There’s a magical little lady here in Lodi that I am proud to call my niece. Addison is a powerhouse and a damn inspiration. When she had surgery for Brain Cancer at only a month old, the doctors told us she wouldn’t survive the year. Today, she turns SIX YEARS OLD. There are many diagnoses to describe her but the best words are the ones that describe her character traits. Addison is a wild, emotionally intelligent, strong little girl. When Epilepsy got her down last year, the non-functioning half of her brain was removed. It is incredible to me that medicine has progressed this far and that Addison’s crippling, all-day seizures stopped. She began making memories again and really blossoming into the grown-up girl she is today.
While our initial fears regarding Addison’s life have been relieved, our worries about her physical and emotional safety still command daily life. When strangers ask, “What happened to your hand?” or “Why do you wear a brace on your leg?” Addison has been coached to kindly explain that the braces help her walk and play (though she would rather run full speed away from you than actually give an explanation). In honor of my little girl, here are a lucky six things you can do to make folks like Addison with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities like Autism feel welcome in your space:
1. Stop Saying The Word “Retarded”. It’s not funny and it doesn’t make you seem very bright. When persons with disabilities are referred to as “retarded”, it bundles them up in the old-time idea that disabled people are a worthless burden on society. Calling your friend a “retard” is unoriginal and insulting to vulnerable members of our society. It is hard to change language that is so deeply ingrained but you have to try.
2. Judge People Less. Is there a child screaming on the ground of your local grocery store or a little girl that stands too close and is introducing herself over and over? Might be an Autism Moment. A creative mother made these cards to dole out to folks who may have witnessed her child’s behavior:
3. Go With The Flow. Living with Addison has taught me that anything can happen at any time and probably will. You really never know what kind of situation you might find yourself in. Be fluid. Be steady. Be ready to rock ‘n roll.
4. Cherish The Moment. Every moment is precious. It is not always easy to remember that but there is too much to lose if we forget it. Don’t spend your time worrying. Take a deep breath and move on to something real.
5. Be Happy. This is a general rule but more on topic, many people with Autism either have trouble reading social cues or pick up too much emotion from others. Keep it positive. Negative reinforcement don’t do nobody no good. Smile, it’s good exercise for your mood and your face!
6. Never Give Up. If there’s one thing Addison has taught me (and chanted over and over and over) is to “Never give up!!”. She takes it all in stride. She is a little bundle of energy that never stops moving and barely sleeps. I don’t know how she does it. It’s a hell of an act to follow.
If you would like to know more about a few of Addison’s diagnoses, these links are quite helpful!
The Brain Recovery Project
Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association
Pediatric Hydrocephalus, Columbia University
Communicating and Interacting with Autism