Employment Opportunities for Adults with Special Needs: An Interview with the Founder of Hugs Cafe

Hugs Cafe

Hugs Cafe is a restaurant located in downtown McKinney, Texas that works to employ adults with special needs. There are few and far between options for employment for this population, and Ruth Thompson, the founder of Hugs Cafe, is doing everything she can to fix that problem.

Although Ruth has been interviewed by Upworthy and People magazine, she agreed to meet with li'l ole me, and you can read that interview below.

Note: I met with Ruth but also sent her a number of follow up questions via email. Starting with Question 6, the answers in this interview are in Ruth’s own writing style.

Question 1

You were quoted in an article in PEOPLE magazine saying, “We’re giving them a purpose.” Could you expand on this idea? How are the lives of your staff changed now that they work here?

Ruth’s Answer

“Well, as you know (probably), as they [people with special needs] age out, they’re sitting at home with nothing to do. They start school in Kindergarten and they’re with people … until they’re age 21 or 22. They’re with someone. They have a community. And then: They’re sitting at home. Playing video games or watching TV. And that’s not a purpose.

“And when they walk in here, they know what they’re supposed to do. They are happy. You see that smile on their face. They have a reason to get up in the morning.

Hugs Cafe
Saturday Girls at Hugs Cafe

“We have one young man [working here] who, [his] mom says – when he’s not working – he sleeps until one o’clock. But on the days he’s working? Even though he doesn’t have to be here until 10 o’clock, he is up in the morning, dressed, his hat on. He is ready to go. Because he has a job!

“We have another young man, who came in very unhappy one day, and I asked him what was wrong, and he said his mom wanted to move to Arkansas. And I knew that they had family up there, and I said, ‘And you don’t want to go?’

“And he said, ‘No! I’ve got a job!’ He has a purpose.

“I mean, that’s all any of us want – especially when we are out of school. We want a purpose. So, it’s so simple, but so important.”

Question 2

Can you talk to me about the career aspirations for the staff members? Before they came here, did they want to work in a restaurant? Or were they just looking for a job in general?

Ruth’s Answer

“Some of them had aspirations of working in a restaurant – or owning one. (We have one young lady who wants to own her own bakery someday!) And we had others that just wanted a job…

“We have a couple that – it’s so interesting because we had two young men who had interviewed, and they had done dishwashing somewhere else, and when we interviewed both of them, they both said, ‘I’m a dishwasher. I only want to be a dishwasher.’

“And after being in – we call it the ‘dish pit’; they love that – uh, after being in the ‘dish pit’ for about a year, we had one of them who came to us – and I say ‘us’: myself and Maria, who is our general manager at the restaurant – and he said that ‘I would like to try serving.’

“And so we decided, “OK, we’ve give you this opportunity and this is when Jerry will serve and this time and then at one o’clock, you’ll jump in and you’ll serve.’

“He went home that night and got on the internet and researched how to be a good server. Yes! And he came in the next day and at one o’clock – he let us know it was one o’clock and time for him to serve – and he jumped in there and would take the card [menu] out: ‘Hello, ladies. How are you today? My name is Danny. I will be your server today.’ […]

“Quite a few others – we have either moved them up, or they have asked to be moved up.”

Question 3

I’ve read from several sources that you had a dream about starting a restaurant ran by adults with special needs two nights in a row.

Can you tell me more about those dreams? Were there any variations between the two dreams? How well does Hugs Café, now, stand up to the dreams you had before you started?

Ruth’s Answer

Hugs Cafe
Hugs Cafe Sign

“The dream was: All of these people working in a café, doing every job possible. We carved jobs, and that’s exactly what we have done – is we have carved jobs [“carved jobs” defined in Question 4]. […] In the dream it didn’t look like Hugs or like it is currently, but as far as the jobs were concerned, everything […] just fit in.

“My son […] says that we moved here [from Colorado] to open Hugs Café – that God had a purpose for us to move here long before we did. And we feel very spiritual about this place and what has happened here. […]

“The dreams were identical dreams […] It was the same dream, two nights in a row. The exact. Same. Dream.

“I knew we were going to have servers. […] I knew they were not going to take orders from the table. I knew that we would have people standing at the door, greeting. I knew that we would be carving the jobs.”

Question 4

Tell me more about “carving the jobs.” What does that mean?

Ruth’s Answer

“Carving the jobs – OK, prime example is a young lady named Kathy. Kathy’s 44. She has cerebral palsy. She took classes with us – cooking classes at Marketing Street. I knew that she had a difficult [time] – there, we had to have someone with her, hand-over-hand, but […] I knew Kathy wanted to work here.

“Kathy has the constricted muscles in her hands, so it’s a little difficult for her sometimes with different tasks. So, my thought was, ‘OK, we have a conveyor toaster. All of our bread will be toasted […] Somebody can call out the bread. She’ll drop it in the toaster. We’ll have a stool there for her to sit on. We’ll have a job coach with her, in case she can’t keep up, to you know, keep things going for her.’

“Well, first of all, Kathy – well, let me back up: […] We are a fast-casual restaurant, where you put your order in up here [at the register] and then they bring it to you. […] In a regular restaurant like us, the people would do their own bread, get their own sides – fast, fast-paced.

“Here? We carve jobs. Kathy does the bread – she calls herself the ‘Bread Queen’ – and she, first of all, said, ‘Nobody else has a stool. I’m not going to have a stool.’ She doesn’t miss a beat. The person on the line can call out the bread, and she gets it. She does not miss a beat.

“She will jump up and get cookies if they call them out, and at the end of the day, she jumps in the ‘dish pit,’ doing dishes.

“So, I say that [we carved a job for her or fit the job to her ability level, but] this is an example where I put expectations on her in the beginning, and she proved me wrong. And I love that. “‘Cause I thought Kathy needed a stool. I limited Kathy with what she could do, and she so proved me wrong.”

Question 5

I saw that at one time you were the Executive Director of a company that helped families of people with special needs, and that later you taught a cooking class for adults with special needs at Market Street.

What made you passionate about working with adults with special needs? Is there anyone in your family or anyone close to you with an intellectual or physical disability?

Ruth’s Answer

“[…] The last job that I had in Colorado was the executive director of a company [New Day In Home and Support] […] that provided respite care to families who had loved ones with special needs. […] And while I was working for them, I saw desperate need for a day program when they [people with special needs] age out [of high school]. I mean, it’s needed everywhere. […]

“Why did I become passionate about them? I think that that was God-led. It took him a long time to show me what passion was about, and it was about this population. […]

Hugs Cafe
"The Dillman" PBLT Sandwich at Hugs Cafe

“When we moved down here, I wanted to continue the work with adults with special needs – and it was the adults because I saw that there was – there really was a lot for kids, but the adults just kind of got pushed to the side. […] You’re either in school or you age out, and you don’t see them anymore.

