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Sorting Screws This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

When I was three, a doctor told my parents I wouldn't be completely handicapped, but I would be “sorting screws.” This came after an extensive neuropsychological exam that indicated I had an IQ of 40. My classification was “Trainable Mentally Handicapped.” My Ivy League-educated parents were devastated. When they asked what they should do with my college fund, the doctor replied, “He'll need it to live in a group home. College is out of the question.” My mother cried for days, but with the help of both sets of grandparents, she found the strength to prove that doctor wrong.

My mother says I was a perfect baby. In fact, I reached all the milestones early. In the spring of 1995, within hours of receiving my DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) vaccination from the pediatrician, I suffered a seizure that lasted over 15 minutes. I was rushed to the hospital for a battery of inconclusive tests. I went on to experience seizures for the next ten years.

Seizures are a funny thing. When you're having one, you don't have control of your body, and you have no memory of it afterward. This incredibly scary event affects everyone around you, but you are strangely protected. I have never witnessed another person having a seizure, so I have no idea what it looks like. I wish I could say the same for my older brother, Marty. Many times he cared for me when I was seizing, laying me down, protecting my head, and calling 911.

At the age of three, I was enrolled in a school for children with special needs. I received daily therapy for eight hours, which continued at home. My parents researched and took the advice of many doctors on how to cope with my changing diagnoses: epilepsy, sensory integration disorder, autism, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), developmental delay, and on and on. At various times in my childhood, I was ­diagnosed with terms I think were invented just for me.

My parents surrounded themselves with great doctors who gave them hope and encouragement. One, Dr. Jose Ferreira, my neurologist from All Children's Hospital, told my parents they needed to treat me exactly like my brothers – holding me to the same expectations and punishing me for the same things. It might take me 50-100 times before I learned a behavior that my older brother could easily grasp, but they had to be consistent. This was reinforced by my Opa, my dad's father. He was very involved, since my dad was busy traveling and working. Opa believed in me and treated me as though I was normal. This was a saving grace.

As a child, my days were spent getting hours and hours of therapy. Weighted belts, educational toys, a special diet, music therapy, and deep tissue massages were all part of my daily routine. Of course, there were also many medications, each requiring extensive research by my parents. Finally, in 2002, my parents said, “Enough!”

They had a hunch that many of my behaviors were medically induced. They decided to go against the doctors' orders, wean me of my drugs, and re-evaluate my situation.

According to my family, what emerged was a miracle. I still had seizures, but not every day. I was in school and could read, but had fine motor skill problems, speech issues, and needed occupational therapy for help with coordination. But one new positive side effect was that I finally had a personality, something they hadn't seen since I was a one-year-old. Eventually, I was put back on medication for obsessive-compulsive tendencies and remained on these until I was 15, at which time I told my parents I no longer needed them, and they agreed.

To say I was in special education my whole life is an understatement. When I was three, they didn't even have schools for kids like me. I wasn't a behavioral problem; I was just cognitively delayed. From age two through five I seized constantly for 20- to 30-minutes at a time. Some seizures left me paralyzed, some left me twitching, others wiped me out for days.

When I turned six, the seizures became fewer and farther between. Because my immune system was compromised, the doctor recommended a non-contact sport, so my parents enrolled me and my brothers in swim classes. After the first six months, the warts that covered my knees were gone, I suffered less illness, and I was physically tired at the end of the day. And I have continued swimming to this day.

In 2007 I informed my parents that I wanted to go to a regular high school so I could play sports. They agreed to let me take the entrance exam at a local Catholic high school. Apparently my scores were the lowest in the history of the school. They suggested I return to seventh grade and try again in two years. I was crushed! My mom convinced them to let me attend for a probationary period, and if it was a complete disaster, they would pull me out in December.

They agreed, but I was expected to earn at least a 2.0, and I would be enrolled in a class designed to help develop study skills. Up until this point, I had no experience with ­textbooks, tests, homework assignments, or reading requirements. Attending a regular school would be a huge adjustment for me. My parents knew I would require hours and hours of tutoring just to learn the basics.

I managed to maintain a 3.7 GPA and finished my last semester with a 4.1. Unfortunately, as a result of my struggles freshman year, I will not have a career GPA high enough to make National Junior Honor Society – one of my goals.

Today I have my driver's license, which is great for getting to school and to my nine swim practices each week. I hold a leadership position in the Mission Club and hope to run for president this year. This club reaches out to less fortunate students to enlighten them and open their eyes to possibility.

I am the captain of the swim team and have swam in several high-level meets. My times continue to improve, which indicates that the next few years should be my best. Last season I was the team statistician for varsity football. It was through this experience that I realized my gift: I have an incredible ability to retain sports facts. I have always loved sports, with football, baseball, and basketball being my favorites. It is this interest and gift that led me to my current goal of wanting to study sports management and broadcasting in college.

