Learning from Brad

What do you do when you are at the supermarket doing your weekly shopping and you
encounter someone with special needs? Do you stare at them uncomfortably, turn around and
walk the other way, or talk to them? I used to do everything in my power to avoid eye contact,
afraid that I might upset them or hurt their feelings. My fear, as with many people, came from
lack of education about developmental disabilities.

My hands-on education began with Brad. At the age of thirteen, I started volunteering at
Camp Sunshine, a recreational camp for children and adults with special needs. Brad, a fifteen
year-old boy with a form of muscular dystrophy, was the camper I was assigned to that first
summer. His disability affected his muscle tone, so he had a slight limp and was very small for
his age. What he lacked in size he made up for in imagination.

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Each day, he would put on a
production of the Wizard of Oz, complete with morning casting sessions, lunchtime intermission,
and end of the day bows. Despite having a disability, he was one of the happiest people I had
ever met. I thoroughly enjoyed that first summer at Camp Sunshine, and I wished it would never
end. Imagine my surprise and excitement when I walked into the lunch room on the first day of
high school and saw Brad sitting at a table eating his customary peanut butter and ketchup
sandwich.

Brad was a member of the self-contained Transitions class in which I was a classroom
assistant during my free period. When I was helping in the class I would work one-on-one with
him to help him with his assignments. We would work on reading, writing, and grammar skills.
The best part about assisting him in school was the smile and unique compliment he would give
me each day. When I walked in, I would hear, “You look very beautiful today Danielle,” or “You
are such a nice girl, Danielle.” Those compliments were simple and easy to say, but meant more
to me than Brad will ever know.

My experiences with Brad provided me with a newfound appreciation and respect for
people with disabilities and led me to choose to pursue a career in Occupational Therapy. I
eagerly and enthusiastically look forward to one day being able to help individuals like Brad
overcome the physical limitations that they deal with on a daily basis. My goal is to provide
therapy that will encourage and support these individuals as they gain independence and learn to
accomplish tasks that would otherwise be beyond their capabilities. Camp Sunshine has
uniquely qualified me for this profession by enhancing my patience, understanding and
compassion for others. I have learned that there is nothing to be scared of and no reason to judge
because people with disabilities are some of the most lovable, intelligent, and big-hearted
individuals one will ever meet.

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