“So, I started doing some research. I really couldn’t find any opportunities for me because there were no opportunities for them – this was long before [I knew about] My Possibilities. I met with Life Path Systems for a while, and they said, ‘There’s really not much around here.’ […]

“That’s when I applied for this position at Market Street as the cooking school manager. […] The person who interviewed me asked me what I was passionate about. I told her. She said, ‘Make it work here.’ So, I started cooking classes for adults with special needs.”

Question 6

You mentioned in our meeting that you knew Charmaine form My Possibilities. Could you tell me how you met?

Ruth’s Answer

“Charmaine Solomon, founder of My Possibilities, met shortly after My Possibilities opened. Her staff heard about the cooking classes that we were having at Market Street. They contacted me and began bringing HIPsters to classes.

“This is long before they had their current building and a kitchen. I met Charmaine at one of their first fundraisers which I attended. We had a meeting shortly after she hired Michael Thomas and after the dream of Hugs Cafe became a reality.

“I have attended a few of their galas and we have met a few times just to compare notes."

Question 7

You told me during our meeting that you had to re-write the food handling certification book and exam and write a specialized employee handbook and employee application for you staff members. Could you tell our readers how those are all different from traditional exams, handbooks and applications?

Ruth’s Answer

“The Food Handlers Book covers all of the information that any on-line food handlers course does, except everything is stated in much simpler terms and lots of pictures. We talk about "germs" as opposed to "micro-organisms" and have funky pictures of germs.  I am attaching a sample page from our book.

“The Application for Employment asks for recommendations from former teachers, therapists, and social workers. We also ask about behaviors.”

To view a sample page of the Food Handlers Book, click here.

Question 8

I had asked you about setting up a new location for Hugs Café, but instead you told me that you are actively working on starting Hugs Nursery. Could you tell our readers about the start-up process for Hugs Nursery and what roll employees will play there?

Ruth’s Answer

Hugs Cafe
Sponsor Bricks at Hugs Cafe

“The plan for Hugs Nursery will be an opportunity to hire other adults with special needs; perhaps even someone in a wheelchair or someone who is not capable of working in a food service environment.

“The land has been donated. We have a very experienced individual who has volunteered to run the operation. We now need to start raising funds to open, hopefully in the Spring of 2018.

“Team mates will do everything from planting seedlings, watering, weeding, caring for the plants, moving the plants from green house to green house as needed, and assisting the public with their shopping needs.”

Question 9

Have you thought about growing your own vegetables in the Nursery and using them for the sandwiches/salads at Hugs Café?

Ruth’s Answer

“I have found that there are quite a few certifications that one must have to grow and use one's own produce in a public restaurant. It could be something that we add in the future.  However, in the beginning, we will have bedding plants.”

Question 10

Could you tell our readers about your gala coming up in January? Where will it be, and what is the goal of the gala?

Ruth’s Answer

“The gala is scheduled for Saturday, January 27, 6:00 pm at Rock Creek Ranch in McKinney.

“The Theme is ‘Boot Scoot'n for Hugs’.

“There will be live and silent auction, BBQ dinner, and dancing. Our goal is to raise $100K. These funds will help to open Hugs Nursery, upgrade some needed equipment at Hugs Cafe, and to continue to help all of the Hugs entities become sustainable.”

Help adults with special needs

Support the employees at Hugs Cafe by enjoying lunch there anytime between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. You can view a detailed online menu by clicking this link.

If you have a child or ward who is interested in doing art and exploring their own individual identity, enroll them now in Achievement Center of Texas. We offer a day habilitation program for adults with special needs.

Click the button below to begin the application process.

Support nonprofits that help adults with special needs

It wouldn't be possible to do all that we do for adults with special needs if it weren't for donations from people like you who care.

To donate to Hugs Cafe, click this link.

To donate to Achievement Center of Texas, click the button below.

Further Education for Adults with Special Needs: An Interview with the Executive Director of My Possibilities

My Possibilities

Adults with special needs have few opportunities for advancement once they age out of high school. Currently, there is no university program in Texas designed specifically to educate people with intellectual disabilities. The Executive Director of My Possibilities, Michael Thomas, is trying to change that.

My Possibilities is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help further the education for adults with special needs. They are working on expanding and will move into their new location next year.

I met with Michael Thomas at the current My Possibilities location to interview him about his past experience, his passions and his vision for the future of the organization.

Question 1

You graduated from SMU with a degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies, but your first job out of college was with Muscular Dystrophy Association. How did you become involved in working with people with special needs? You’re clearly very passionate about workforce inclusion for our clientele population – where does that passion come from?

Michael’s Answer

“I really started honing in on what I enjoyed doing in college, and I did a lot of social engagement and a lot of fundraising events and… I volunteered as the Special Olympics Tournament – the volleyball tournament was at SMU each year. […]

“That’s a job path that isn’t necessarily one that translates directly from Religious Studies but I went directly out of school right into the MDA. […]

my possibilities
My Possibilities Classroom

“I don’t have anyone in my immediate family with a cognitive disability. I grew up going to Scottish Right Hospital with my little sister who has a physical disability… When she was five, six, she had a bone condition that was very rare and that sort of opened up the door to Scottish Rite Hospital. […]

“If you’re a kid walking down the hall at Scottish Rite – I mean, everybody’s different. Just, that’s the nature of that hospital, so my very forward-thinking mother just sort of [thought] disabilities didn’t really matter. […]

“Cognitive disability wasn’t necessarily something I was hyper focused on coming out of college, but the concept of helping people – fundraising, raising money for people – early on, always made sense. The MDA was just a really great opportunity.”

Question 2

Before you became the Executive Director of My Possibilities, you worked at Opportunity Village in Las Vegas. How did you hear about My Possibilities? How did you become the Executive Director?

Michael’s Answer

“So, I was sitting in an office [at Opportunity Village] on a Saturday morning, working, and jumped online and saw a friend of mine that lived locally and I just sort of said, ‘Hey, I’m moving back, and this is what I do now, so if you hear anything, you know, let me know.’

“And her response was, ‘Oh, that sounds exactly like the place where my sister goes to school.’ […]

“I go to the [My Possibilities] website … I submit my email Friday evening, and Saturday morning, Charmaine sent me email like, ‘Hey, I’d love to meet with you.’ […]

My Possibilities
My Possibilities Students

“I think there was something about coming from an organization that, at the time, 55 years old, served 2000 people with disabilities, had these major events, and I actually worked on the development side and on program development so I had a little bit of both, and they [My Possibilities] were young enough that they were willing to take a chance on a pretty young [man who had] never been a director before.

