People with special needs are finding extraordinary ways to live a full and productive life. Often, the key seems to be looking beyond one's physical or mental limitations and finding a new way of seeing and thinking about themselves.
Edward Arroyo's life is an example of facing limitations and overcoming them. Edward is a mentally challenged adult who came to DuPage County to live with his aunt and uncle. They both worked, so Edward was often left alone. He had an increasingly hard time dealing with anxiety. During such times, he became unable to do the things he was normally able to do.
His aunt and uncle were looking for a way to give Edward a more independent life. He came to live in Ray Graham-sponsored housing, where he has since learned basic skills and how to live with others.
He learned how to expand his life -- do his own laundry and even became a volunteer for "Meals on Wheels."
"I meet new people, and try to socialize. I think I am doing a lot better now," Edward says.
"His family is thrilled that he is here with Ray Graham. The fact is that his anxiety is not an issue for him anymore. It's a complete turnaround," said Kelly Scafuri, administrator for Community Living Resources at Ray Graham.
Edward experienced a lesson that can help all of us: a willingness to re-examine one's experience, and find something better, can open a whole new life.
"Empowering people with disabilities" has been the mission of the Ray Graham Association since 1950. Serving nearly 2,000 children and adults in DuPage County, Ray Graham empowers individuals in differing ways.
"There are four pillars of services," Lynda Fillipp, communications coordinator for the Ray Graham Association, explains. "They are: residential, family support, employment and life skills. The essence is to empower people with disabilities to achieve the best quality of life they desire."
"We also partner with several businesses in the area, and work hard to match the right person with the right job," Fillipp said.
In another case, says Fillipp, "A young man couldn't speak and has been very introverted because of that. We helped him get a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken, opening doors for customers. The job has changed his life … Given the right coordinates, these experiences happen, and these individuals blossom."
Ray Graham uses the symbol of a butterfly in their work because they see themselves as helping people break out of a cocoon of limitation and find the beautiful butterfly that was there all along.
"People with disabilities are incredibly talented, happy, generous, spirited people who simply want to live a fulfilling life."
What if we were all willing to look at ourselves in a new way? Transforming how we see ourselves can lead to breaking through our own barriers, including any mental and physical disabilities.
It can also change how we look at others who are struggling with disabilities.
"You don't need to be afraid of people with disabilities," Fillipp said. "These are people, engage with them. Use your sense of humor, patience and love to share with them.
"Every day you meet people who are angry, upset or mad -- they didn't get something here or didn't do anything there -- but not once have I had any of these dear individuals at Ray Graham act like that … Their goal may be just to walk with a walker, but we always look forward to each step of progress."
Looking past the disability and helping each individual to reach, grow and achieve their goals is a lesson for us all.
Maybe it's time to reframe how we see ourselves and others and emerge from our own limitations.
• Thomas (Tim) Mitchinson is a self-syndicated columnist writing on the relationship between thought, spirituality and health, and trends in that field. He is also the media spokesman for Christian Science in Illinois. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.