6 Lessons I Learned From Having A Sibling With Special Needs

6 Lessons I Learned From Having A Sibling With Special Needs

Whoever said that life is like a box of chocolates -- he knew what he was talking about.
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Meet Jack:

He’s outgoing and enthusiastic. He likes Netflix, as most Americans do. He indulges frequently in peanut butter -- reduced fat, if we’re getting into the particulars (but only because it has more sugar). He cheers for his school’s football team so passionately, he might as well be the mascot (although his position as assistant team manager will suffice). He’s well known around town -- for example, workers at our local McAlister’s Deli know his order by heart, and if it's a Tuesday night and the chocolate milk is running low, they'll hide one for him in the back. He also happens to be missing some genes on his seventh chromosome -- a genetic disorder known more commonly as Williams Syndrome, which affects roughly one in 10,000 people worldwide. It’s this last characteristic of my brother that rocked my and my family’s world when the diagnosis was made.

Having a sibling with special needs comes with its fair share of ups and downs, but surprisingly, more of the former. One of the many ups is that my brother’s taught me a lot. Here are six lessons I’ve learned from having a sibling with special needs.

1. You can’t plan your life and expect it to play out in that way.

Jack wasn’t diagnosed with Williams Syndrome until he was three years old. That means that for three years my family was imagining him growing up just like every other kid -- learning to drive, sneaking out to parties, heading off to college, you know the drill. That was a whole three years before the doctors dropped the G-bomb -- genetic disorder. Nonetheless, my parents took the news with stride, and life’s worked out in so many amazing and confusing and wonderful ways we had never before imagined.

2. Just because it's said, doesn't mean it's so.

Just like you can’t expect your life to go as you plan, you also can’t take certain news as fate. Just because an authority gives his or her word on a matter, doesn’t mean it’s correct. When Jack was younger, physical and occupational therapists predicted trouble ahead. And even at the time, his lack of ability to reasonably perceive depth made him terrified just to step off of a street curb. Despite these predictions, Jack’s developed a taste for action and adventure, including basketball, bike riding, and even cliff rappelling, as the opportunity has presented itself.

3. You share a lot more than just a last name.

When your sibling struggles in ways that many don’t, you become much more emotionally attached to his or her journey. You sympathize with his or her struggles, and you celebrate exuberantly with his or her successes. You share perspectives, as he or she shows you life with new eyes and appreciation for new things. You also share a bond that is stronger than any you’ve shared with anyone else. When we were younger, Jack and I would put our hands together in the shape of a heart, and then pinch our fingers down to make an infinity sign, saying “I love you times infinity.” Even though he no longer does this, being seventeen and "too cool for school," I know from his genuine and energetic greeting every time we get on FaceTime that we’re just as tight as we’ve always been.

4. You have to be the bigger person, even when you don’t want to be.

Growing up, whenever kids gave my brother a hard time, every bone in my body wanted to rip them a new one. I despised them, not understanding how people could be so heartless. As I grew up, I realized that people act in certain ways for various reasons, and although a certain comment or action might be unjustified, fighting fire with fire isn’t the way to make the world a better place. People may disappoint you in life, but when you stand tall and swallow your pride, you’re bound to come out on top.

5. Disabled does not mean incapable.

There are many things my brother struggles with due to his disorder, but hey, doesn’t everybody struggle with at least a thing or two? While there are certain things Jack struggles with, there are so many more that he excels at. He’s a pro at networking, thanks to his outgoing and cheerful demeanor. And when he was younger, there was no Transformers product he couldn’t transform, despite the unsuccessful attempts of everyone else in the family. And now, he is on track to becoming an Eagle Scout. Jack has obstacles, but to those, he says, “Challenge accepted.”