“But they were small enough to go, ‘You know what? He’s seen how they [Opportunity Village] do it. Maybe this [hiring me as Executive Director] makes sense.’ […] There was a staff of four at the time. It was a different world, and it was an opportunity to come in and see how they were doing things and go, ‘OK, maybe we don’t do this anymore. Maybe we do this instead.’”

Question 3

My Possibilities is expanding to a larger facility in the Spring of 2018. How will the expansion change the day-to-day happenings at My Possibilities? How will education opportunities increase and broaden for students?

Michael’s Answer

“We’re just taking a traditional college model and applying it to our population, so the ideal long term is instead of a school of engineering and a liberal arts school, we have a school of vocational training and a school of Life Skills and a health and wellness center. So, in regards to how the opportunities expand, I mean quite literally we’re going to be doing everything on a higher scale both in quality and also in quantity. […]

“[The] second phase [of the expansion] is a vocational school… We’ve got a lot of guys that want to work. It is not enough to just sit around a class room and talk about going to get a job. You have to train. So, the idea is that the vocational school is actually going to have classrooms that are designed to function like those jobs would in the community.

My Possibilities
My Possibilities Gym

“So, you may have an administrative center where it’s really training on the 20 different things you may need to be an administrative assistant or work at a FedEx office or something like that… and get to where if they’re doing those tasks on a regular basis [and they’ve] mastered them, great. Just go out and get a job.

“But maybe they’ve done it for a while and they don’t want to work in that industry. Cool. We’ll check that box and move on to the next industry and see if that’s some place you want to work.

“We’ll develop a school that really gives our guys an opportunity to learn about different industries. […]

“[Our society is] finally at a point where companies are talking about, “OK – how do we hire people with IDD? How do we hire people with Asperger’s?” Well, that’s never happened before. […]

“While we’re teaching people with disabilities job skills to get them into the community, we need to be teaching the community how to embrace them and how to keep them engaged and to think about hiring people with disabilities [for] actual jobs, not charity-ing – which is what we’ve always done!

“I mean, the story of little Sally that’s rolled silverware at Chili’s for 20 years – I mean, that’s cool, but if Sally didn’t show up to work? They’re fine. Everything’s fine. Somebody else will roll the silverware. We’ll move on with our lives.

“If they have a job where they’re inside the program somewhere – where they’re doing things that otherwise you would have to do […] – I mean, all the things that keep a business running – if they were responsible for those things and then they didn’t come to work the next day, you would know. […]

“That’s how people need to think about hiring people with disabilities, not ‘What can we carve away? or just stick them up at the front to say ‘hi’ to people.”

Question 4

According to your press release from May 1st, the new facility for My Possibilities hopes to serve 1600 students, compared to your current enrollment rate of 400. Is there a waiting list for enrollment at My Possibilities? What is the admission process like at My Possibilities? Do you turn any students away?

Michael’s Answer

“The first phase of construction […] will serve about 700 or so, so we’ll be, in the first phase, which will hopefully be done by 2019, we’ll serve twice as many students as we do today. Then when we build the rest of the facilities on the campus, we have the potential capacity to serve 1600 a week. […]

“Our waiting list is usually around 40 to 50 people… Typically our waiting list turns over fairly quickly. I’d say we see the total 50 people turnover around eight, nine months, but that’s to get the full amount that they need. […]

“The admission process: people say that it’s a little bit longer than it should be, and we kind of do that on purpose. We want to learn a lot about our guys before they start here… We don’t know what you like, what you don’t like, what’s important to you, what’s like, essential to you.

My Possibilities
My Possibilities Classroom

“We want to craft an experience to where somebody can be happy and be successful. So, the total admissions process starts with a group tour, then it’s an individual family tour, then we do sort of the on-boarding process, and that whole thing can take anywhere between … three to four weeks, and the average is closer to six.

“So, when it comes to who gets in and who does not, so to speak: There’s really only two groups right now that we can’t serve and one falls on the behavioral end and one falls on the medical end.

“On the behavioral end: There’s a misnomer that My Possibilities doesn’t have people in the program with behaviors. That’s ridiculous. That means that that person has never been in the building. We deal with behaviors all day, every day. That’s just the nature of our field.

“But when a behavior defaults to a behavioral aggression […] that’s stuff that on the front end, if we catch it, we’re going to say, ‘Hey, we need to work with a behavioral therapist on this.’ […]

“[If we don’t catch the behavior during the admission process,] we have a BCBA on staff, and we do have a component of therapy that’s internal, and we will work with the family to try to develop a plan.

“If the family’s not willing to work on a behavioral plan, then that’s our time where we say, ‘This isn’t going to work long term.’ It’s a close-knit educational setting, and certain behaviors have to be worked out. So that’s one side, behavioral aggression.

“On the medical side: If somebody needs acute medical care […] this system does not comfortably fund and support the nursing world, so we are looking at creative ways to do that. But at this point, if somebody comes in and says that they need … this shot and this g-tube and … anything that crosses over the line of being administered, as opposed to self-administered, that’s just not something that we can do yet. […]

“The perspective externally right now is: Because we’re moving to a higher education campus, that’s going to narrow the scope of who attends, when ultimately, in the planning side of it, it’s the other way around.

“We’re trying to broaden the scope of who we serve. We’re just going to do it differently.”

Question 5

At ACT, we find that many of the parents are surprised at their children’s achievements – they’re floored to discover that their child can write, create art, sing in front of large groups of people or learn a choreographed dance.

How do the parents react to their childrens’ accomplishments at My Possibilities? Do you find it difficult to convince parents that their children are capable of achieving more or do parents come to you already believing that their children could achieve more?

Michael’s Answer

“I’d love to say every single parent comes to us and just has like, this totally grandiose vision of what their child can do. No. Not at all. We have parents all the time that say, ‘Well, he probably won’t do that, ‘cause this is where we’re at.’

That painting behind you was painted by [a student]. When the mom saw that ... she was like, ‘Ah, it’s beautiful!’

“And we were like, ‘Yeah, [your daughter] did that.’ […]

“And she said, ‘Well, who did the drawing of the shape? Of the person?’

“We were like, ‘[Your daughter]… Your daughter did everything that you’re looking at here.’ […]

My Possibilities
My Possibilities Art

“So, through education, this stuff gets unmasked all the time. So, we’ll tell parents when they come in, ‘Here’s the rotation of classes and here’s where it gets to the job stuff,’ and they’ll just go, ‘Oh, he’s not interested in working.’

