Emily is the niece of Michelle Hammons, a mother of two boys, one with autism. You can read Michelle's story A Big Dose of Diversity & Jacob's story. Emily attends Central High School in San Angelo, Texas. She wrote the following piece on diversity for her English class last year. It is about how Jacob and other special friends have impacted her life.
Most people will tell you that they are accepting of all people; people of all races, of all ethnicities, and all backgrounds. I personally think that this is very far from true. When people take into account all those who face hardships for who they are they often leave out a very important group, the mentally challenged and those that have special needs. My experience with people who have disabilities has shaped my life in such a way that every person I meet in turn, gets to meet a totally accepting me.
My younger cousin Jacob was born a beautiful, healthy baby when I was around the age of six. I was thrilled to have a new baby in the family and thought he was the best thing since my Barbies. As Jacob grew older, my aunt and uncle noticed that he was not very responsive and knew that something was not quite right. They had him tested for many things and came to the realization that he had a type of autism.
Through the years, Jacob has brought many surprises to family events. He’s gone through stages where he will not let anyone cross their legs, no matter who they might be, even innocent strangers who might be sitting on a bench at WalMart. Jacob also went through a karate chopping phase where every door, table, and car had to be satisfactorily chopped and slapped before anyone could move on to their business.
Being with Jacob in public attracts many stares and I know it is definitely hard for my aunt to deal with all day, every day. Many people do not understand that Jacob is just a boy who needs some special help, and it is easy to see that most people automatically judge him at first sight. My aunt has worked so hard with Jacob all his life and at age ten he is finally beginning to talk and read some words.
Many would say that Jacob is not “normal” but I think the thought that everyone has to be the same definition of normal is a great flaw in our society. Jacob is just himself and that is how things are supposed to be.
After being around Jacob all of my life, I thought it would be great to be in my school’s PE Partner program for a semester of my sophomore year. In the PE partners class, you are paired with a student from the school’s special education program and do many fun activities for a class period each day. I walked in the class on the first day fully expecting to see students all exactly like Jacob, but I was wrong.
There were people in this class that had Down’s Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and many other types of mental and physical disabilities. My partner for the majority of the year was really an amazing guy. We had so much fun talking about anything and everything, and I can’t remember a day that he didn’t have a smile on his face. He could tell me every fact in any book about Michael Jackson and every important date in his life.
He knew about almost every movie, song, or music group that you could think of. There are so many varying degrees and types of mental and physical disabilities, and with this class I saw many of them. I see my PE partner from last year around school, and this Christmas I received a wonderful gift from him. We always had an inside joke about me and one of my girlfriends being his “monkey girls” and we both were surprised with stuffed animal sock monkeys for Christmas. His enormous heart makes me so glad to call him a friend and I am lucky to have met him.
My cousin and my time in PE partners have both taught me many things. I have learned that you must accept everyone for all that they are; all of their uniqueness, quirks, and the things that make them, them! Many people judge others with disabilities and make fun of them for being who they are, and this is not right.
Every person deserves the right to be themselves just like they have the right to live in their culture, or be the color that they are. I wish everyone could be in a PE partners class or have experience with people who have disabilities. They don’t apologize for who they are and accept everyone as a new friend. I think a lot of people could benefit from this lesson, and I know the way I view others has forever been changed. I am even considering a career helping those with special needs.
I truly give thanks for the differences we all have, and even though they might not be the textbook definition of “normal,” make us who we are.