Wow. That’s kind of a mic drop moment, right? I mean, what a beautifully rebellious act in today’s society for somebody to say so confidently and with such self assurance, “I like me” without there being any sort of disclaimer ahead of time—something along the lines of, “You know, I’m not perfect, but I suppose I’m okay. I like being me enough.”
I’ve even heard her say, “I’m beautiful” without there being a preface or even a hint of anything that I’ve frequently heard others say all in the name of false-humility or fear of being seen as full of ourselves. Again, something like, “I’m not vain or anything, but I look pretty nice today.” I like me.
And then I had a thought that the reason she doesn’t get nervous when she speaks in front of people is because she really does have that confidence. She really does like herself. So she brings herself to the table. She offers herself exactly as she is, and I feel like it’s such a perfect example of how she’s being poured into so many areas of her life, especially at her school.
And so I decided to take a lesson from Nadia’s Handbook as I do many times. She thinks I’m raising her, but at this point, I know that the opposite is true. So instead of trying to be someone I’m not, I’m going to come to you exactly as me. I might not be an exceptional speaker but I can share my thoughts truthfully, and even though I am a bit nervous when all eyes turn my direction, that shouldn’t be the determining factor of whether or not I have something to contribute to the conversation. In general, I do much better with most everything in life when I have my thoughts written on paper, so as an avid journal-keeper, I had planned to bring along my book and read to you directly from here. But instead, I get to let you read our story in the same format it was written in. And yes, I’m just going to be me. Because I like me.
Right off the bat, I think we all have an understanding that one of the difficulties of being on the autism spectrum is feeling almost forced into a mold that no one was ever created to fit. My husband and I have really strived to create an environment at home that affirms who our precious Nadia is; a place where she is safe and free to be the exact person that God created her to be.
Growing up, I watched a lot of the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood program as I’m sure (and hope) that many of you have. And I also hope that I didn’t just unnecessarily age myself by using the word “program.” But I digress. He did such a beautiful job of demonstrating what I’m talking about, didn’t he? Being special just the way you are. He truly is one of my heroes. But Mr. Rogers also had this quote:
“All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.”
Now, unfortunately, there are many times when no matter how hard and how much we value and applaud our uniqueness and abilities at home, when we leave the house the rest of the world is fairly quick to tell us otherwise. Yet, I am grateful beyond words that we not only have the honor of sending Nadia to a school that values a solid curriculum but one filled with the special ones who love her into being.
They value each individual student as exactly that—individual and unique. She is surrounded each day by strong members of society that recognize that there isn’t one set mold that we should try to squeeze into. Each student has his or her own identity, as it should be. They learn in their own ways and at their own pace, and they are treated as special, important, and valuable members of the same society that the rest of us live in. They are allowed to be their own mold, if you will. And not only that, they are given opportunities to stretch their boundaries and grow to try new and harder things because they see these children and they believe in these children. They know they are capable of great things.
As a sidenote, I have watched kids who were likely told that they may never move forward without the confines of a chair take steps on their own feet to receive a much deserved award at the school’s End of the Year Awards Ceremony. Likewise, during the winter program, I’ve heard students speaking lines who were most likely given a poor speech prognosis in the past. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes for these things to be accomplished, these steps to be taken, those words to be spoken—we all sit in the audience in near silent amazement because truly, what is time when you’re witnessing a miracle?
These children are capable of doing great and even sometimes hard things because they are being breathed into by generously devoted and loving people who believe in them. And I don’t take it lightly that my daughter is surrounded by this level of love each day. It is a true gift to drop Nadia off at New Horizons Academy and know she is being taught, affirmed, and surrounded by a team of Fred Rogers.
That being said, and simply put—girlfriend loves school. Absolutely loves it. I can relate to my daughter in so many ways, but I’m just gonna say it: This is definitely not one of them!
Transitions to summertime have been difficult for us over the years because, well, there’s not really much of a transition is there? One day she’s in school and then suddenly she has three months of hanging out with me every day, and as much as I would love to think that I’m a great big barrel of fun, I’m self-aware enough to know that the staff at New Horizons are just way cooler and totally out of my league.
Breaking routines in general is something that so many people struggle with, including myself, but particularly those who are on the autism spectrum. You can imagine my absolute delight when I heard that they have a summer intervention program that takes place in June to not only continue offering beneficial and sometimes absolutely crucial services but also to help bridge the gap between the school year and summer break.
Aside from all things academics, one of the greatest benefits I’ve seen in the past couple years since pulling Nadia from public school and transitioning her to a more well-suited private school is with her social interactions. Being surrounded by both adults and peers that truly, truly make the effort to get to know her has really made her “come out of her shell,” so to speak. I knew even just one extra month a year where she could have access to the level of intervention they offer (speech, occupational therapy, etc.) would be a game changer and help her during her off months to not reverse the forward steps she has so beautifully worked hard to take over the past year.
To be very transparent, last year was a bit difficult for us financially. I gave birth to Nadia’s baby sister Natasha in October of 2018. And anyone who has children knows that they begin draining our bank accounts the moment they look at us in the eyes for the first time and discover just how easily they can sway us with their cuteness.
So when I received the paperwork or application for the Suzanne Tyner Scholarship, I filled it out immediately. I was just delighted to see that there was even an opportunity at all for us to be granted a little extra help to get Nadia the resources she needs to continue to thrive.
A couple weeks after I submitted the essay to apply, we received confirmation that we were given the means to send her to the summer program, and to say that we were grateful and thrilled and jumping for joy would be a gross understatement. There was a full blown dance party happening at my house. Truly, I don’t think I have appropriate words to express how thankful we really are, but please know that we are exceptionally grateful for your generosity.
Now Nadia isn’t always considered a “typical” 9-year-old girl, but she kinda is. Because if you were to ask her what her favorite part of the summer program was, she would tell you it was seeing her teachers manicured toes when they put on sandals, and then she’d proceed to tell you the exact color of polish they had on each week. For the next 10 years, she could probably tell you the progression of their pedicures because she is just that hilariously brilliant.
That might seem so superfluous considering the wide range of services they offer, and clearly she was receiving more than a lesson in cosmetology— the projects she’d come home with and papers she worked on were certainly proof of that. But what I want you to take away from this little story is this—a mother and daughter sat down together after her morning at Summer Camp, as she calls it, and together they had a conversation. A conversation that I was told I would likely never have with my daughter. A moment of dialogue that I quite literally begged God for years prior. She spoke these things to me with words—many words. She is not short on things to say. (I wonder where she got that from?)
I should also mention that Nadia is an exceptional artist—she draws all day, every day. So after the program she would draw her teachers and friends with the appropriately colored toes. I’d watch and peacefully reflect back on the day of her diagnosis when I was told to never expect much in the way of dexterity. And I can’t help but giggle, not just at the hilarious pictures she draws or the fact that the Hancher Family’s paper consumption is causing us to take steps backwards environmentally speaking. I’m so sorry for that, but I laugh and smile with gratitude that she’s come so far, all because so many were on her side.
I’m thankful to say that you are a part of the special ones who are breaking unnecessary molds, rallying around these beautiful and brilliant children in support, and providing families like my own hope and healing.
Your work, your kindness, your generosity does not go unnoticed. What you’re doing matters. Greatly. I am grateful for you. My family is grateful for you. And I really want to close this out in the same way that I started with another word from Fred Rogers.
“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero.”
You are our heroes. Thank you so much.
Marybeth Hancher and Family