“And then like, six weeks in, [the student is] like, ‘I want to work. I want a job. I want to make money.’ […]

“We do have some parents that come in like, “Nuh-uh. He’s going to work. He’s going to live independently, and he’s going to have a job, and he’s going to have a relationship, and we’re right there with him.’

“And then we have others that come in and go, ‘He’s just going to be like this.’ And I’ve found way more often than not that their kids prove them wrong.”

Question 6

I watched your performance with TedXPlano, in which you tell the success stories of four of your students, Louisa, Jeffrey, Abby and Mason. Where are these students now?

Michael’s Answer

“Let’s see: Louisa is here part time, and she volunteers at church now and I don’t know how often, but I know she’s there at least twice a week for different shifts.

“Abby is the artist… She’s [a student who we discovered through education had] perfect pitch. She’s a savant in a number of ways, and all of these are things that – before she left public school – no one really knew about [her].

“Jeffrey is only here on Fridays now. That dude has like, three jobs, so I mean … he’s got his whole social life… He is just – he’s fine. Jeffrey is fine. At this point, his biggest long-term goal: He’s got two or three friends that – they are close. They want to live together. They want to have a place together, so residential is their next big goal.

“Mason works here 25 hours a week and is dangerously close to me hiring him full-time, which is a scary place to be because […] I could be the one responsible for taking him out of the Medicaid/Social Security world completely, which I mean, is a hell of a step.

My Possibilities
My Possibilities Students

“And it’s great and it’s exciting, ‘cause he’ll … make full-time money. He’ll have benefits. He’ll have a 401k. All that stuff is cool, but now I feel very personally responsible for the long-term, ‘cause if he loses his job at that point, you don’t just get all your stuff back.

“You’ve proven to the country and the IRS that you can work and live independently, so now you go to unemployment – very different world. So yeah, but that’s his long-term goal… He’ll probably be full-time staff here.”

Help adults with special needs achieve more

My Possibilities is covering the vocational side of progression for adults with special needs. Achievement Center of Texas is focused on artistic exploration and individual expression.

To donate to My Possibilities and their cause, click this link.

To donate to Achievement Center of Texas, please click the button below.

Enroll your child or ward in Achievement Center of Texas

At our organization, your child or ward would make life-long friends, learn how to navigate the world more independently and explore their identity through art, dance, acting, singing and more.

We have a day care facility for children between three and 12, and a day habilitation program for young adults and adults 13 years and older.

To apply for enrollment, please click the button below.

7 Famous People with Special Needs

Famous people with special needs

Stevie Wonder by World's Direction (Edited in Canva)

Several prominent people of American and international history have been known for their mass achievements despite adversity. You've probably heard these names before. Maybe you knew they had a disability. Maybe you had no idea. But the one thing they all had in common is their success as well as their hardships. This hardship had an influence on all their lives but all thrived and triumphed. Read about these 7 famous people with special needs below:

1. Stephen Hawking

famous people with special needs
Stephen Hawking by Lwp Kommunikáció

One of the most famous scientists of the 20th century is confined to a wheelchair, immobile and has a computer system that allows him to communicate.

Stephen William Hawking was attending Cambridge when he lost his balance and fell down the stairs. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease or a form of ALS.

He was told he would not survive more than a few years before the debilitating disease shut down his bodily functions.

But Stephen Hawking’s renowned career continued for over 40 years.

His publications on physics and fan-favorite research on black holes have made him an academic celebrity. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the US.

2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

famous people with special needs
Franklin D. Roosevelt Statue by Gabriel Millos

Hopefully we all paid attention in Social Studies and know that FDR was once the President of the United States.

For those of you who need a refresher: Guess what. He was once the president. It was kind of a big deal.

He was a highly popular President, elected 4 times in a row, serving for 12 years in the White House. He had great success navigating through the Great Depression and World War II.

But some may not know that FDR contracted Polio in 1921 before he became President. The illness took his ability to walk as well as the strength in his right hand. For years he tried to regain use of his legs but was unsuccessful.

For the rest of his life, he was either restricted to a wheelchair or could stand with stiff heavy braces that ran the entire length of both legs. His disability was known among political circles that tried to use this against him and show he was unfit for office.

When FDR ran for President in 1932, he and his advisors worried about the impact of his disability but the issue never surfaced during his campaign. Despite his limitations and his dependency on the help of others to get out of bed in the morning, Franklin Roosevelt’s achievements will forever be recognized in American history.

3. Stevie Wonder

Famous people with special needs
Stevie Wonder by World's Direction

Stevie Wonder isn’t just a fitting stage name. He was a prodigy at piano despite the fact he was born completely blind.

Doctors believe since he was born prematurely that the blood vessels in his eyes had not yet fully formed or made all the proper connections that would allow him to see.

But Stevie didn’t need to see to conquer the piano. He felt for the keys to know where they were and listened to how each individual key sounded.

Stevie signed with a record label at only 11 years old to Motown’s Tamla and has been performing ever since. His genre of music includes rhythm and blues, jazz and soul.

Through his career Stevie Wonder has recorded more than 30 US top 10 hits including “Sir Duke,” “Superstition” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You”.

4. Helen Keller

famous people with special needs
Statue of Helen Keller by NatalieMaynor

Helen Adams Keller was an author, political activists and lecturer. She was also both blind and death from birth.

It took years before Helen could learn how to communicate. Without being able to see or hear, she had no grasp of what language was. A teacher hired by Hell’s parents named Anne Sullivan finally made a breakthrough allowing Hellen to blossom.

Sullivan used a technique of spelling words into the palms of Helen's hands and allowing her to feel the letters. Her first word was "doll."

Helen Keller was the first person who was deaf/blind to graduate with a Bachelor degree. Helen was well traveled and visited over 40 countries with the aid of her teacher, Sullivan. She especially enjoyed Japan making several trips to visit.

Helen wrote a total of 12 books, including her spiritual autobiography “My Religion”. She was outspoken in her opposition to war, campaigned for woman’s rights, employee rights and many progressive ideals.

A picture of her reading a book in braille is featured on the Alabama State quarter, with the words “Spirit of Courage” below her.

5. Frida Kahlo

famous people with special needs
el Museo de Frida Khalo by katiebordner

Frida Kahlo is a famous Mexican painter known for her vibrant works of art. Most of her painting are self-portraits depicting her emotions, struggles and life experiences.

Frida was also sick with polio at six years old, leaving her right leg thinner and weaker that the other. She disguised her leg by wearing long skirts, but she walked with a limp.

