their needs,” wrote Chris Ulmer, a special education teacher, on his Facebook page.

Ulmer, 26, is the celebrated teacher whose video of the awesome way he starts class each day went viral in November 2015. He teaches at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, and recently shared a video demonstrating how he believes special education should work.

In the video posted to his Facebook page, Special Books by Special Kids, on Monday, Ulmer points to a picture of a stick figure child on the white board and explains that education is the bridge between where that child starts out and where society wants them to be. But, Ulmer says, not all children start out in the same spot. Some start farther along the bridge, some start above it or under it, and some start farther away from it. What education should do, Ulmer argues, is meet each child where he or she is at.

It is the duty of a teacher to meet students at their current level and guide them to their full capability,” Ulmer wrote above the video on his Facebook page.

Ulmer uses the example of allowing his students to interact by “scripting,” or repeating words and phrases from TV shows and movies they like, to ease them into other types of social interaction.

Check out Ulmer’s video below:

Creating BridgesChildren learn in many different ways. It is time we adapt to their needs. It is the duty of a teacher to meet students at their current level and guide them to their full capability.

Posted by Special Books by Special Kids on Monday, February 8, 2016

 

“Over the last three years I have served as a special education teacher. These three years have been the best of my life,” Ulmer told The Mighty via Facebook messenger. “I have taught the same group of students during this time. They have taught me that every single child is capable of progressing if we are willing to meet them at their current level. I believe it should be the responsibility of a teacher not to impose a mandatory curriculum but to meet a child at their level and guide them to their full potential.”

Ulmer has also made headlines for his initiative to turn his students into published authors and for the cool way he wraps up his classes at the end of the week.

Check out the Facebook page for Special Books by Special Kids, which is updated daily, to keep up with Chris Ulmer and his class. 

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24 Secrets of Special Education Teachers

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We posed this question to the special education teachers in our Mighty community on Facebook: “What’s one secret about your job you wish the rest of the world knew?” Their answers were honest, heartfelt and gave us some real insight into what their jobs entail.

Here are just some of the “secrets” special education teachers want you to know:

1. “It is the best job in the world. You get to be part of people’s lives in a very important way. You will be changed forever.”

2. “My job isn’t ‘sad.’ Yes, although sometimes sad things happen when you educate children with complex special needs and medical fragility (such as seizures, illness or even a student passing away), my job isn’t ‘sad’ like many people often ask me. I find so much joy in my job! I get to form bonds with my students and their families in ways many other educators don’t get to experience, often over the course of many years. And I get to truly see them progress, no matter how small that progress may seem to the outside world.”

Teacher smiling at students that reads 'My job isn't 'sad.''

3. “Parents feel like they often have to fight the system to make sure their child gets what they deserve. We are on your side! We want what’s best for them, too.”

Two women looking at tablet and reads 'We are on your side! We want what's best for them, too.'

4. “Sometimes the hardest part is convincing the kids I work with that they are capable of so much more than they give themselves credit for.”

5. “[My] job doesn’t end when the bell rings, or when the children leave the classroom or even on a holiday vacation.”

6. “We don’t do it for the rest of the world. We do it for the quiet moments [when] amazing things happen. We do it for the smiles, the gains, the tears… We do it for the parents and families of the children we work with, we do it for the trust these children give to us and we don’t ever breach that trust.”

Blurry kids that reads 'We don't do it for the rest of the world. We do it for the quiet moments [when] amazing things happen. We do it for the smiles, the gains, the tears… We do it for the parents and families of the children we work with, we do it for the trust these children give to us and we don't ever breach that trust.'

7. “I wish the world knew what an amazing job this is. I wake up every day with a smile ready to see my kiddos. I can’t imagine any other job that is as rewarding as this one!”

8. “I love my kids and would do anything for them, but if they are sick, please leave them at home. It’s not good for them or me to have a sick learner.”

9. “My students teach me more than I will ever teach them.”

Girl looking at tablet and reads 'My students teach me more than I will ever teach them.'

10. “Don’t tell too many people, but I have the best job and teacher could ask for. I get to develop lifelong relationships with my students and their families. And watching my students learn and grown is one of the most rewarding feelings in the world.”

11. “I wish parents knew that we don’t always like the labels put on kids either. Your child is more than a diagnosis.”

Boy in girl laying in grass wearing sunglasses and reads 'we don't always like the labels put on kids either. Your child is more than a diagnosis.'

12. “We want the world for your child, just like you do. We wish we could provide all the services and supports you want for your child, but there are many things beyond our control. We do the best we can while fighting for what each student needs.”

Blurry man with head on chalkboard which reads 'We wish we could provide all the services and supports you want for your child, but there are many things beyond our control.'

13. “I don’t stop thinking about my students when they leave my class or school. I know I’ll look back in 10 or 20 years and still wonder about them, wishing I knew how they’re doing and that their lives have turned out happily.”

Woman looking up at chalkboard which reads 'I don't stop thinking about my students when they leave my class or school.'

14. “My kids in special education are as smart as yours in general education. It’s just that the world is set up to honor traditional ‘smart,’ not a creative, unique, incredible, unorthodox ‘smart.’”

Eraser side-up pencils and reads 'My kids in special education are as smart as yours in general education.'

15. “I have to say the job is exhausting. However, in saying that, I am proud to be exhausted. Because my exhaustion means the students I teach are closer to meeting their personal goals. They have spent the day forming bonds with their peers and learning valuable life skills. Together we have overcome many challenges and celebrated successes. It is the kind of exhausted you feel after a hard gym session, only much, much better.”

16. “I hate when people tell me I’m a saint for doing what I do. I do it because I love it. The kids are amazing.”

Teacher showing kids tablet and reads 'I hate when people tell me I'm a saint for doing what I do.'

17. “Sometimes choices are made for us about what and how we teach by people who are not in the schools or classrooms.”

18. “Every single student I have ever taught is ‘my child.’ I love them, I worry about them, I lose sleep over them. Their successes are my successes. Their struggles are my struggles.”

Woman helping child which reads 'Every single student I have ever taught is ‘my child.’ I love them, I worry about them, I lose sleep over them. Their successes are my successes. Their struggles are my struggles.'

19. “I wish everyone knew how much our students want to learn and how hard they try.”

20. “Listening to the voices of adults with disabilities has made me a much more compassionate, aware and thoughtful educator. I am so grateful in particular to autistic adults, as I primarily work with autistic young people. There’s always room for me to grow — I promise to keep listening.”

Blurry group of students at a table which reads 'Listening to the voices of adults with disabilities has made me a much more compassionate, aware and thoughtful educator.'

21. “Special education teachers don’t do the work for their students. They make the curriculum more accessible for their students or they give them work at their ability level.”

22. “Our students are just like any other child. They have incredible hearts and big personalities. They have extraordinary talents. They have good days and not so good days. Though they may have behavioral challenges, that does not mean they are ‘bad’ or ‘lazy.’ Though they may learn differently, they can learn. Don’t underestimate or pity them. And most importantly, don’t limit them.”

23. “The fulfillment I get from making a difference in a child’s life, even if just a small one, is the best feeling in the world! It makes all of the long days, nights [and] weekends full of lesson planning and paperwork worth it!”

24. “It fulfills my heart like nothing else could.”

Hands making a heart which reads 'It fulfills my heart like nothing else could.'

Editor’s note: Some answers have been shortened for brevity/clarity.

24 Secrets of Special Education Teachers
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