Seeing Clearly This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

June 8, 2009
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As much as I hate to admit it, I used to avoid looking people with mental disabilities in the eye. It wasn't that I was scared of them, or even uncomfortable around them. It was more that I pitied them. I thought they could never have the same opportunities as others. It was almost as if making eye contact – allowing them to see my pity – would silently confirm their limitations, and I didn't want to do that.

I was naive in thinking that a disability defines a person.

All this changed when Tyler, a four-year-old with Down's syndrome, entered my life. I met Tyler through a nonprofit organization called Playing For Others (PFO). Every year, PFO pairs with another group serving children with disabilities.

In addition to producing an arts festival to benefit its partner, PFO gives teenagers involved in the arts an opportunity to work directly with special-needs children. Each teen is assigned a “buddy,” and mine was Tyler.

I joined PFO because I thought it would be a creative way to perform community service. Several friends were already involved and claimed it had changed their lives. Of course, the phrase “life-changing” is overused, so even though I was excited to join, I was unprepared for the profound effect it would have on me. It really has changed how I view the world, especially the way I see people with disabilities. Because of PFO, I now have no trouble looking them in the eye.

I was nervous when I met Tyler, but I fell in love with him the minute I saw him. His smile completely melted my heart. We met in a park, and he immediately grabbed my hand and led me to the water play area. We stayed there for hours, and he cried when he had to leave. Despite his disability, he has more energy than any kid I know, and his capacity to love never ceases to amaze and humble me. He waves to everyone he meets and won't give up until he gets a response. He loves to sing, dance, and mug for the camera. I look up to Tyler probably as much as he looks up to me, because he taught me how important it is to just be happy. I know he will go far in life.

I used to believe that children with disabilities, through no fault of their own, would never have the chance to amount to much. Now, after ­working with Tyler for a year, I can't believe I once held these ignorant views. Tyler's personality is not hindered by his Down's syndrome; it shines in spite of it. If everyone could see what I see when I look Tyler in the eye, they'd know that people with disabilities have the same ­inherent dignity. They'd understand that what a special-needs child really deserves is not pity, but acceptance.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

magic-esi This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 4, 2010 at 3:24 pm
This is so true! People with disabilities are just like normal people. This is a really nice article and really makes you think.
 
squeak said...
Mar. 28, 2010 at 4:34 pm

wow this was grate. I have an older brother and he has a mantel disability. he looks and acts normal but he has the mind capacity of a 15 year old some times younger. He’s 27 but I love him in spite of the fact he can be difficult. I’ve learned a lot from him. I think the program your involved in is amazing as well.

 

 
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