Later when Frida was a teenager, she was in a major trolley accident and nearly died. She was bedridden for several months in a full body cast to heal a broken back. Sadly, even after the cast came off, she would never fully heal from her injuries and was in tremendous pain for the rest of her life. Frida also was told, due to damages from the accident, she would never be able to have children.

Some of her paintings illustrate her in a wheelchair or lying in a hospital bed. Her style of painting and reflection of Mexican culture has made her one of the most well recognized artists in the world.

She was the first Mexican artist of 20th century whose work was purchased by an international museum. Her legacy will be remembered as a fierce spirit who dealt with her hardships through art and colorful expression.

6. Marla Runyan

Marla Runyan is a highly decorated US Olympic gold medalist who is also blind. At nine years old Runyan developed Stargardt’s Disease, a form of macular degradation, that left her legally blind. She took the bull by the horns - as we say in the South - and began a lifetime hobby of running.

Marla Runyan is a three-time national champion in the women’s 5000-meter run. She won four gold medals in the 1992 summer Paralympics. In the 1996 Paralympics, she won silver in the shot put and gold in the Pentathlon, which is a five-part event including fencing, shooting, riding, swimming and cross country running.

One might think this was enough fame and glory for a lifetime, but Runyan continued her athletic success. She holds various American records such as 20,000 Road (2003), All-female Marathon (2002), 500m (2001) and Heptathlon (1996). In 2001, she co-wrote and published her autobiography No Finish Line: My Life As I See It.

7. Ludwig van Beethoven

famous people with special needs
Beethoven by Boston Public Library

Ludwig van Beethoven is arguably the greatest composer in history. His name is as easily recognized as George Washington or Santa Claus. His talents would have earned him recognition enough, but his success despite adversity is what makes him so well known. Although Beethoven created some of the most famous symphonies, he was deaf.

Beethoven gave his first public piano recital when he was eight years old. He studied music in Vienna under the guidance of another famous musician, Mozart. He was a young man in his twenties by the time he was a celebrated pianist known for his unpredictable style and improvisations.

Beethoven was only 26 when he began losing his hearing. Despite this minor setback, he continued to write music and created some of the greatest pieces of art still know today.

Beethoven’s finest works are also the finest works of their kind in international music history: the 9th Symphony, the 5th Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto, the Late Quartets and his Missa Solemnis. Beethoven achieved his dream of being a famous musician despite being completely deaf for the last 25 years of his life.

Help people with special needs achieve their dreams

It's so important that our students, who have both intellectual and physical disabilities, see people achieving more with special needs. This list is just an example of the potential our students hold.

Each day, through exploration and education, our students discover new talents and new dreams. Help our students be everything they want to be and more. Donate to our cause today.

Enroll your child or ward today

We help all our students achieve their dreams and individual goals with a number of services.

Not only do we offer day care and day habilitation, but we also offer arts exploration classes, dance classes and gym classes. They're always learning new things and doing something fun. And the friendships our students make last a lifetime.

Take ACTion: Enroll your child or ward into our program by clicking the button below.

About the Author

Caroline LaRue Perryman is a third year student at the University of North Texas studying Advertising in the Mayborn School of Journalism. When Caroline isn't doing homework, she enjoys going to see plays, rock climbing, cooking new recipes and spending time with friends. Caroline aspires to be a copywriter in the field of advertising.

The Lion King DIY Projects: Creating ACT’s Summer Show Set

The Lion King DIY

Lion by Edge Earth (edited in Canva)

NNAAAAAAA ISAMMMBINAAAAA BABAHITI BABA

Every year, our students at Achievement Center of Texas put on a Summer Show to showcase their talents and achievements. This year's show is a musical production of The Lion King, and it's coming up on Friday, August 18th, between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.

Our teachers and supervisors got a lot of our ideas for the set of The Lion King from Pinterest.

Oh, by the way, we’re on Pinterest now! Please follow us by clicking the button below.

You and your child with special needs can also recreate these things to get in the mood to see an uproarious production of The Lion King. We've included pictures and step-by-step instructions.

Share your project attempts with us on social media. (You can see links to our social sites at the very bottom of each page on our website.)

It’s a jungle out there: Making the leaves

The Lion King DIY

Materials

  • Green paint
  • Brushes
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Tray/ aluminum pan/ newspapers (it gets messy)

Step one

The Lion King DIY

Set up an area that is safe to get paint all over. Use a tray or disposable aluminum pan for a work area or lay down sheets of newspaper on a table.

Step two

Cut large oval shapes out of paper. Start with this shape and then later cut out details to make different kinds of leaves.

Step three

The Lion King DIY

Pour green paint into a cup or bowl. Dip the brush into paint and cover the oval in green.

Step four

The Lion King DIY

When the “leaves” are dry, make small cuts to resemble the different textures of a leaf (see pictures below).

Make like a tree and get out your paint!

The Lion King DIY

Materials

  • Large sheet paper
  • Brown Paint
  • Glue or mod podge
  • Wide paint brush or sponge
  • Tape
  • gloves

Step one

Lay out several pieces of large paper for the trunk. Take a large paint brush or sponge and completely cover the paper in glue.

Step two

Once the paper is soaked, crumple the paper together to create the texture of bark on a tree. (See pictures below).

The Lion King DIY

Step three

Use long, narrower sections of paper for the branches. Cover the paper in glue. Take the paper and twist together to create long skinny branches.

Step four

When all your pieces are dry, take out your brown paint and cover and the nooks and crannies.

Step five

The Lion King DIY

Tape the branches to the tree trunk. Tape lots of leaves to the branches.

Hakuna Matata: Making the Bugs!

The Lion King DIY

Materials

  • Foam balls
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Google eyes
  • Glue
  • Paint (any colors)
  • Scissors

Step one

Take foam ball and paint any color you want! There are lots of different kinds of bugs in the world. It can be green, orange, blue, or it can be your favorite color or your least favorite color. You can take a lot of creative freedom and add dots or stripes.

Step two

While the paint is drying, cut pipe cleaners into short pieces for the legs. It can have 6 legs or 10 legs depending on how you want your bugs to look.

Step three

Stick the legs onto the sides of the ball.

Step four

Glue two google eyes on the front of the ball. Add any other details you like to your bugs.

The Elephant Graveyard

The Lion King DIY

Materials

  • Paper towel / TP rolls
  • News papers
  • Tape
  • White paint

Step one

Create the shaft of the bone by using a paper towel roll *or taking a sheet of newspaper and rolling it into a tube. Tape the paper together.

Step two

Create the ends pieces. Take one sheet of newspaper and crumple into an oval shape. Take a long piece of tape and tightly wrap around the middle to create a bow shape like (>-<). It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Step three

Take two end pieces and tape to the shaft. (See pictures).

