When I saw that becoming a Health Community Ambassador was something that Wish Dish was doing, I jumped at the chance. By serving in this role I can impact so many people and the health community by helping people share their stories.
I’ve come up with some goals to accomplish along the way.
My ultimate goal while serving as a Wish Dish Health Community Ambassador is to create a community and safe haven. I want the Wish Dish Health Community to be an open forum for everyone to share their stories.
By providing a community for everyone to share their stories I hope it leads to resources for others to use. I want Wish Dish Health to serve as an outlet for people to share their resources and stories to hopefully help just one person who reads their story.
I want someone to read a story and realize that someone else has been affected by cancer, suicide, multiple sclerosis, addiction, etc. and now they have a contact person to serve as a resource for helplines, spiritual/religious resource, foundations, etc.
By allowing people to share their stories about how they been affected by suicide, depression, anxiety, etc. it brings attention to these health topics that need to be pushed to the forefront of research so that we can work towards a cure or more help for those wanting to live a normal life in the community.
Mental health and disabilities have become such taboo topics to discuss. I’m hoping through Wish Dish Health that people are willing to talk more and more about these topics in order to bring them into the light of health topics and let people know that its OK to discuss these topics with one another. We want to encourage these conversations in order to help save just one more life.
The more people are willing to share their stories and experiences then it forces people to start a conversation. This allows people to become more aware of health issues that are affecting so many people around the world today.
I want people to learn as much as they can about different health topics. Research topics like autism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, schizophrenia, ADD/ADHD, Zika, diabetes, etc. There are plenty of resources online to learn more.
TED Talks has a great piece on autism by Temple Grandin you should check it out!
In May I’ll graduate with my BSN and I hope to use that degree to help change the lives of NICU babies and their families. But for now I want to use Wish Dish Health to help change and save lives.
By serving as a Wish Dish Health Community Ambassador it will help expand my knowledge on many health issues as well as see how people cope with certain things. This will help me tremendously with my professional development as well as help me connect better with my patients.
If you have social media, you’ve probably seen videos of someone with Down syndrome opening his or her acceptance letter to college, a girl with Down syndrome finding out she made the cheerleading team, someone with special needs being crowned prom queen or king, or someone with Autism being asked to prom. When people see these videos, their response is usually, “OMG that’s amazing that they can do that too” but people who are involved with the special needs world are not surprised because we see what they are capable of on a daily basis.
First, it is important to know that children with special needs are just like any other child their age, but may communicate a different way or take longer to complete a task. We can also pay attention to the words we use and how it might affect the person they are being directed towards.
We were taught from a young age, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” This pertains to everyone and not just your close friends. For example, we need to quit using the R word. [For the sake of all being on the same page, the R word is “retarded”.] When someone uses this word, he or she phrases it in a negative way, usually to mean ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb’. Think about this, are the adjectives ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ only related to IQ? No, because someone can be a brilliant artist but terrible with directions.
I have met many brilliant people with special needs (who some may use the R word to describe). I babysit a little girl who is kind, funny, smart, and silly…and also has Down syndrome! Almost all of my friends have personally met her (and fallen in love with her). I love introducing her to others because it gives them an opportunity to realize that she is just like any other 4 year old! She can cartwheel, walk a balance beam, do a pullover on her ‘nastic bars’ (gymnastics bars), and even do more pull-ups than I can do. We love to swing on the swings at the park, play hairdresser, sing songs together, and cheer for our favorite team. In a classroom of 20 typically developing 4 year olds, she is in the top 5 and she does not even qualify for special services due to her academic scores being so high. Honestly, we can find a different adjective to describe people who are human and have feelings just like everyone else.
When a parent is told that their child has a diagnosis or disability, almost immediately the physicians tell the parents what that child will not be able to do throughout his or her lifetime. What if we approach people with special needs in a way that highlights what they CAN do? Just because someone has Autism, does not mean that that person will not be able to form meaningful relationships…maybe it just takes more practice and working at it. The same goes for someone who is short; just because they are short does not mean they’ll never be able to dunk a basketball, it may just take more practice and effort.
