Are We Not All Special?

One of the most profound sentences I have ever heard came from Dave Koelliker. I mentioned him in an earlier post; he was the driving force behind Howdy Homemade of Salt Lake.

During an interview with Heather Simonsen of KSL, he was asked about individuals with special needs. He made the comment to Heather, “In reality don’t we all have special needs?” Dave, who is currently battling brain cancer, has come to realize that we are all special and we all have unique needs.

This is so true. Although we may not have apparent or obvious disabilities or struggles, we are all special.

Every person that has walked through the doors of Howdy Homemade has been special and if you keep reading this blog you will learn about many of those that we consider Howdy Family.

In this post, however, I want to just tell you a little about myself. I am truly the most average person you will ever meet. I love being a wife, a mom, and now a grandma—for me, this is the ultimate. But this is not what I want to tell you. I want to let you in on a disability I have had all my life.

After reading this post you may say, “Not sure what the big deal is.” Well, you may be right, but it has nevertheless shaped my life and helped to instill a sense of compassion for those with more apparent disabilities.

As a child, I struggled in school and in first grade my teacher wanted to hold me back. Knowing this would hurt me, my mom worked many hours with me on spelling and anything else that I needed to know to move forward. To this day whenever I hear the word picnic, I can see myself sitting at the kitchen table spelling it, P-I-C-N-I-C.

I managed to get by and graduate from high school. I even did fairly well because I was competitive and motivated. I think the thing that bothered me the most was that whenever the assignment was given to do independent reading in class, I always read much slower and rarely finished.

Another issue I seemed to struggle with was eye hand coordination. Could all this be related? Many of my struggles in school and activities seemed to point to poor vision. As a result, I saw many eye doctors and specialists. The problem was that glasses never seemed to help.

Around the time I began college, I happened onto a doctor by the name of Mano Swartz. I remember the appointment vividly. He was perplexed at what he saw in my eyes and had never seen it before. Long story short, I was eventually diagnosed with Cone Dystrophy. This is the deterioration of the cones that affect your central vision, color, and processing.

Now my challenges started to make sense. I tend to look out of the side of my eyes, I detest light, and usually by the time I should see something it is gone. Nevertheless it was good to have a diagnosis and know what I was up against.

How has this affected my life? Well, I will never be that pro tennis player that I was sure I was destined to be. I have a very limited driver’s license and I have troubles recognizing detail. I may see you but unless I hear your voice or you get up close to me, I most likely will not know who you are.

I’ve done my best to compensate. I have been able to be competitive in cycling. I have lived a full life and I can laugh at myself. In fact, sometimes I believe I can see perfectly until I mistake my husband for my brother. Or have a full-on conversation with my sister and never realize who she is. And the best was when I admired a girl in the cutest coat you have ever seen and realized it was me in a store mirror. Taking this disability in stride and laughing at myself is the way I choose to live with it.

Now, you might be thinking, “Really not a big deal.”

You are right, when compared to so many other challenges life can offer, but it’s taught me an important lesson. Sometimes when people realize I have vision challenges they jump to conclusions and scold me for being too vain to wear glasses. They don’t know that glasses don’t help. I would wear binoculars if it would help! I patiently try to explain my situation but most times I just lie and say, “I forgot my glasses.”

Why am I telling you all this? I just believe we all need to give each other the courtesy of compassion. We never know why someone is having a hard time reading or why they are parked in a handicap space and appear to have no disability. What about the beautiful child with autism who looks perfectly normal and is throwing a tantrum in the store? It does no good to judge and assume you know the story.

So, this is my favorite thing about Howdy: It’s a judgment-free zone. The lights may go on and off because a child just can’t resist playing with the light switches. Some of our customers may make loud noises or even dance and sing. Howdy is a safe place where all are welcome.

In the beginning, I would have guessed that about 50% of our customers would come in with an individual with special needs. Now I would say that 100% of our customers are special. Every person that comes into Howdy is special and wanted.

I most likely will never see a cure for Cone Dystrophy. I am still slow at processing and always will be. I squint at the register and I am constantly asking our employees for help. They are patient with me because they know what it is like to live with a disability. In the end it’s all about how we make each other feel and doing our best to give worth to each special soul. This, as always, is Howdy in an ice cream cone.

Speaking of employees—employee bios are coming soon. Honestly, it is like pulling teeth to get them to brag about themselves. But when you get to know them you will love them!

Heidi NielsonComment