The Lion King DIY

Step five

Cover the bone in white paint

Bones for the elephant graveyard

Our set is coming together!

The Lion King DIY

We're so proud of all of our students for working so hard to bring the set of The Lion King to life. They've also been working tirelessly to learn their lines, practice their dances and rehearse their songs.

The Lion King DIY

We can't wait for you to see our student production of The Lion King at our Summer Show on August 18th.

The Lion King DIY

Donate to make our costumes and set even better

Help us make these cherished memories for our students. Donate items so we can finish making the set and costumes for our students. The show must go on, but we can’t make it happen without your contribution. Thank you.

List of items needed

  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • Animal print fabric
  • Face paint
  • Felt fabric
  • White tube socks
  • Feather boas
  • Faux fur
  • Oil pastels
  • Elastic
  • Acrylic paints (brown, green, red, white, yellow, orange, gray and black)
  • Paper towels and/or paper towel tubes
  • Green plastic table cloth

You can also donate cash to help out with other materials. Click the button below to donate cash to make our dream Summer Show a reality.

The Lion King Invitations

Our Day Care students made the invitations that are going out to their parents in the shape of Simba (as depicted on Rafiki's tree). This is the picture our students used to reference their work.

The Lion King DIY

Materials

  • Construction paper
  • Pencil or pen
  • White Glue
  • Orange sand (or food coloring dyed salt)
  • Markers
  • Baking pans

Step one

Take a piece of construction paper, preferably manila or yellow, and trace the outline of baby Simba. Next use a dark colored marker to draw the eyes and nose shaped like -_-

Step two

Take the glue and squeeze along the outline of Simba.

Step three

Place the paper in a backing pan with the wet glue facing up. Pour a hand full of colored sand/salt over the top and shake the pan back and forth till the glue has been covered.

Our students were excited to get started.

The Lion King DIY

Don’t eat the sand!

The Lion King DIY

Shaking the sand onto the glue.

The Lion King DIY

The final product.

The Lion King DIY

Information about the event will be written on the back of the card and mailed out to the parents of our Day Care students.

You're invited!

We would be absolutely honored if you would take time our of our day to see our students' accomplishments. Food and beverages will be provided, and admission to the Summer Show is free, but there is a suggested donation of $5.00 per person who attends.

Mark your calendars for Friday, August 18th, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. We're having the show at our center: 2950 Shiloh Road, Garland, Texas 75044. We can't wait to see you there!

About the Author

Caroline LaRue Perryman is a third year student at the University of North Texas studying Advertising in the Mayborn School of Journalism. When Caroline isn't doing homework, she enjoys going to see plays, rock climbing, cooking new recipes and spending time with friends. Caroline aspires to be a copywriter in the field of advertising.

Special Needs Representation in Film

special needs representation in film

"Stephen Hawking at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge" byLwp Kommunikáció (edited)

The Best Years of Our Lives, Children of a Lesser God and Forrest Gump are all moving, Oscar winning films spanning across the past century. They’re all about disabled individuals overcoming great obstacles with all odds stacked against them. The presence of disabled individuals in film has exposed viewers to new perspectives, shaping their understanding of individuals with disabilities.

Some films accurately portray people with special needs while others may portray them in a distorted sense. They may underestimate their abilities. They may define individuals by their disabilities rather than portray their disability as a situation individuals may just happen to be in. Either way, the media has a strong influence over how individuals grow to interpret different people under different circumstances.

The media is greatly responsible in shaping our perspectives.

What makes a good film with special needs representation?

A good film featuring special needs characters must recognize the hardships those characters must face. It must also recognize those characters for more than their disability.

People with special needs are just that: people. They are people with emotions, responsibilities and ambitions. They are people working for their independence, people with aspirations. A film centered on individuals with disabilities and their circumstances understands this. It works to achieve a more accurate, three-dimensional portrayal of their characters.

Like in any good film, films about special needs individuals must go beyond surface-level interpretations. A good film about disabled individuals makes audiences aware of people with special needs and their abilities.

In order for a good film about special needs to be effective must also present an accurate portrayal of its characters. It should be sure to get their abilities right. It must portray their struggles but also highlight their strengths. However, it must also avoid exaggerating either of the two as well.

Special Needs Representation in Film - The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything makes for a good example of a movie that focuses on a more accurate, three-dimensional view of an individual with a disability.

The Theory of Everything is an intimate reflection of the life of Stephen Hawking, a renowned theoretical physicist who suffers from a debilitating condition. The Golden Globe Award winning film reveals the effects of Hawking’s Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on not only himself but also on his relationship with his wife Jane.

While showing Hawking’s fight and struggles, the film makes sure to show the ups and downs of his relationship and his own aspirations. While highlighting Hawking’s contributions to the science world, the film makes it known that Hawking is so much more than his disability.

In the film, Stephen Hawking was depicted by British actor Eddie Redmayne. While Redmayne himself is able-bodied, he spent a significant amount of time preparing for the role.

His preparation included working with a choreographer to learn to mirror Hawking’s speech and movement. To learn how ALS progressively deteriorated Hawking’s abilities, Redmayne even crafted a chart as a reference point during filming. Redmayne also spent four months studying Hawking’s life.

Along with his acting talent, Redmayne’s efforts were appreciated as the Huffington Post said, “In large part, his acting is remarkable for its realistic portrayal of ALS.”

The UK newspaper, The Independent even recorded Hawking himself saying “I thought Eddie Redmayne portrayed me very well. At times I thought he was me. I think Eddie’s commitment will have a big emotional impact” after the film’s premiere. The physicist even shed a tear when he first saw the film.

The controversy of able-bodied actors playing disabled characters

While Redmayne was sufficiently prepared to undertake the role, he is still an able-bodied actor.

Since his character is disabled, controversy arose among critics tackling the issue. The Telegraph writer, Rob Crossan, who himself has a disability, wrote, “The performance is the latest in a long line of what detractors call ‘cripping up’: able-bodied actors taking on disabled roles, which some critics find as deplorable as the thankfully outdated practise of white actors pretending to be black.”

Opportunities are taken away from disabled actors

Many individuals, like Crossan, believe that giving roles of disabled individuals to able-bodied actors takes opportunities away from disabled individuals. They also find it especially infuriating when well-known and successful able-bodied actors decide to take on roles of individuals with special needs, like Tom Hanks did when he portrayed Forrest Gump.

However, this strips away opportunities that could easily be given to individuals with special needs, and further decreases the role possibilities that could be given to them. While able-bodied individuals are capable of playing characters with special needs, actors with special needs do not have that luxury. There are a limited number of special needs characters in film to begin with.

