Ashley and The Short Bus

A while back I was asked a question by a remarkable young man named Jonathan Mooney. The tag line on Jonathan’s website is “Author, Public Speaker, Different”. The publisher of his two books describes him on their web page:

A young man, once called unteachable, journeys across America to investigate the lives of those, like himself, who are forced to create new ways of living in order to survive.

Labeled “dyslexic and profoundly learning disabled with attention and behavior problems,” Jonathan Mooney was a short bus rider—a derogatory term used for kids in special education and a distinction that told the world he wasn’t “normal.” Along with other kids with special challenges, he grew up hearing himself denigrated daily. Ultimately, Mooney surprised skeptics by graduating with honors from Brown University. But he could never escape his past, so he hit the road. To free himself and to learn how others had moved beyond labels, he created an epic journey. He would buy his own short bus and set out cross-country, looking for kids who had dreamed up magical, beautiful ways to overcome the obstacles that separated them from the so-called normal world.

In The Short Bus, his humorous, irreverent, and poignant record of this odyssey, Mooney describes his four-month, 35,000-mile journey across borders that most people never see. He meets thirteen people in thirteen states, including an eight-year-old deafblind girl who likes to curse out her teachers in sign language. Then there’s Butch Anthony, who grew up severely learning disabled but who is now the proud owner of the Museum of Wonder. These people teach Mooney that there’s no such thing as normal and that to really live, every person must find their own special ways of keeping on. The Short Bus is a unique gem, propelled by Mooney’s heart, humor, and outrageous rebellions.

See that statement in the third paragraph of that description that says “including an eight year old deafblind girl who likes to curse out her teachers in sign language”? That’s my Ashley!!

Now back to the question Jonathan asked me. During Jonathan’s research for his book, he traveled to our home and spent a long time getting to know our family. After meeting Ashley, he asked “What are your hopes for Ashley”? This was my answer:

I think my hopes for Ashley are very similar to what she wants for herself. I hope for a life for her full of love and fun. I want her to feel safe. I want her to be as independent as possible, and as she is comfortable with. I want her to continue to feel the security of a family and friends. I want very much for her to be accepted into society and appreciated for her unique gifts. I want her to find a job she enjoys and one in which she feels she is making a difference. I want her to continue to enjoy all the sensory things life has to offer, and to never lose her spirit of exploration and joy.

I hope to help her hone her self-advocacy skills, and to know what she wants and how to go about getting it. I want to instill in her the skills to cope with disappointment and pain, and how to go forward when it seems easier to stand still.

I hope she can find that special person who will be with her for the rest of her life and who can travel life’s wonderful journey by her side.

In short, I want what every parent wants for their child.

Jonathan understood this answer perfectly. I wish the rest of society did as well.

If you haven’t read Jonathan Mooney’s book, The Short Bus, I suggest you do. Your life will be changed.

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