One of the more amazing discoveries for me since starting AMG4D almost 3 years ago is the growing number of outstanding success stories coming from individuals meeting extraordinary challenges head-on, quite often from birth. Over time we've connected with people and families all over the world whose personal life stories often make me stop and think, sometimes just in awe of the struggles they have worked to overcome.
Several months ago I became acquainted with a young man who has severe Autism who never gave up his fight to lead a normal life. Today, while dealing with the effects of Autism on a daily basis, he is married with a family and earns his living writing and public speaking about his life, seeking to encourage others facing similar demanding mental and physical challenges.
A year ago I spoke before a formal dinner on behalf of another outstanding organization, and I shared the podium with a young woman who had a life story that would make anyone gasp. Growing up with a crippling Autism and brain dysfunction, given up by her own family and adopted by a cruel couple who had no clue to her needs, she has now gone on with her life, wrestling with her limitations and overcoming them one step at a time. Today she is a wife and mother, a gifted composer, musician and singer, a writer and public speaker. When I met her before the event I had no clue as to her story, I would never have even guessed, she was poised and confident, very friendly and happy to meet me. When she stood up to speak and began weaving the complexity of what her life was, I was drop-mouthed in surprise.
A friend's son who has Asperger's Syndrome has struggled hard to overcome many difficulties in his personal life and his education, and he is now doing amazingly well on his own in college. We've connected with several other individuals with Asperger's Syndrome, whose individual stories are equally as inspiring. And most recently I became acquainted with a young man in South Africa who set off on an adventure to photograph and write about nature. He has produced an outstanding hard-over, full-color book detailing his adventure, all while dealing with the often extremely challenging effects of Asperger's.
These success stories are especially meaningful to me as I experienced my son Matthew's success in school and writing a book, then composing music, defying every odd against his even surviving past infancy. And when he was a child we were told that our son Adam had a brain development of 18 months and that he had peaked, he would progress no further. At age 12 teachers discovered Adam could communicate using a keyboard, and eventually Adam graduated from high school on the honor roll.
Out of all these and more, expanding stories that I observe and learn, I tell parents to never give up on the possibilities their children may be capable of. And "Unlimited Possibilities" is the theme of our AMG4D Dinner-Dance this June in Charlotte. (Please see our website at amg4d.orgfor more information about this event.) Refusing to accept limitations is what inspires many people to go on to accomplish things no one would have expected of them, whether they face special needs, disabilities or not. This is the most important thing to remember, no matter what the odds are against any of us, each of us is in the end a human being, an individual that regardless of our circumstances, striving to accomplish writing our own life story.
As I make a personal study of the success stories I see, I am very aware that success cannot be measured by the accomplishment, but rather by the tenacity and effort of the individual. While we cannot compare success stories, we should recognize the efforts of each one and the personal odds they may have had to overcome to achieve. While each story is unique, each story has value, and I have observed 3 things that I find most often is encouraging people to go forward:
- celebrate the smallest of victories, even the smallest of achievements
- appreciate what is there more than what is missing
- expressing hope and confidence is always encouraging
And yes, it is much easier to celebrate a book or a speech than the movement of a hand that was paralyzed, or someone grasping a spoon or fork after many months, or even years of therapy. But I encourage everyone to keep in mind that if someone they know, or their child, or anyone whose company they share achieves even the smallest of successes, it is always a reason to celebrate!