The situation worsens as, according to a study released by Ruderman White Paper, 95% of characters in the top ten television shows are portrayed by able-bodies actors. When even those roles are given to able-bodied actors, the roles actors with special needs can play are limited even further.

Actors with disabilities are able to provide a legitimate portrayal on-screen

Special needs actors also have their own genuine experience with their disabilities. These experiences in turn provide an innate background to the characters they may play. Able-bodied actors, no matter how experienced they may be, are unable to portray the genuine experience that actors with disabilities can.

American producer and writer Scott Silveri said about casting able-bodied versus disabled actors for special needs roles: “Because [able-bodied actors] have that specific point of view, you get a little taste of it. [Special needs actors] have their specific and unique experience through which you can tell really universal stories, but there’s a little kernel of something different.”

Special needs actors have been living with their disabilities, just like special needs characters. They may face the same struggles. They may face the same challenges. With overlapping lifestyle, actors with special needs are truly able to embody their fictional counterparts.

The pros of able-bodied actors playing special needs roles

Actors with disabilities may be unable to perform certain roles

However, it must also be understood that some individuals with special needs do not have the abilities to play their film counterparts. For example, in The Theory of Everything, Redmayne was required to play Hawking’s character both before and after his ALS diagnosis.

The movie was meant to chronicle Hawking’s personal life as his condition progresses. Hawking himself or another individual living with ALS could not play the role as they would not have the physical ability to play the character before his diagnosis.

In situations like this one, it becomes necessary for able-bodied actors to play characters with special needs.

The same holds true for individuals with mental disabilities who are unable to memorize lines. Additionally, people with special needs are sometimes unable to understand the fictional mindset that is required for actors playing certain roles.

In situations like these, individuals must understand that sometimes able-bodied actors are necessary in portraying individuals with certain disabilities. In these cases, able-bodied actors become the only alternative.

Individuals with special needs may not want to pursue acting

The special needs population is also relatively small, compared to the able-bodied population. This means that there may also be fewer disabled actors to begin with.

Not all individuals with special needs want to act in the first place. They may want to venture out and explore different career opportunities. These circumstances may call for able-bodied actors to take on the roles of disabled characters as well.

Still, if there are actors with disabilities who are willing and able, they should be given special needs roles. This is especially true as they will be able to play a genuine likeness to their characters.

The Takeaway - Special Needs Representation in Film

At the end of the day, it's most important to incorporate more special needs characters in film.

The media shapes our ideas of normalcy and teaches us how different people, things and actions are treated and interacted with. The media helps develop the prominence of people with special needs.

Michael Barnett directed the documentary-film Becoming Bulletproof. The film chronicles the story of a group of disabled and non-disabled actors coming together as part of an inclusive arts project. The goal of the project was to make a short movie in the California desert, a mini-western called Bulletproof.

Barnett said of the film, “We wanted to make an exceptionally humanizing film, and to start a conversation about how disabled people, rarely seen on screen or in our media, are excluded from our wider culture. Why? And what are we missing when we reduce our human diversity?”

There need to be more films focusing on people with disabilities in order to increase their presence.

With more special needs people in film, awareness of disabilities increases. Conversations arise.

People with disabilities should not be hidden from the world but rather embraced. With increased media presences, people can learn more about disabled individuals  and their lifestyles. Special needs individuals have the same aspirations as everyone else and deserve the same opportunities as their able-bodied counterparts.

What you can do to help improve special needs representation

At the Achievement Center of Texas, we work toward greater independence and a more satisfying way of life. We want to help individuals with special needs reach a level of independence where they can achieve their aspirations.

We want them to know anything can be possible for them, even acting in major, Oscar-winning films.  Individuals with special needs have a lot of share with world. We believe they should be provided the resources and opportunities to play the roles they want to play both in film and life.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs and want them to know that their disability does not define them, please enroll with us at the Achievement Center of Texas. We would love to have your child at our center, where they can find the self-confidence to discover their talents.

At the Achievement Center of Texas, we are here to cater to the unique needs of children and adults with special needs and to equip them with the independence and creativity to pursue their passions.

To enroll in Day Care, Day Habilitation or one of our fun, extracurricular classes, please click the button below.

Help us make a difference.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Achievement Center of Texas is genuinely dedicated to helping our students grow and develop. You too can help our students learn the skills to pursue their dreams by donating today!

In addition to cash, we also accept donated items. Anything, no matter the amount, can make all the difference for our students.

Please click the button below to donate.

About the Author

Meraal Hakeem is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. In her free time, Meraal enjoys reading, writing and volunteering with various organizations to raise awareness of different human rights issues present in her community.

Special Needs Parenting with Pride: An Interview with the Founder of The One in a Million Baby

the one in a million baby

The One in a Million Baby began as the personal blog of a woman named Tessa, whose daughter was born with CHARGE Syndrome. The symptoms that specifically effected Tessa's daughter Eva include:

  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Reduced corpus callosum
  • Atrial Septal Defect
  • Unclosed PDA

The One in a Million Baby blog recounted Tessa's experience mothering a daughter with special needs and noted Eva's developmental triumphs.

After Eva passed away in February 2015, Tessa launched a podcast as a way to support other parents of children with special needs. Episode 16, with guest host Kelsey Dilts McGregor, features Tessa telling her own story from start to finish.

Tessa agreed to do a short interview with Achievement Center of Texas, and we're so delighted to share that interview with you now.

Question 1

Could you please give our readers your 30-second elevator pitch? Who are you? What is important to know about you?

the one in a million baby

Tessa's Answer

“I'm the creator and producer of the podcast The One in a Million Baby. The podcast explores what it's like to be the parent to a child with disabilities or complex medical needs.

Each month I talk to a different family about their journey from diagnosis to acceptance and beyond. The aim of the podcast was to create a place where people could be honest about the good and the bad, so that other families out there will feel less alone in their own feelings and thoughts.”

Question 2

What was your experience with people with special needs before you daughter was diagnosed with CHARGE Syndrome?

Tessa's Answer

“Very limited. I'm a high school teacher, so of course in my class room I have children with learning disabilities, but often the students with more severe disabilities are kept out of mainstream classrooms.

So I had very little experience or knowledge. It meant that when Eva was born I had a false idea in my head of what it meant to be a parent of a child with disability. I thought they should be pitied, I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to me. I was wrong, and I'm so glad I was shown that.”

Question 3

After reading your entries and listening to your interview with guest host, Kelsey Dilts McGregor, I was captivated by your visceral honesty. What made you first realize you wanted to openly share your experience parenting a little girl with special needs?

the one in a million baby

Tessa's Answer

“My story isn't easy to tell.

