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Special Needs & Spectrum Awareness

Special Needs & Spectrum Awareness

We hear people mentioning “disabilities” and “special needs” all the time, but how many of us really know what these labels are all about? For those of us who love a differently-abled individual, we know that they don’t fit into a set mold and they have their own gifts and challenges that make them unique.  I am blessed to have several gifted individuals in my life.  At least three of my nephews and more recently (diagnosed), my husband.

Often times we think of a person with special needs as looking different or acting strange, but there are things about these individuals that are more “normal” than the rest of us will ever know.  An increased level of compassion that would put most of us to shame is just one of the gifts that so many with cognitive disorders possess.  Unfortunately, this can leave them vulnerable to those who would look to take advantage of such kindness.  My husband has dealt with an undiagnosed disability for as long as he can remember.  He was beaten and tied to chairs by teachers in school, ridiculed by his closest family and friends who called him estupido or flojo, and physically and emotionally battered throughout much of his life.  It wasn’t until recently (with a lot of nudging) that he finally decided to seek a diagnosis.  At the age of 33, my husband finally had an answer.  He wasn’t “stupid”, “lazy” or “slow”…he was DYSLEXIC.  But, what does that mean?

Every person is different and this applies to those with “dis”abilities just as much as it does to anyone else.  My husband is dyslexic, but he doesn’t read letters backwards.  Instead he sees them out of order, has trouble reading analog clocks and a shortened attention span.  The specifics of his unique traits are too numerous to mention here, but the point is that individuals with the same disability label don’t always have the same quirks.  While a label does help in some ways to guide us through the process and help us point to a cause, it can also paint individuals into a corner that prevents others from seeing their full potential.  We can sometimes get so caught up in what individuals are “un”able to do, that we forget all the truly amazing things that they are capable of.

We found inspiration in a very special author while on our journey towards diagnosis.  Victor Villaseñor is a Chicano (Mexican American) author with dyslexia who endured criticism and abuse for both his disability and his heritage.  He lived life believing that Mexicans were inferior and that his poor grades in school were a result of his unwillingness or inability to learn.  In his own journey of self-discovery, he came to realize that all of these societal labels were untruths and that he could do anything through believing in himself.

Like Villaseñor, my husband grew up not knowing his worth, but it’s important to realize that having support…whether it be your parents, spouse, children, friends or teachers…can give you the strength to believe in yourself.  It’s so important that they have an ally who sees them for more than their label.  For all those who LOVE an amazingly different individual…know that your support and love means everything…and you are also amazing!

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  • Ezzy Guerrero-Languz
    March 25, 2011 at 6:27 am

    Hi Chantilly,

    I'm so glad I stumbled on your blog link over at Latism!

    First of all — I loved BURRO GENIUS. How Villaseñor describes the way rivers of white streamed between lines on the page when he first tried to read and how words jumped off the page at him, nearly brought me to tears. Not to mention the bits about Oceanside history I'd never known (and I'm a Mexican-American who grew up in Southern California most my of life).

    The book was meaningful to me because our eight-year-old son was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD last year. As somebody who's gone through this with your family, I know you understand the confusion we felt as parents. As a mom, I felt responsible. How would we remediate? What did this mean to him in the future? Oh, my God — would he go to college?

    The diagnosis explained his repeated trips to the bathroom at school, piles of incomplete classwork and refusal to do homework. It broke my heart to hear my little guy tear-up over his phonograms and say, "I hate school."

    I'm glad we PUSHED to have him tested. A year later, the lowest dose of Ritalin possible and a reading tutor who specializes in dyslexia, have made all the difference in the world. He's an entirely different child, who now doesn't want to miss school and is doing well. Hallelujah, I say.

    Thank you for having the courage to write so openly and share your experience. The only limits we have are those we put on ourselves impose on each other. Anything is possible.

    Best,
    Ezzy :)

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      March 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment Ezzy. ♥ I'm glad you loved the book and now I have an hermana who can relate to me on this topic! I'm so glad you were able to get a diagnosis for your son and it is so important for them to realize that it's not their fault and also for us to realize that their "misbehaviors" are not always intentional.

      Once you have a diagnosis, there is help available for those who have dyslexia. I tutored a Spanish student in college and he was able to get a laptop that would type his speech for him instead of typing. He had some other helps too, which is great! If you have a center for developmental disabilities in your town they can help you to find many more resources.

      I'm so glad that he's finding his niche at school and that your family has some peace in knowing his diagnosis. I think the first step of diagnosis is the hardest. It's scary not knowing what they will find, or if it will make your child feel even more demoralized than they already are. I'm so glad that you took the leap. :)

      Thanks so much for sharing your story and for reading mine. I really appreciate it. I think you'll find this video very inspiring, as I have. http://bit.ly/dQlelN

      • Ezzy Guerrero-Languz
        March 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm

        Thank you for your encouraging words and for sharing this video. I don't even know what to say. It made me give my son a hug. Gracias.

  • Growing Up Bilingual
    February 21, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Chantilly,

    You have not idea how much your post meant to me. My husband has ADHD and maybe dyslexia too. Like your husband he struggled with school and his self esteem suffered in the process as he was not diagnosed with ADHD until about two years ago. The diagnosis has certainly helped but you are completely right about labels and how they can prevent people from seeing your whole potential. He is a very creative person and stays away from words as much as he can so the he really doesn't have to tell anyone about his ADHD it just helps us as a couple and helps him understand why he struggled. My daughter is 6 and she has Autism, when I first talk to her teachers and therapists I try to stay away from the diagnosis and talk only about her strengths and the areas where she needs more support as I have found that people get this idea in their heads of what Autism is and then do not look at her as an individual.

    I have never read Hector Villaseñor's book and I can't wait to get it!

    • biculturalmom
      February 21, 2012 at 8:47 pm

      @Growing Up Bilingual Paula, definitely check out Victor’s memoir, Burro Genius. I’m sure it will resonate with both you and your husband. It’s an excellent book. I wouldn’t doubt if you’re husband had Dyslexia too…actually, through some research, I found that ADHD, Dyslexia and Autism are all very closely related. There is the same family. Very interesting and I think I wrote about it here on Bicultural Mom. I’ll have to look for the link.

      I have a nephew with Autism and two more nephews with genetic disorders, so I definitely understand where you’re coming from. Keeping self-esteem up and teaching our children to have pride is a double effort on both the race and special needs fronts.

      I’m so glad you helped your husband to get diagnosed so that he could at least have some peace about it not being his fault, but it’s really difficult to undo the damage or explain to others what the diagnosis means. Definitely keep me posted if you write about it on your blog or if you have already. I’m happy to stop by and show support hermana!

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