You are more likely to be struck by lightning than be born with cri du chat syndrome and OCD. The chances of becoming a performer with these diagnoses are even smaller, and yet, what a show Tanner performed.
His performance is meticulously planned out. Pump soap dispenser twice. Rub hands three times. Wash quickly. Create bubble! As the first bubble emerges, the kids take notice.
Pushing her wheelchair forward, Maria pops the enormous bubble; momentarily ignoring the discomfort of his limp, Peter eagerly chases it. I stand on the sidelines, encouraging Tanner. I am where I want to be: an environment where disabilities are embraced, not ridiculed; where the lightning strike is seen as lucky, not unlucky.
I discovered Children’s Association for Maximum Potential (CAMP) in 2016. The first time I attended CAMP, my camper was a boy who is nonverbal and diagnosed with moderate ASD. It has been five years, and to this day, I still have scars on my arms from his more aggressive behaviors. Despite all of this, I continue to go back each summer. An important aspect of CAMP’s mission that resonates with me is promoting acceptance and inclusion. For one week out of the year, children with disabilities are encouraged to be themselves. The opportunity to be a part of an empowering community is what brings me back to CAMP each year.
One lasting impact from CAMP has been my adoption of “People First Language.” The idea is to always put a person before his or her diagnosis, but in the case that a diagnosis is mentioned, one will always say, for example, “a person with autism” and never “an autistic person.” In doing so, the person comes before the diagnosis, and it reaffirms that a diagnosis does not precede any other qualities of an individual. By recognizing the person—rather than the disability—first, People First Language is a method of communication that reflects knowledge and respect for people with disabilities. A choice as simple as how to order your words demonstrates sensitivity while working to eliminate prejudicial vernacular. Choosing to use People First Language is the first step towards advocating for people with disabilities.
My experiences at CAMP revealed the shocking healthcare disparities that afflict people in the state of Texas, especially those with special needs. I discovered that many of my campers’ families struggle to access adequate healthcare for their child, and a number of them can barely make ends meet with expensive therapies and medications. Witnessing the struggles of these families reinforces my determination to become a doctor for those marginalized by our healthcare system. The people who had once been anonymous in their suffering are now a significant part of my community.
As I start medical school this summer, I’m reminded of the reasons that brought me here. Tanner. Sal. Wyatt. Michael. Lucian. Gavin. These individuals hold a special place in my heart and fuel my drive to become a doctor. Starting in college, I’ve kept a picture wall of my favorite memories from CAMP above my desk. To this day, I find myself repeating Tanner’s bubble-making process whenever I wash my hands. CAMP gave me a community, but the people in that community helped me find myself. Let’s make sure our language respects all people, regardless of any disability.
Leonard Wang is a medical student.
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