When Eva was born and her diagnoses were pouring in, I didn't cope well. I had bargained with myself about what I could handle. I told myself I could handle blindness, I could handle intellectual disability, but then when she was also diagnosed as deaf, I crumbled.

Eva's Dad left the picture and I just couldn't cope. I put Eva in foster care for two months to sort myself out and when she came home again I was on antidepressants and seeing a counsellor. But before then, I was a mess. I'm not proud of that time, of how I reacted.

Now that Eva has gone I feel a huge amount of regret. But I also know that it was how I reacted, which means other people might feel the same. So I share my story to show another parent in my shoes that they aren't alone. That how they are feeling is ok, and that it will get better.

I want to show that if I felt the way I did and took the actions that I did, and I got through it, and was happy that I had, then they could to. So often all you hear are the overly positive stories where parents take to this life without any qualms or concerns. Hearing those stories didn't help me because I didn't feel like one of those amazing parents.

So I wanted to create a place where I could share my story, and that of other parents, so more than one narrative was represented.”

Question 4

How involved was your family in Eva’s life? Did they have a hard time adjusting at first? What did their involvement (if any) look like?

Tessa's Answer

"My family struggled with Eva's diagnosis, as I did. They were primarily worried about me and what my life would look like. But when I brought Eva back home with me they were on board with that decision and they supported us a lot."

Question 5

In your interview with Kelsey Dilts McGregor, you mentioned that there was no universal language for deaf-blindness and that you were making your own.

This was really amazing for me to hear, and I was wondering if you could share with us some of the signs you invented?

Tessa's Answer

“I based my sign language with Eva on NZ Sign language and then adapted it where I could.
Some of it I just made up because I needed a way to communicate with her. I used to tap her three times gently on the chest before I picked her up. I tried to combine a number of elements. So for example touch, smell, texture.

When I was giving her a bath I drew a backwards S on her tummy and got her undressed on the same sheepskin rug every time. I would repeat the backwards S before I put her in the water, and I always dipped her toe in first so she knew what was coming.

Eva was blind and deaf so I wanted to create as many other ways to communicate. I had plans to create a series of swatches of material to use to tell her where we were going. So one for the hospital, one for home, one for day care.

It took a lot of thought and planning but once it was in place it was ok. It just meant I had to tell anyone Eva stayed with about the system and we all needed to be working together and consistently.”

Question 6

I know that Eva’s death was horrible and abrupt. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss – when I read that Eva had passed during the course of my reading your entries, it just about knocked the wind out of me so I can’t imagine what that must have been like.

I think it was really brave of you to continue posting after Eva’s passing. What pushed you to continue the blog? Where did you find the strength?

the one in a million baby

Tessa's Answer

“The blog and writing was therapy for me after Eva died. When I wrote about her she felt, and feels, closer to me. So I kept writing. It's like when you write a letter to someone, it's almost as if you're talking to them, the blog, and writing about Eva was the same.”

Question 7

When did you first start your podcast? What led you to use that medium in addition to your blog? How is the content of your podcast different to your blogs, and how can it benefit your audience?

Tessa's Answer

“Initially I had an idea to create a book of essays, with myself and other parents contributing. I'm primarily a writer, that's where my skill set lies, so that idea seemed obvious.

Then I thought about myself when Eva was born, how I barely had the concentration to go on facebook, let alone read a book and that's where the idea for a podcast came in. I wanted a way to connect with families, where they could plug in and listen, not have to interact or communicate or even concentrate.

I wanted something that could keep them company at 3am when they were awake by their child's hospital bed. I wanted comfort and intimacy and I think the podcast is a perfect medium for that.”

Question 8

I read the article you wrote entitled “When a Man Asked If My Baby's Death Felt Like a Relief.” To say that it made me emotional would definitely be an understatement. After reading it, I feel … different. I’m still mulling over how it affected me. This part in particular was life-changing:

“Trying to define her worth by saying she was a happy baby is not enough to me now. Her life had quality and an essence all its own. She was a person. She didn’t have to be happy for anyone else but herself. She didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. She showed people a lot, but that wasn’t her duty. She existed and experienced and laughed and loved. She owed no one anything. Just as I owe no one anything. And you owe no one anything.”

You also mentioned in your interview with Kelsey Dilts McGregor that you had an image of what a “quality, good life” looked like before Eva came into your life.
Could you tell our readers what a “quality, good life” looks like to you now? How did Eva’s life impact the way you view your own? And the way you view the lives of others?

the one in a million baby

Tessa's Answer

“I had this idea of what a good life was, and it was a very ableist idea.

It centred around intelligence and being able to follow a path that I had taken, and my parents had taken. Being good at school, going to university, getting a good job. It was about being a part of a capitalist society really.

But now, I see I was wrong.

A good life is about love and happiness. It's about small things, small enjoyments, small moments that are actually big. It's about being around people you love and experiencing things that excite and inspire you, whatever that looks like for you.

For Eva it was about warm baths and cuddles. She enjoyed foreswirls and touch and rolling around the floor. She loved to be close to people. She showed me that my idea of a good life were so off, so wrong.”

Question 9

I read from your latest blog that you recently got married! Congratulations! Do you plan to have children again in the future? Why or why not? Would you consider adopting? How do you feel about adopting children with special needs?

Tessa's Answer

“Good question. I don't know if I'll have more children. It's not about worrying that I might have another baby with extra needs, my goodness I would love that, but it's just something I'm not certain about in itself.

I have thought about adopting, and I have also thought about adopting children with disabilities. When I was struggling with Eva, an amazing foster family stepped up and took Eva for two months. I have a close relationship with them still and I kept them in Eva's life after she came home to live with me.

What they did for me is so amazing and important and I would love to be able to do that for someone else.”

You can help people with special needs and support their parents

We at Achievement Center of Texas love the honestly and support that Tessa expresses in her blog and podcast. Subscribe to her website, so you can stay up-to-date on her latest experiences and the experiences of other parents.

If you're the parent of a child with special needs, we would love to have your child at our center. Achievement Center of Texas helps children and adults with special needs build self-confidence, explore their individuality and creativity, and form lasting relationships.

To enroll in Day Care, Day Habilitation or one of our fun, extracurricular classes, please click the button below.

Achievement Center of Texas is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Everything our students accomplish is thanks to the donations of people like you. It doesn't have to be much to make a difference. If you're not able to donate cash at this time, we are more than willing to accept donated items!

Make a difference - ACT now. Click the button below to help children and adults with special needs.