When I was 12, a family from Louisiana moved in across the street. They were my only Catholic neighbors and they had four children. The oldest was a month older than myself, but I baby sat all four of them from time to time. You see my friend was disabled. I asked his mother once what was the cause. She said she had a real bad case of the flu during pregnancy and she believed that it was the contributing factor to some of physical/mental issues.
Most of the time my friend was very sweet. Sometimes when they changed his medication, his mood would worsen, but in general he was a pleasant person to be around. Unlike all the other 12 year old boys that I knew, he didn't tease me or make fun of me or try to pop my bra strap. Cognitively we were not the same age, but I considered him to be my friend. We even road the bus together.
After a while his mother realized that he wasn't getting the education that he needed to live autonomously. Our public school was attempting to teach him math and to read beyond what he was capable of. The program was more geared to children with higher cognitive skills than my friend was capable of. They were not teaching him any basic life skills like how to grocery shop, how to read a bus route, etc. etc. In essence our government-funded school system was failing my friend. They were failing him by not teaching him how to live in a "normal" world.
But before anybody goes and chews me out, I realize that this is not true of all schools. My best friend in highschools' mom was a special ed teacher. She taught children basic life skills and even how to speak when all other therapies seemed to fail them. My point it not to bash the system as a whole, but to point out that in this case it failed my friend.
The great thing that I learned about the Church is that it has never turned it's back on the disabled. Ever. It has always provided for and included them instead of trying to hide them away.
My neighbor discovered that St. Richard's Catholic School has/had a school program at their school specifically for disabled children. They teach them life skills. And I was excited for my friend when he was accepted into their program. The school treated him with the dignity that he deserved.
My friend is an awesome person. And just like any child can be failed or lifted-up by a system, so can the disabled. This does not mean however that he is scary, odd, or stupid. He's simply a person whose skill set can never be like mine. But that doesn't mean he never taught me anything. If anything he taught me to appreciate what I do have that comes easily to me, and his story taught me that disabled children need really good programs in order to lead normal lives.
So Merry Christmas, Andi! Disabled people do rock and incidentally they dance really well, but that's a story for another time.
If you have a story about someone with a disability who rocks or some thoughts about it, consider making it Andi's present and share this "secret" to the world.
Tip of the hat to Considerer for sharing.