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Mixed Blessing of the Brain
special needs |speSHell nidz|
(in the context of children at school) particular educational requirements resulting from learning difficulties, physical disability, or emotional and behavioral difficulties.
That is the official dictionary entry for the phrase “special needs.” What do you think when you read those words? Perhaps people with neurological problems such as Down Syndrome, or people in a wheelchair. Perhaps you even think about Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie The Rain Man (it’s a movie from the 1980’s).
Too often we think of bad things. Parents hear the words “he has autism” and immediately wonder about the future of their child. When the doctor told my mother “She has epilepsy,” and the “she” he was talking about happened to be her then-three-year-old daughter (me), Mom burst into tears. It was only several years and three more diagnoses later that we truly knew what good could come out of such grim prognoses.
I suppose that in order for you to understand what I mean by that, I have to explain the bad parts of the many disabilities I have been labeled with. Lets start with my own special needs: epilepsy, mild cerebral palsy, a learning disability, and high-functioning autism.
I had my first seizure around nine months old, after an extremely high fever. We believe that my high fevers may be the result of a genetic mutation that makes my body unable to efficiently regulate my internal temperature, hence my unusual amount of febrile seizures: over a dozen, as compared to the usual one or two. I have probably had about half a dozen different kinds since I was diagnosed. And they are dangerous; I actually broke my nose a couple years ago. The break was across the bridge of my nose, and we actually didn’t know it was broken until almost a week later! Thanks to the Modified Atkins diet, I have gone from one seizure a month to one every year, and have actually been able to lower my medicine levels. Look it up.
I was diagnosed with Mild Cerebral Palsy (MCP) and a learning disability around the same time, in grade school. I am not in a wheelchair, in fact I can walk and run just like a regular person (that’s why it’s called Mild Cerebral Palsy). But if you look hard at my hands when they are at rest, you’d notice that my fingers are curled, almost as if partway into a fist. That is the hallmark of CP in general. I actually didn’t notice it until a friend who also has CP pointed it out after correctly guessing that I had MCP.
I actually wasn’t diagnosed with high-functioning autism until a couple years ago. The initial diagnosis was Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder which prevents me from reading body cues and microexpressions. The reason for it is because there are two parts of your brain that need to work together in order to process emotions, and for whatever reason the part of my brain that identifies emotions is connected to the wrong part entirely. Oh, I know what a smile looks like. I can see the basic emotions. However, I can’t read body language at all, and since that makes up to 80% of a conversation, you can see the full extent of what I’m missing. It also means that I often am very blunt and don’t realize that I am hurting someone, so I have gotten in pretty bad trouble several times. My friends all know that I am actually very sensitive, so they will let it slide, but that doesn’t always hold up for strangers, and sometimes my younger sister. I owe it to the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) for helping me get better with my social skills.
As for my learning disability, it is almost directly caused by my MCP. Just because I can walk doesn’t mean that I have completely avoided any of it’s effects. I take up to twice as long to write something as a “neurotypical” person would. I also have a left-sided weakness, meaning that the muscles in my left side are weaker than my right (strangely, I am left-handed). My entire left side tightens when I write, as opposed to just my arm. It also means that essays are one of the things that will forever be the bane of my existance.
My writing disability is the most recent of my diagnoses, and the one which has caused the most trouble in school. I had no friends among class in third grade because after I was allowed a lot of time on timed tests, the poor test collector for the day would have to wait . . . and wait . . . and wait for me to finish! Also, I would have piles of homework and could only watch out the window as my friends played outside while I struggled to complete multiplication problems. The next summer, I was pulled out of the public system and started homeschooling. That is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
Now that you have heard all of my disability-related woes, I will reveal the equal good that has come out of my special needs. I will start with Bright Feats.
In 2006, my mother and a neighbor living across the street created Bright Feats, a directory made so families with children who have special needs can find help. By now, 2015, it has grown from a few advertisers in Orlando to a statewide business dedicated to helping families of every kind. I actually work part-time for Bright Feats whenever there is work for me. It is gratifying to know that every business entered into the website could mean one more person finding the help they need to conquer obstacles that seem insurmountable at first.
Autism is a spectrum. That’s the only way I can put it. There are people with low intelligence on one end, and people like me who’s autistic nature is so hidden we need to tell people in order for them to know. Many people everywhere on the autism spectrum have “splinter skills,” extreme gifts in one specific area. Albert Einstein is one of them, believe it or not. My own skills are right in my pen name, IAceEnglish. I have not gotten anything below an A in English for the past several years, partly because of my reading speed. What I lack in writing speed, I make up for in Reading and Verbal Comprehension. To put it in perspective, think of a thick novel, an inch or two in width. I will read one of those books in about two hours straight. No kidding! I like to think that what I lack in writing speed, I make up for in reading.
Another talent of mine is one that I am not sure where it comes from. The best way I can describe it is that I have a kind of Spellcheck software in my brain. Typos stand out on a page as if they are written in hot pink! You can tell if a book is self-published by looking for the typos. Books published by publishing companies usually have 3 typos at the most, and books self-published usually have 4 to 5 typos. This doesn’t hold true for every book that is self-published, though. I have read one book, ADX, that I know was self-published because I know the author, and it only had one typo, and even that was a minor correction error. The most extreme example I can think of is a book that had so many typos I began to wonder if they had skipped the editing stage. My mother read it and found nothing wrong, but there were so many! If you can’t hire an editor, at least run the book through Spellcheck before you send it off to print. That book drove me crazy!
Now, keep in mind I am not trying to brag here. I am only trying to illustrate a point, even if it is a little long-winded. My point is, if you or a loved one has any disability, whatever it may be, look for positive events that stem from it. Don’t let life get you down. Focus on your strengths. For me, that has made all the difference.