Monday, October 22, 2012

Be Nice to the People

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Celiac Disease Awareness Month, and November is Diabetes Awareness Month. That is a lot for one girl to deal with. Yet everyday, my daughter Tessa does, and each day we celebrate her life. All of those things are just a small part of the dancing, singing, watching movies, going bowling, eating at Outback and Chickfila, while hanging out with her friends. She is so much more. Tessa captures our hearts and inspires us to live without complaining or to let those "other things" in life get you down. She is our hero. On Sunday, Tessa was an ambassador at the Tulsa 2012 Buddy Walk. Here's to 20 years of learning life lessons from "our girl." 
For every picture on this collage, there is a personal story attached.  Each picture is special for some pivotal point in Tessa's life.  Some are stories of great success, some are stories of struggles Tessa was facing (even while wearing a smile), and some were turning points in my career.

When Tessa was born, I was heading back to college to complete my teaching degree.  I will never forget that Sunday afternoon when I thought my teaching dream was over, and I would never become a teacher.  Little did I know how much I would learn from Tessa and how much she would impact my own teaching.  What did Tessa teach me?

*She taught me that imagination, hands on activities, and play are the cornerstone foundational pieces for increasing cognitive skills along with increasing language skills.  

*She taught me that it may take a lot of practice and humor before she masters a skill, and I need many motivational activities to help her do it.  
*She taught me that we are teaching, not testing.  Sometimes we get that backwards.
*She taught me that singing helps her retain information.  Put it to a song, and she can remember and recall information with a smile. 
*She taught me that she learns best with real photographs of concepts being taught.  
*She taught me that there are no gray boundaries.  There is only black and white.  Giving into the gray areas makes it hard for her to learn to make appropriate choices.
*She taught me that I can expect her to make appropriate choices on behavior, but I needed to teach her how to get out of a negative situation as much as learning how to prevent one.
*She taught me to think outside the box when trying to reach children who struggle to learn.
*But most importantly, she taught me that it's the little successes in life that are sometimes the most important to families of children with special needs.

I started presenting at conferences when Tessa was 4 years old (picture of her standing holding onto the bars).  I was asked to speak, from a parent perspective, about what I expected from her teachers.  That was also my first year to be a classroom teacher.  It was a small conference with just a few teachers, and I was very nervous doing it. But it changed my life forever and helped lead me down this path of presenting at teacher conferences all over the United States. 

So October is our month of reflection on the different struggles Tessa has faced medically and cognitively.  But it is also a time for celebrating the young lady she has become, and the impact that she will always have on me as a teacher and presenter and on the people that hear her story.

Tessa wants everyone to get along.  She wants everyone to be happy. Whenever her father gets impatient with other drivers, or her mom gets impatient waiting at the pharmacy counter or with people who "just don't get it", she always says the same thing. And instantly, she calms me down.  And in honor of her, I would like everyone to think about the quote that she wants us to all live by, "Be nice to the people." -Tessa

Thanks for stopping by.  Happy Monday to everyone:)