I once interned at a special education preschool; one day the children were all playing outside and hula-hooping. I observed a child who was watching them and it was obvious that this child wanted to participate as well. Only here’s the thing, this child was using a walker due to having Cerebral Palsy. Now, one could have redirected the child and maybe interested him in another activity that he could have done more easily, but I walked over to him and placed the hula-hoop over him and his walker and shook it around his waist while he wiggled his upper body with excitement. We laughed and did this many times. Even though it wasn’t the exact same hula-hooping as his peers, it was clear to me that he was feeling the same joy his friends were experiencing!
It is important to not be so quick to assume that just because someone has a disability means that they are not capable of things. If you have the opportunity to interact with someone who has a disability, take the time. You truly learn best by experiencing.
So, now I’m sure you are wondering what can you do. Not everyone is working in a field that places him or her in direct contact with children with special needs. Luckily, I am one of those few because I am currently working on my Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. This profession empowers children and adults to be independent in their daily lives. I have the desire to work with children with special needs and look forward to giving them some of the tools they need to be the best version of themselves. It is my passion to be an advocate for others and I love educating people about how we as humans are more alike than different.
I would encourage everyone to look and find a place to volunteer. I volunteer with an organization that enables people of ALL abilities the opportunity to play baseball. The dugouts are wheelchair accessible, the bases are ground level, and there are other adaptations so that all players can participate in baseball to the best of their ability while still having fun. I currently live in the East Alabama area and there are many other organizations to volunteer with like Best Buddies and Storybook Farms.
The mission of Best Buddies is to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Storybook Farms serves children and young adults who are challenged with life-threatening illnesses, disabilities, mental and/or emotional trauma, and grief. This organization utilizes the gentle nature of the horses to provide hope and healing to these populations.
**You’ll notice throughout this I did not say, “special needs kid”, “Downs boy”, or “Autistic girl” because in the special needs world, we like to refer to our friends with a disability using “person first language.” First and foremost, they are people…just like you and me. So, we put the person first and the disability second.
If you come into contact with someone who has a disability, be sure to say ‘hey!’ and ask how his or her day is going. Basically, treat them just as you would anyone else.
I can remember as early as age 7 being interested in special needs kids. We had an opportunity in elementary school to volunteer in their classroom. I have very fond memories throughout elementary and intermediate school of these people.
I can still remember all of their names and faces. I do not know what initially drew me to this group of people, maybe it is a God given gift but for me it has always been effortless. I do not think about it I just do it feels natural, it feels right and always has.
In high school I volunteered with Best Buddies, and organization that pairs you with a special needs student and hang out with them outside of school. This was a very rewarding experience because I was able to have my “Best Buddy” hang around not only me but all of my friends.
There were certain people I would do this with, usually the higher functioning ones with the ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. I think this is what most people miss and I missed at first.
Most people forget this, they look at those with disabilities as lesser than. The abortion rates in this country for Down syndrome are 90% and even higher in other parts of the world. If they do receive any attention, it is usually to be mocked. One thing I have always envied about those with intellectual disabilities is their perspective on life. These people have the same emotions that we all have yet I’ve never met even one who I would describe as depressed. The joy that these people express in everyday life, through ordinary activities is genuine and not something to mock, but rather something to strive for.
The ability to take any and all situations with the same mentality is a gift we could all use in life. Certainly some of this has to do with limited brain function in some, but in most I see it as a choice. Society as a whole may see them as different, and treat them as such but they are comfortable in their own skin and have accepted their fate. I have met people who cannot communicate verbally and have a limited mental capacity that still show a joy in life. A laugh, a smile, when life is the same every day with no sign of changing anytime soon, I do not know how anyone can be that positive in that situation. I know I would mope around all day blaming the world for birthing me with a disability that essentially took away any chance at a “normal” life.
Services are lacking, however support is growing. I understand not everyone is called to this kind of work, but treating a human being like a human being shouldn’t be considered work. Say hi when you walk past someone with a disability, start there. Make eye contact, a smile. Anything is better than nothing.
These people are human, they deserve and have the right to be in public places without being looked down upon. You would be surprised how much of a positive impact this can have on others. Everyone has emotions, everyone has thoughts and feelings, everyone wants companionship, and these people are no different. Working with all of these people has made me a better person. My perspective on my own life changes every time I am around them. Their optimism and outlook on life is truly contagious. To be honest I think I need them in my life more than they need me.
Who am I to complain about these small matters when I know people who get up every day and continue to fight a battle that seems to have no end? Their strength gives me strength, and it should give you strength too.