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What’s Your Story?

March 29, 2012
By Maria Spencer ,

I recently had the privilege of hearing two men, Chaz Kellem and Chris Mielo, who use wheelchairs for mobility speak about overcoming. The beauty of their speech was not that they were speaking to a crowd of families of children with special needs, nor to an audience of people with disabilities. The real beauty, to me, was the fact that their audience was made mostly of typically developing children and their teachers in her elementary school (with the exception of my Olivia and a few other special children).

It meant the world to me that my daughter's principal saw the importance of typically developing children, and many teachers, hearing their inspiring message of courage and strength in the face of their challenges. They both lead productive, full lives in spite of their disabilities.

Mielo told the tragic story of how, at the age of four, he suffered an automobile accident that resulted in the loss of his mother, and caused him to never walk again. What intrigued me about his brief message was that he chose to focus on the fact that we all have a story - no matter how old we are or how many challenges we've had to face - and we need to respect each other's stories.

I was in awe of how true this is. Mielo went on to say to the kids that you never know what the life story os of the student sitting next to you. This rang true for me and other special parents like my husband and I.

We never know what other parents' stories are. Maybe they have lost a child, or maybe their adopted child was chosen to become part of their family because of his or her life history. Or they may even have a child that was older when diagnosed with a disability.

I say often that no matter what delay or disability our children have, we all share the same feelings. One thing we all have in common is that we "get" each other's stories. Pieces of our hearts have a common beat.

What I've learned over time is that instead of my heart continuing to ache over my daughter's story in her nine years of life, I have come to embrace the place where she is today, and have grown comfortable with the changes in my heart. What once was a cause of pain for my heart has now grown into pride for the things that she has overcome - even if her story may be very different from her peers.

Mielo and Kellem are awesome examples to prove that even though you may be differently-abled, you can strive to do anything you put your mind to. Mielo spoke of how his ability to play wheelchair basketball led to a basketball scholarship for college. Kellem spoke about his amazing employment at the Pittsburgh Pirates organization that he loves. They chose to focus on their strengths all throughout their lives, instead of focusing on the things they aren't able to do.

Each and every one of our special children have strengths. We need to make a conscious effort in the midst of the multiple doctor appointments, school meetings and therapy appointments to encourage our kids to foster these strengths. We need to see to it that we create an environment that enables them to press forward with the things that they are capable of doing.

The more I learn of the extent of Olivia's brain injury, the more amazed I am at her continual ability to rise above all of her challenges. We definitely know that having her in our lives is a privilege, and never a burden. Her determined spirit allows her story to shine.

My prayer this month is that you will allow your child to soar in their own unique way, in whatever it is that they are interested in and/or what they are good at. We know they are not typically developing, but they all have potential. They all can overcome obstacles. We never know where our efforts may lead them in the future. Let's strive to bring out those positive abilities that allow their spirits to shine so that all those around them will want to know their stories.

Isn't that what life is all about? We all have a story. We all are different. We all can have an "overcomer" story.

Our kids, like Chaz and Chris, can change the world, one person at a time. One story at a time.



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