If I’m being completely honest, advocating for my son and others can, at times, be exhausting. Sure, it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, but the hours if research, networking, conferences, meetings, etc. can begin to get monotonous. There are other times though, times when I read a great book, or hear an awesome speaker, that revives my passion and rejuvenates my understanding of why I do this.
The keynote speaker at the recent Governor’s Conference on Developmental Disabilities did that for me. I actually didn’t look the agenda, so I wasn’t aware of the speaker’s name. However, when I arrived the first morning I was talking to one of my mentors, Ann Trudgeon, director of the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council, and she explained how excited she was to hear Jonathan Mooney speak. I recognized the name, but couldn’t place it. As I thumbed through my program I saw his picture and realized he was the author of on of my favorite books, "The Short Bus". I had done a review of this book a little over a year ago, and began to get excited myself. The ideas in this book were awesome as Mooney gave a first-hand account of traveling around the United States in an undersized bus to talk to people and families coping with disabilities.
Within moments we were introducing ourselves to the author as he sat down at our table. He asked what brought us to the conference and I got to share with him information about my family and the work I’ve been doing with the center.
This was only a brief conversation as he then made his way to the stage for his speech.
This is where the magic began for me. Mooney began to speak about the school systems and how he overcame the idea that, if you have a disability you are broken and either need to be fixed or cease to be different.
He spoke of his own struggles with dislexia and ADHD, and how he was made to, "Feel less because of a diagnosis." Mooney went on in life to overcome these issues and attended Brown University, an Ivy League school, major in English, write two books, and become a successful entrepreneur despite, as he put it, still having dislexia, still having ADHD, and having, "The attention span of a gnat."
So how did he do all of this even though he writes on what he says is a third grade level? He had help from people who believed in him. They encouraged him, worked with him, made accommodations to help with the positive issues and lessen the negatives. He had teachers and professors who saw his potential and do what they could to make him a better student. When he faced difficulties he found ways around them. Despite not being able to spell very well he writes books. He jokingly said he married his spell-checker.
"I didn’t overcome dislexia," said Mooney. "I overcame disteachia." His problems began in kindergarten when a teacher made him feel like a bad kid because he couldn’t sit still in the desk due to his ADHD. She would say things like, "What is wrong with you?" and, "What is your problem?" These sentences are uttered all too often in our classrooms because a child doesn’t conform to the "normal" activity.
Mooney was told he was "dumb", and even contemplated suicide at the age of 12.
He had to learn that, as he put it, "we don’t have a disability. We experience disability in factors of our environment everyday. That experience is in the way disabilities are treated by others."
"I didn’t need someone to fix me," said Mooney. "I needed someone to fight for me." He needed someone to change the environments and stand up to the ideas that there is something "wrong" with people with disabilities.
He had a professor in college that encouraged him to major in English. Another English professor told him he should probably look for another career path. Mooney said that second professor has signed copies of each of his books sitting on his desk.
"We just have to Unearth…what is right," said Mooney. "Everyone has something to contribute, every single person in the world. We just have to find a way to tap into that gift and bring it out."
I agree with Mooney when he says that we have to fight against the myth of normal, and let persons with disabilities hear that they are not broken.
"What’s broken is the idea that we should all be the same," said Mooney.