Current testing indicates that my IQ is within the normal range, but this test does not measure my will or determination. My experience in high school continues to help me realize that I am willing to work twice as hard as most of my classmates. I still struggle with final exams, but I am more skilled with day-to-day study habits. Academic growth is always my top priority, with swimming being a close second. My high school experience has taught me many things, but the most important is that success is completely in my hands. I know I will not be sorting screws, because I have the desire to be great!

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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fridaygrrl said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 9:38 pm:
You rock Christian! Great piece, well-written, honest and engaging-- keep up the great work. I honestly believe that you should turn this into a book. Dirk and I will miss you when you go off to college. --Laura Hamel
 
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slks said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 8:46 pm:
reach for the stars and know this that some of the smartest, successful people in the world didn't go to Ivy league schools. You are what you make of yourself not who others tell you what you should be...beautiful is inside you and expressed to others and not in a school name but WHO YOU ARE and you have always been better than the rest....
 
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Yankee in Virginia said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 4:10 pm:
Christian, you are a very special kid! You have written a tremendous synopsis of your life and it truly is an inspiration. Keep up the great work and I hope to see you soon!
 
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Gabriele said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm:
Chris, your desire to succeed is only surpassed by the love & support you haved received from your entire family! But, that does not surprise me. They supported me as well! Most called me a dreamer. Your Grandfather responded , "What do they know? Often, dreams come true".
 
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Cindy House said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm:
I have a 15 year old girl who wants to go to Ivy League school one day. What a educating story for her on what makes things possible..
 
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holly said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm:
What a touching story. Quite a testament to your family's love and support as well.
 
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DeniseLynde said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm:

I am so thrilled to see you are an inspiration to so many individuals.  As a mother of a special needs child I am often amazed at the determination in my child.  I see you impart the same determination.  Good luck on your future!  I look forward to seeing or hearing you broadcast a game.  You can never know how far you can go until you try.  Press on!

 
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rickmile said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm:
Exceptional. I have been around Christian and his family at the pool for many years. This is the first I have heard any of this. Very impressive!
 
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maggie liu said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm:
about couple years ago, i firstly met Chris,at his beautiful family, as his parents friend,enjoying a great dinner with his folks..Chris like other siblings,full of talents, athetic,freindly, grace,open-minded and socially, hardly let me think of what his parents even told me about his"special" birth etc..i guessed he and his family must had been through something we couldnt know or image...till read this article, it really touched me!go Chris,you are the great one, the best one to be yours!
 
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bigred49 said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 11:30 am:
An amazing story, that inspires and makes us realize how precious life is, and how we might not be listening enough to our children, who depend on us for protection and guidance.  Compared to Chris, I should be counting screws.  Good luck in college!! You wil do great!
 
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MilestoneSRQ said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 11:08 am:
What a pleasure to read your story of challenge and triumph. Best of luck to you in what is sure to be a bright future.
 
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Lynn from Casey Key said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 11:07 am:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your personal history. You are a phenom with an amazing family and support group. I wish you continued success in whatever you endeavor..Keep sharing..

 

 
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LiveStrong said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 10:47 am:

Wonderful story... thank you for sharing it and for being an inspiration to me and many others. I wish you much happiness, health & success!  :)

"The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person's determination."

~~ Tommy Lasorda ~~

 

 
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L Ryan said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 10:35 am:
Thank you for sharing your very touching personal story.  It is very well written and quite moving.  You are an inspiration to all!
 
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Inspired from Atl said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 10:28 am:
Truly inspired by you sharing this warm and loving life story.  I'm blessed & honored to know you.  I trust you will accomplish many more great things on this earth.  Very proud of you!
 
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Agnese said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 10:23 am:
You are amazing! You bring tears to my eyes but also a realization of what strong will can do! Very well written story!
 
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Pete Noyes said...
Aug. 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm:
Reading Christian's inspiring story is an example of a family coming together ,never giving up and always seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Most important, Christian is a true warrior with a huge heart... with great parents and siblings. You are the man Christian !!! Pete & Carol Noyes
 
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writeon said...
Aug. 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm:
An athletic can last for awhile....but writing talent is forever and will keep you afloat. Great story. Publishing in future!
 
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ester said...
Aug. 17, 2011 at 12:22 pm:
It just shows how with hard work , dedication and a great family you can turn your life around .Hats off to this very talented young man and keep the good work up !!!!!!
 
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Cara from Buffalo said...
Aug. 17, 2011 at 10:59 am:
Your story brought me to tears. I help care for my Autistic stepson and have faced many of the same challenges and like OPA have tried to treat him like any other 10 year old. I constanly have hope and your story is just another reminder why we need to always keep our hope and strive for success no matter what anyone tells us.  You are truly an inspiration and are very lucky to be surrounded by so much love and support. Your strength and determination will allow you to attain any ... (more »)
 
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