6. There is a God, and God is great.

Some people might think that a diagnosis of a genetic disorder would erase one’s faith on the spot. After all, how could a God call himself great and loving after giving so sparingly and unjustly to one of his creations? But it’s not like that at all. When you have a sibling with special needs, you focus in a little better on what actually matters. Rather than feeling like you’ve been thrown a curse, you realize you have been granted a huge blessing, one that presents itself in the form of countless little blessings. For me, they’re the mercilessly tight hugs I receive each time I come home from school. They’re the way my brother sits down beside me when I’m upset and gently tells me to “turn that frown upside down”. They’re the unnecessarily but wonderfully excessive introductions to strangers: “Hi, I’m Jack Davis, a member of [Boy Scout] Troop 72 at your service.” God may have thrown us a curveball when he gave us Jack, but I can speak for my parents and myself when I say we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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An Open Letter To PETA CEO Ingrid Newkirk

For an organization whose sole purpose is to ensure the ethical treatment of animals, I have many questions.

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Dear Ms. Newkirk,

I, like you, am a firm believer in the right to compassion for all living beings around the world. Ever since converting to veganism from the omnivorous lifestyle I was raised to lead nearly six years ago, I have heavily relied on PETA.com and its affiliates for information, facts and statistics, recipe ideas, cruelty-free lifestyle selections, and activism opportunities on almost a daily basis so that I may further grow my knowledge and support for this permanent lifestyle change. When I search for new beauty or household products, clothing, shoes, and more, it is always comforting to see the "PETA-Approved Vegan" logo on the box, and I am confident in the purchases that I am making.

It was only recently that a new stream of data was brought to my attention that has altered my viewpoint of your organization and what it truly stands for, and I request that you provide the public your reasoning or justification for such acts, and any reparations that need to be made. Another lifelong vegan friend of mine recently pointed out to me a website called petakillsanimals.com where there is sizable physical legal evidence of immense animal cruelty, suffering, and murder at the hands of PETA over the last fifteen of years. Seeing as you have been the CEO of the organization for over 25 years, I figured it would be best to address you directly, seeking a response to this evidence of cruelty from the globally renowned organization that does all that it can to fight cruelty in every form.

According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, from 1998 to 2017, 85.2% of all dogs and cats transferred to your facility for shelter were euthanized within 24 hours of being brought to your facility. Despite your reasoning that you painlessly end the suffering of animals who would have otherwise been left to suffer anyway, the arguments and justifications that you are making mirror the arguments of the meat, dairy, poultry, and fish industries (whom you dedicate your life to combating) all too identically. Just as PETA fights to end society's blasé attitude toward animal cruelty and murder, your attempt at claiming that the way you euthanize the animals in your facility is "better", renders one of PETA's greatest catchphrases, essentially, worthless: "There is no such thing as humane murder".

Similarly, after wrongfully luring a family pet off its porch in 2014, PETA took the pet from its owner's property and euthanized it, bringing the dog's owners to file a lawsuit with your organization that was just settled in 2017, where PETA was forced to pay the family nearly $50,000 dollars in damages. Finally, terror is not ever a justifiable option to invoke change, so why are you personally and professionally so aligned with the Animal Liberation Front, a terrorist organization responsible for arson, extensive property damage, and assault? Why have you donated nearly $80,000 to groups that promote harming life in order to save a life?

Ridding the world of violence with more violence has never, does not, and will never work, so if I can request only one thing from you in this letter, even if you refuse to answer my other questions, it is this: please take the funds that are allocated towards extensive euthanasia drugs and services used by and in your facility, and put them toward building either another building to house more animals if physical space is a concern, for providing food and more extensive adoption services for these animals, or donate them to a true no-kill animal-rights organization like Best Friends Animal Society, Underdog Rescue, or any others provided on this list.

In this letter, my intention was neither to attack nor provoke you in an inflammatory manner, but rather to merely seek truth from an organization that I once so dearly respected and wish to one day respect again in the same manner. I thank you for your time, and for all of the lives that you have saved in between.

Sincerely,

An Animal Lover & Ally

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