Archive for the ‘ Disability ’ Category

Hooray For Cheerleaders With Special Needs

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

There’s a trend out there worth cheering for: more teens with special needs are becoming cheerleaders. I’ve been reading articles about girls with special needs joining squads, as Rachel Massingale above did at Centennial High School in Boise, Idaho, this year.

Cheerleader Megan Squire, of Verrado High School in Buckeye, Arizona (above), made headlines last year after starring in a video for a Katy Perry music contest. In November, Katy took her to the American Music Awards.

The Sparkle Effect is a nonprofit that encourages teens to include students with special needs—including Down syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy—in high-school cheerleading programs. To date, there are 122 Sparkle Effect inclusive dance and cheer teams around the country. Unfortunately, schools aren’t always so open-minded. Last fall, the parents of high school freshman Brittany Davila, who lives in Deer Park, Texas and has Down syndrome (that’s her in the center, above), had to put in a special request so she could do her cheer thing; officials wanted to keep her in the stands, citing safety concerns.

Inclusive cheerleading squads are awesome, but I also love the ones out there comprised entirely of people with disabilities. There are the Shining Diamonds (above), a cheerleading team in Helena, Alabama made up of people ages 4 to 31 with special needs who travel to competitions throughout the Southeast (here’s their Go Fund Me page). And the Dakota Spirit Sparklers, an adaptive cheerleading team in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Either way, it’s A Good Thing for the world to see that having special needs doesn’t make you any less capable of expressing enthusiasm and getting into the spirit of a game.

From my other blog:

Tracking devices for children with autism and other special needs 

Jobs for people with disabilities, and a flash of hope

Birthday love for my other special child


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Baby Care Basics: What is Down Syndrome?
Baby Care Basics: What is Down Syndrome?
Baby Care Basics: What is Down Syndrome?


Images: Rachel Massingale/screen-grab, KTBV video; Brittany Davila/screen-grab, KHOU video; Shining Diamonds, Go Fund Me

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What A Special Needs Individual Is Worth…According To One CEO

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at AutismWonderland.

As an autism mom, I have just as many dreams for my son, Norrin, as any other parent raising a ‘typical” kid. One of my dreams for Norrin is that he grow up and be able to care for himself. I want him to have the opportunity to find work that he can take pride in. I am raising Norrin to be a respectful and responsible young man who will become a valued member of society. And I want Norrin to be recognized for his potential and worth.

However, wealthy CEO, Peter Schiff, believes that individuals who are “mentally retarded” are worth $2 an hour. Schiff’s comment is not only arrogant but ignorant. And it perpetuates the misconception that individuals with special needs are less than and unworthy.

Those of us who raise, love and know individuals with special needs, know how wrong Schiff is. It is a privilege to recognize a person’s true value. My friend, Jo Ashline, pretty much summed it up in this simple tweet:

I have a 27-year old sister with an intellectual disability. While there are jobs that she cannot do, there are many she can. For the last few years, she’s had a part time job as a greeter at Ikea. She’s able to take the train to and from home independently and she feels good about the money she earns. I am grateful that she works somewhere that values her as a person. That’s what I want for Norrin and every other kid with special needs.

Just because someone has a “disability” doesn’t mean they lack complete ability  to perform a task. Brad Fremmerlid is an amazing example of what can be accomplished when an individuals special talent is put to good use.

As Norrin’s mom, I believe Norrin is priceless. But on the day he is able to work, I want him to be treated equally and paid accordingly. Because regardless of autism, if he’s able to perform a job well – he should be paid fairly. It’s his human right.

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A Bride Shares Her Wedding With Women With Special Needs

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

I try hard not to think too much about Max’s future. Long ago, I learned that it mostly made me anxious, which did me and Max no good whatsoever. And so I do my best to teach, enable and encourage him, and I hope for the best. Sometimes, though, I wonder about whether he will get married. Given that he’s 11 years old, he’s got plenty of time. (Once, I asked who he’d like to marry, and he answered “Lightning McQueen.”) Still, it’s one of those life happinesses you want for your children, and impossible to ignore.

I saw a video the other day that made me wistful. Vantrease Blair helps run a home for people with disabilities in Orlando. After getting engaged and planning her big day, Blair decided to include seven women from the home in her ceremony. “I wanted to give them the wedding of their dreams and, luckily enough, I married someone who was right on with that and said, ‘Okay, let’s do it!’” she said.

The women picked their white dresses, bouquets, flowers, cakes and wedding albums. Some wore tiaras during the ceremony and some, veils, as they watched Blair take her vows. They all glowed. Afterward, the newlyweds held two receptions: One for themselves, and one for the seven ladies.

Watching the women, you couldn’t help but feel happy for them. And yet, I also felt a bit sad. Were they truly incapable of getting married, even if not in the traditional way? In recent years, I’ve read amazing stories about people with special needs falling in love and marrying, including people with Down syndrome and intellectual disability. As the mother of one bride with cerebral palsy said, “There is no disabled love. There is only true love.”

