Embrace What Makes You Unique: Why we need more people like Draven Rodriguez & Graham Moore

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From Seriously Not Boring: “Embrace What Makes You Unique~ Why we need more people like Draven Rodriguez & Graham Moore” by Jennifer Roberts Bittner 

Embrace what makes you unique! I have long held tight to that sentiment. That is the heart of this website’s title, “Seriously Not Boring.” I LOVE people who are “different.” People who offer diverse and interesting experiences, personalities, and skills. People who live passionately, love deeply, and create freely. Who see things in this world that the rest of us miss. Who refuse to conform to the rigid standards imposed upon them by the expectations of society. People who realize that beauty and strength can be found in the midst of struggle and loss. People whose different abilities give them a unique perspective of the world around them. It makes the world such an interesting place!

I think that was why I liked Draven Rodriguez SO much, although I never told him. His glorious creation for his High School yearbook was inspiring. To me it was the epitome of “Be Yourself, Be Different.” For those of you who don’t know the story, he posed with his cat on a laser background in an effort to create an UNFORGETTABLE yearbook photo. He succeeded, and the internet went wild. Sadly, not everyone was kind. Some mocked his photo and wrote rude, cruel things about him. Others praised Draven and his bravery. The school ultimately declined to allow the photo in the student section, but the Principal offered a compromise. She and her chihuahua held a special photo shoot with Draven and his cat to help raise awareness for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the image was featured on her page.

I thought his whole experience was incredible, and was inspired by Draven’s tenacity and creativity. His picture not only created a stir, it also made a difference. Draven was also involved in anti-bullying campaigns. What we know of him shows an interesting, caring young man. He seemed like someone I would have liked to meet, someone I would have been friends with in high school. I was proud of him and didn’t even know him. I saw it as a victory for our people: the different ones. Draven knew that he had become an internet meme, but I wonder if he knew how many people, like me, he had truly inspired with his picture.

Months later the world learned the sad news that Draven had died of suicide. And I wept. A LOT. Several times. I wept for a boy I never knew but felt like I knew. I wept for the world because we had lost yet another unique, sensitive soul. And I wept with Draven for the pain that he faced. I wept for myself for the times that I felt alone and different. And I wept for my son, who has Asperger’s, for the moments he feels the same way. I wept out of fear that he will face the same cruelty as Draven, simply because he is different. My son is proud of his unique brain, as am I, but insensitive, intolerant treatment by others can turn pride into shame.

Aside from being mocked on the internet I don’t know what specific struggles Draven faced. I don’t know if his troubles came from without or from within. But I do know that the world is not always kind to those who are different. I also know that quite often those who are the most creative can feel the most conflicted inside. Whatever his struggles, I grieve for what he suffered, and I grieve for our loss. The world is less interesting without him in it. Please let me be clear: I do not celebrate how he died, but I celebrate how he lived prior to that.

After I learned of his death I spent the rest of the weekend with my heart hurting, thinking about all the children who feel mocked and isolated. Thinking about how cruel the world can be. Thinking about all those people who are afraid to show their true inner sleeves for fear of how others would react.

And THEN… Graham Moore. Oh my heavens what amazing timing. Just a day after we learned of the suicide of a boy who was “different”, this man stands on a stage to accept an ACADEMY AWARD and tells the world just what it needed to hear: “I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here,” he said. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.” And I started crying again. Oh Draven, his words were for you!

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Celebrating Milestones: When the little things are actually BIG things

Parents of children with special needs have learned to celebrate accomplishments. What may seem insignificant or commonplace to the parents of Neurotypical children can feel MONUMENTAL to the parent of a child who has had to fight to reach every milestone.

I remember attending a party at my son’s preschool many years ago and suddenly bursting into tears while talking to his Exceptional Education teacher. It taught her completely by surprise, so she looked to see what caught my attention. Across the room my 3-year-old son was bringing a forkful of cake to his lips. You see, he had not TOUCHED cake since his 1st birthday, and even then he barely ate it. My son is an incredibly picky eater due to his sensory issues and anxiety, and it normally takes a lot of therapy for him to try a new food (and it usually involves some kind of gagging). But there he was, happily eating cake, and I was overwhelmed. I didn’t care if it was CAKE, he was EATING it. So I stood there, speechless, hand across my mouth, and I did the ugly cry right there in the preschool classroom. His teacher laughed and gave me a sideways hug.

My friend Jessica recently posted this picture following her son’s 7th birthday celebration, and the contents are cause for celebration all on their own:

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She wrote: “Celebrated my little baby tonight who is now a 7 year old warrior. When we got home, he rushed in the door to put his trucks to sleep, complete with play-doh sleep masks. Lol, but SAID “goodnight” to each truck as he “tucked” them in. Pretend play for the win!!! Surprising us everyday!!”

LOVE this! The trucks are lovingly lined up (maybe because Autism, or maybe simply because it is a parking lot) and the “sleep masks” are genius. Children with Autism often have to work to develop the skills to engage in “pretend play,” so this is a BIG DEAL. Jessica knows it, and couldn’t be more proud of her creative, growing son.

Great job, little man, and Happy Birthday! I think this celebration calls for some cake! I’m sure my son would agree. :)

What milestones or achievements have you celebrated recently with your child? We would love to hear all about it in the comments so we can celebrate with you! 

 

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Random Acts of Kindness Week

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HUNDREDS of cards and letters. That was the response of former students when they learned that a beloved, retired teacher was very ill. And their response was just in time. Click here to read the whole story of how the community rallied around a great man in the days before his death. They sent “Letters to Mr. Goss,” and it all began in honor of Random Acts of Kindness week.

