"The day you say Cam will never do something, he never will!" by Abigail

Abigail's entry into Varsity Tutor's October 2021 scholarship contest

Congratulations to our scholarship winner!
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Abigail Enck
October 2021

"The day you say Cam will never do something, he never will!" by Abigail - October 2021 Scholarship Essay

I have been around people with special needs since I was 19 months old. My brother, Cam, had suspected meningitis at one week of age and as a result of the infection, Cam suffered extensive brain damage. At just one year old, Cam was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. My younger years were spent accompanying Cam to each of his therapy sessions, four per week. He did physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and developmental therapy. At the therapy sessions, I met many kids with a wide range of special needs. Because I was so young, I never noticed when a child was in a wheelchair or using a walker. I just saw the child. And I never assumed someone could not do something. I just thought that with enough practice, every single child would be able to do whatever they put their mind to.

Although Cam has Cerebral Palsy, physically he is very strong. Cam walks independently, can do the monkey bars, loves to play tennis and basketball and he rides a bike. If you look closely, Cam’s gait is off but it doesn’t stop him. My parents always say that Cam is able to do everything he can do because he had a mini therapist around him 24 hours a day – ME! I never thought of myself that way, but now looking back I guess I was able to provide what Cam needed to help him acquire all of the skills he has.
Cam has cognitive and developmental delays, as a result of his brain damage. Even though Cam is 16 years old, his abilities are more on track with someone in first grade. Although Cam does has delays, my family focuses on what Cam can do, not what he can not do.

In third grade, my class was assigned to read the book “Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper. It was a book that I could relate to very well because the main character, Melody, has Cerebral Palsy, just like my brother Cam. Unlike Cam, Melody is not able to walk, talk or write. Melody is very intelligent and understands everything that is happening around her. Unfortunately, those around her discount her intellect and she is placed in a special education classroom and left mentally unchallenged. Her teachers and peers just assume that she doesn’t understand what is going on.

Imagine how surprised everyone is once Melody is outfitted with a computer and specialized keyboard that allows her to share her thoughts and feelings. Melody is finally able to show her teachers and peers that she is academically gifted and she is placed into a regular education classroom. This is where the real learning begins. Melody is able to show her peers that just because she cannot talk, it doesn’t mean she cannot hear. She is able to call her peers out when they are ignoring her or treating her differently. It is an eye-opening experience for everyone. Melody can finally make others aware that you can never say never. She inspires her teachers to think about ways to help her become the best that she can be, even if that means teaching her things using a different teaching style.

As I read “Out of My Mind” I became aware of how easy it is to treat someone with different abilities differently. Sometimes it happens through a conscious decision, oftentimes it happens unconsciously. Either way, it is not okay. My family was fortunate. When my parents learned of my brother’s brain damage, his Neurologist gave my parents hope. As my parents questioned whether Cam would ever walk, talk, etc., Dr. Shah would respond “I cannot tell you yes or no, but what I can tell you is the day you say Cam will never do something, he never will!” And so my parents approached raising Cam just like they approached raising me – without limitations. Sure, my parents had to sometimes do things differently for Cam, but they always had the same expectation of Cam as they had for me and that was to help him to become the best Cam that he could be.

As a college student studying Special Education, I carry not only the lessons I have learned from having Cam as my brother with me, but I also carry the lessons I have learned from Melody after reading “Out of My Mind”. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and to be encouraged to become the best they can be! I will be challenged to make sure that all teachers, staff and students I meet later at the school I teach at will learn to see each of my students for who they are, not what disability he or she has.