Words to hope by.

From my other blog:

Couples with disabilities: 5 love stories to celebrate

How raising a child with special needs affects your marriage

Disciplining kids with special needs


Image: Screen grab, CNN video

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Autism Is Not A Punishment From God

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at AutismWonderland.

Look at this child. Does he look like a punishment for anything?

Five years ago when my son, Norrin, was diagnosed with autism I went through a series of emotions. Anger for not seeing the signs sooner, depression due to so much uncertainty, loneliness because I didn’t know anyone else raising an autistic child and anxiety over navigating the special education maze. And while I may have even wondered whether I was to blame for Norrin’s autism – not once did I ever consider my son or autism a punishment.

Recently GOP candidate Susanne Atanus made a statement blaming autism (along with other diseases and natural disasters like tornadoes) as God’s punishment for abortions and same- sex marriage. When I read the article, my jaw just about hit the keyboard. I’m grateful Republican leaders strongly advised Atanus to withdraw from the congressional campaign as her beliefs “have no place in the modern political debate.”

I don’t want to get into a political debate because it’s pointless. Susanne Atanus’ statements are irrelevant and incorrect. (I am being very very kind.) But Atanus’ words are dangerous, insulting and hurtful to me and the entire autism community, as well as every woman who’s had an abortion and every gay couple wanting to marry. And if Atanus feels that way about autism, how many other people feel the same? It scares me to think that such ignorance could exist, especially within someone running for office.

When I first started telling people Norrin had autism, many expressed how “sorry” they were. I know people meant well, but I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us. As I’ve shared my story people have asked if I wanted a cure for Norrin or if autism could have been prevented. And once a coworker referred to Norrin as “sick.” Autism isn’t a disease in need of a cure and Norrin isn’t sick. In fact, he’s probably one of the healthiest kids I know. There are so many misconceptions about autism as it is. Some I can shrug off but autism as a “punishment from God” is beyond insulting.

When I look at Norrin, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of pride and unbelievable joy. I recognize the progress he has made and how hard he was worked to achieve the milestones that come so easily to other children. He is my son and I have loved him since the moment I found out I was pregnant. And on the day Norrin was diagnosed with autism, my love for him did not diminish.

Norrin has autism. Yes we have our challenges and raising a child with special needs isn’t always easy. But it’s not a punishment. My son is not a burden. I have no desire to cure him. I love Norrin just as he is. And I want others to appreciate, understand and respect him for who he is. Norrin is my greatest achievement and I am so blessed to his mother. The only punishment we are burdened with is dealing with ignorant individuals like Susanne Atanus.

Norrin is my only son. And if I had to choose between having him – just as he is – or no son at all, I would choose him. Always.


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Clothes For People With Down Syndrome, Designed By A Granny

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

I’ve got a fashion challenge with my son, and it’s got nothing to do with him wanting to wear his new Lightning McQueen slippers all the time. We need to find clothing that he can put on himself. This is not easy; Max’s cerebral palsy means his fingers aren’t that nimble and he can’t easily move his arms up and down. My husband’s mother used to be a clothes designer, and we’ve recently asked her to consider making pants for Max that he’d be able to open and close.

Turns out another grandmother has already been there, designed that. Karen Bowersox, 65, of Ohio has a granddaughter, Maggie, with Down syndrome. It had long been a challenge finding clothes that fit her body, Bowersox has said.

Her inspiration

As she’s noted, people with DS typically have a short thigh bone and upper arm bone, which can make sleeves and pants too long; because of low muscle tone, they may develop larger stomachs. In 2010 Bowersox found a good designer and launched Downs Designs. Today, there’s an entire line of clothing including jeans with elastic bands so they’re easier to pull up and down, shirts with different sleeve lengths, shorts and capris. Bowersox calls her creations “Down Sizing.” Tags are printed in inner pockets, so there are no itch problems for those with sensory issues.

Other clothing line creators have had similar motivation; the recently debuted Mianzi Fashion line is the brainchild of a father, Richard Nachum Kligman, who has a son with cerebral palsy. The shirts feature quick-drying bamboo fabric and an extra layer of material so they don’t get soaked from drool (an issue for some children and adults with CP). He launched the line with $25,000 in funding pledged on Kickstarter. Last summer, Bowersox won $50,000 worth of digital marketing from Staples’ Push It Forward contest.

Clothing geared toward people with special needs can improve their lives by giving them more confidence—and increasing their independence. There are actually many people out there with fine-motor skill challenges who would benefit from Downs Designs, including ones with CP. Sometimes Max struggles even with elastic waist bands, like the kind on sweatpants, so we’ve been considering ones with big loops he can grasp. I’m doubtful Prada or H&M will be making them anytime soon so meanwhile, I’m showing this to my mother-in-law. Hint, hint.

From my other blog:

Top 20 reasons moms of kids with special needs rock

How raising a child with special needs affects your marriage

15 learning milestones that thrill parents of kids with special  needs


Images: Downs Designs

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