“Building on Abilities” is the motto of the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Each and every one of us has things that we do well and things that we need help with. Staff at the ACBDD believe that all persons’ abilities should be highlighted, especially those individuals who have developmental disabilities. People who have developmental disabilities are often seen as “different” but if you think about it, aren’t we all different from one another in some way? In fact, life would be pretty boring if we were all the same and if you think about it, some our best and most memorable life experiences come from those who share a different life perspective. By the same token, persons with developmental disabilities are also just like people without disabilities in many ways. They have the same need for feelings of companionship, inclusion, affection, belonging, self-worth and accomplishment. Persons with developmental disabilities are good friends and neighbors, they have interesting life stories and hobbies, they share their abilities, humor and creativity and they are valued employees and positive contributors to society. If you take time and look for the abilities, you can learn much from individuals with developmental disabilities – you may even learn a little about yourself and in the process gain a new –and true- friend for life.
This is exactly what happened when Ron Queen touched the life of Hocking College student Jamie Lalusa. Ron has cerebral palsy which results in speech difficulties and using an electric wheelchair. Ron and Jamie spent time together at Atco writing stories, one of which became a song that was included on a CD produced by Passion Works Studio, one of ACBDD’s programs. Ron was so grateful for their relationship and that Jamie was able to help give him a “voice” through their collaborative writing. Jamie moved away from the Athens area after graduating from college but Ron still thought of her often and wondered if she’d remember him. Turns out, she did indeed remember him, as several years later, Jamie sent Ron the following letter attesting to the life lesson and inspiration that she gained from their relationship.
I hope you remember me because I think about you every day. Especially in February – your birthday month. I am one of the Hocking College students who wrote with you. You and I have a song on the second album, although I have never heard it. Thank you for allowing me to share in your creative process. That experience has made a much bigger difference than I ever thought It would.
Two years ago, I gave birth to my first daughter. She was just minutes old, my husband and I were admiring her, thinking she was just perfect, when a doctor came and diagnosed her with Down Syndrome. And do you know what? Our satisfaction with her wasn’t dented a bit. She had Down Syndrome, but she was still perfect.
Working with you all those years ago is part of what made that possible. I knew that she would face special challenges, but I also knew that her potential was great. She will be great because of her disability and not in spite of it. You were an example of that for me. Cerebral Palsy is very different from Down Syndrome, but, like you, people might see Lilli as someone who needs help or doesn’t have anything to give back, but, also like you, she will surprise them with her capacities of love, friendship and creativity.
I don’t know if you ever wanted children, Ron, but I hope you will consider Lilli part of your legacy. Because I knew you, her life is changed for the better.
I hope you are still writing and I hope your partners gain as much from working with you as I did.
As Ron’s story demonstrates, it is my hope that you take the time to learn more about the ABILITIES of individuals who are served by the various programs of the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities. In doing so, you will also discover what they have to offer others and what life lessons you can learn from them.