This year Random Acts of Kindness week is February 9-15. Let’s get started today! If you need some help getting inspired here are some suggestions on how to get the kindness flowing. The world is in desperate need of more kindness. What can YOU do to help make the world a better place? Do something unexpected for a stranger? Make amends for a past wrongdoing? Seek out someone who made a difference in your life and finally tell them THANK YOU? It doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, it just has to be kind. Whatever it is, go DO IT! And then come back and tell us about it! Go out there and spread some kindness!

Like this post? Don’t forget to “Follow” Seriously Not Boring or subscribe to email updates (in the right sidebar on desktop, on a mobile device scroll below post). And you can check out our Facebook page and give us a “Like” there too. Thanks for stopping by! 

Bill Nye the Friendly Guy: Scientist makes a dream come true & meets Superfan with Autism

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Consider the following: Michael de Groot is a middle school student who wants to be a scientist and talks constantly about his idol, Bill Nye. He never thought that one day he would be able to actually meet Bill in person. Michael thinks Bill is smart and funny, and he regularly uses phrases from the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” show in conversation. Michael is so enthusiastic about science that his parents often have to remind him that his bedroom is not the best place to conduct experiments.

One spring day Michael’s sister Kelly, a student at Villanova University, noticed a classmate had posted a picture of herself posing with Bill Nye. She found out the student had an internship on the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and that was how she met the scientist. Kelly casually commented how much her brother loved Bill Nye, and they struck up a conversation. The kind student offered to contact someone related to the committee to see if they could possibly set up a meeting between Michael and Bill. Kelly was grateful for the offer, but wasn’t sure that it would actually come to be and didn’t want to get Michael’s hopes up.

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Nazi extermination of the disabled, and the day I met a survivor of Auschwitz

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January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Auschwitz. On this day I stop to remember, and ponder, and listen. I reflect upon the atrocities committed by a group of people driven by greed and a lust for power, blinded by prejudice. I pause to hear the voices that cried out, yet were silenced too soon. I will not forget them.

Many do not realize the extensiveness of the list of groups targeted by the Nazis. It included not only Jews, but also “Gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, and people with physical or mental disabilities.” During their quest for racial purity the Nazis strove to eliminate the “unfit” as well as any who would oppose their quest for domination.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum“The Nazi persecution of persons with disabilities in Germany was one component of radical public health policies aimed at excluding hereditarily “unfit” Germans from the national community. These strategies began with forced sterilization and escalated toward mass murder.”

“On July 14, 1933, the German government instituted the “Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases.” This law called for the sterilization of all persons who suffered from diseases considered hereditary, including mental illness, learning disabilities, physical deformity, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and severe alcoholism. With the law’s passage the Third Reich also stepped up its propaganda against the disabled, regularly labeling them “life unworthy of life” or “useless eaters” and highlighting their burden upon society.”

“Burden upon society.” Lives deemed as less than precious. Of no value. I grieve all the lives lost during the Nazi’s cleansing campaign, but as the mother of a child with special needs this knowledge especially brings me great sorrow. As I gaze into my son’s sweet face I wonder~ would his life had been one that was deemed as dispensable?

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The Last Lights Shining

Every year it seems that my house is last one on our street with Christmas lights still shining. I like to leave them up until around Epiphany/ Three Kings Day. To me it feels too hurried to spend a month of frenzied preparation, only to have it culminate abruptly in two days of even more frenzied celebration (depending on your family situation). The very next day we all seem far too ready to simply move on with our regular lives, because “Christmas is over.”

I need more than that. I need time to simply sit, and revel, and bask, and it seems that it is only in the stillness of the days following all the activity of celebration that I finally find Christmas. Once I find it I also wish to keep it for as long as possible. I totally understand that some people want a fresh, orderly start in time for the New Year, and that’s what works for them. But in my experience no celebration of a New Year feels complete without also bringing along the last of the light of Christmas. It serves as a beacon of love, and joy, and hope; illuminating our path for the new days ahead.

I gaze upon those lights of ours, rending the darkness one last night, and I try to draw their brightness deep into my heart. Their warmth reminds me of this truth:

Christmas has come, Christmas is here, and Christmas will remain.

I can cling to that, even if I find myself in the dark.

May the light of Christmas continue to shine for each of you this New Year.

The Warrior Ranger: Be brave and be yourself

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The brave Pink Warrior Ranger

Happy Halloween! I wanted to share with you this awesome picture of a brave, unique young man and real-life superhero. He has enjoyed the Power Rangers since he was very little, and his favorites happened to be the Pink and Yellow Rangers. It didn’t bother him that they were girls, he just knew that they were awesome. He also greatly respects and admires his mother, and her favorite color is pink. To top it all off, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. So this cool dude came up with a plan to wear this Pink Ranger costume to his elementary school.

At this point I think the best description would be the words written by his proud mother:

So proud of this child who, true to himself, wore this costume to school. When the teasing peaked, the critics were silenced when he told them he wore it for Breast Cancer Awareness. His critics became his defenders as his teacher is battling this disease. 

That’s right. The other reason that this brave little individual wore pink to school was to support his beloved teacher who was fighting breast cancer. By the way, he is only in SECOND grade. So young, but already such a leader. He has also overcome many obstacles in his own life. I can’t give you details, but believe me when I say that he is a fighter! This little guy has a big heart and and even bigger strength of character. He courageously stood up for someone he cared about AND was true to himself. He didn’t care that what he wore was unusual, he just knew that it made him happy and it was something he wanted to do. Even if it was “different.” Even if he might get teased. THAT is strength. That is beauty. That is uniqueness. And that is SERIOUSLY not boring.

Rock on, young Ranger! Way to be a Warrior!