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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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This article has 90 comments. Post your own!

Satuit UT said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 2:53 pm:
Wonderful Story! You d'man!!  UT
 
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Nicole Binkley said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm:
Wow... What an inspiration. Such a remarkable boy.
 
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kristin said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 1:43 pm:
This was awesome....good for you!
 
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kellymarble said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 1:13 pm:
wow, this story is an inspiration to kids and moms alike to keep trying, even when people tell you differently... Great story, great writing, great perseverance!
 
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Aunt Cathy said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm:
Christian, I am so proud to call you my nephew!  I know other students will garner inspiration from your story, and I applaud you for having the strength to share your experience.  Well done!
 
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Aunt Heidi said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 11:42 am:

Christian!

 You are great! -- and such an inspiration. Keep up the good work buddy. xo- Heidi

 
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Hang Glider II said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 11:41 am:
Awesome story of persistence and resiliency.
 
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Melba said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 11:04 am:
Not only do you have loving, supporting, encouraging parents but your will and determination are evident in your perseverance and achievements.  I can predict your future success and wish you the best.  Stories like yours are inspiring to others.  Thanks for sharing and good luck!  Melba
 
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MrsMag said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 10:24 am:
God has blessed you with a remarkable life story at such a young age! You have learned a Lifetime of knowledge through your experiences as painful as they were for you and your family....and this it priceless. Now you are able to go out and witness to others with the real depth and compassion that only comes through triumphant perserverance. You are a tru inspiration!
 
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SwimMom said...
Aug. 11, 2011 at 10:12 am:
...Just goes to show you, nothing is impossible or set in stone!  You can be whatever you want with hard work and determination...So proud of you!
 
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