October 17, 2018

Lily Pads

Okay, so let’s get this out of the way first. I was wrong. I was very, very wrong.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog piece about something I saw online, a photo of a group of speech language professionals seated around a table, communicating with each other using AAC devices. To my reactionary eye, the photo was troubling. It felt like just one more exercise for able-bodied people to “get” what it must be like to have a speech disorder like Schuyler’s. It looked bad to me in part because I was seeing it linked on the Facebook page of an AAC company, which felt unseemly to me. Worse to my eyes was the fact that they seemed to be having a lot of fun. My indignation raced out ahead of my brain.

I posted a blog entry with my observations about what I perceived to be an ill-conceived stunt, and it lasted maybe half an hour online before my editor contacted me. She was getting pushback from the therapists in the photo, she said, and while she was willing to leave the post up, she wanted to give me the opportunity to choose its ultimate fate. I did what I should have done before tapping out a single word; I reconsidered my snotty position. And then I removed the post.

Last week, Schuyler and I joined those same speech professionals, including Lindsey Paden, my best friend and original developer of what came to be known as the Chatterbox Challenge, and we participated in an identical session.

And it was fantastic.

Turns out the Chatterbox Challenge, which you can read more about here, isn’t about sympathy, and it’s not about being inspired or showing off the technology to the world or raising awareness or anything else like that. The object of this immersive language exercise is simply to promote familiarity with the language system and the strengths and inherent challenges involved in communication with AAC. The goal is nothing more or less than to become better at prompting and modeling AAC systems to our kids and our clients. (None of this was a secret back when I wrote my ill-advised blog post, of course.)

As a participant, I learned a great deal. I saw how in order to keep up with the flow of conversation, quick steps and approximations were often necessary, (Someone asked me how our trip from Texas had been, and I ended up answering “We had a good flying,”, because those were the words at my fingertips and it told the story just fine.) I understood in a more visceral way how the delay in producing conversation via AAC can silence a user, and how increasing the speed of speech production was vital, much more so than accuracy. We learned stuff, and God forgive me, we even had a little fun, too.

So there you have it. I was wrong all those years ago, and to anyone who read that original post or who felt criticized by it at the time, I am officially apologizing, both for being so wrong about you, and for being kind of a dick about it.

Glad we got that out of the way. Moving on.

Bridgeway Academy's Samantha Lyle, Lindsey Paden and some hobo who wandered in.



In looking back over the past few months, or even really the last year or so, it feels like we’ve been in this truly transformative period, in Schuyler’s life and also in my own. High school graduation, the PMG conference, Australia, and then her internship, all of these things have rolled out for her like a production line of change. Schuyler has never been much for routine, but still. It’s been a lot, and it has left her feeling a little swept off her feet. Not in a bad way, but still.

After the ISAAC conference in Australia, we were invited by Lindsey to come to her workplace, Bridgeway Academy in Ohio where she serves as Director of Therapy Services, in order to share our story and our observations with that community. For Schuyler, and for me as well, this also presented the opportunity to get to know people who were already becoming important in our lives. When we left, it was with our scope of family greatly expanded. That’s not a small thing, not for either of us.

Bridgeway Academy’s stated mission is to inspire the potential and celebrate the ability of every child. That sounds lofty, but when we visited, we got to watch how that works up close. It really is extraordinary to see talented, compassionate people in their element, and to watch the results of that good work bloom in front of you. By the time we presented last Thursday, I wanted very much to impress these people. I hope we managed to do that, maybe just a little.


As for Schuyler, she represented herself with poise and style, and once again I couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s becoming a good self-advocate, and she’s getting a better idea of what she wants that to look like in the future. Not just for herself, really, but for those like herself “with little monsters of their own,” as she said in her presentation. I could see her working someplace like Bridgeway one day. I can imagine that very easily.

So we made friends, and we built family out of those friends, and whatever the future looks like, that’s a crucial part of it now. I’ve learned something over the years, and felt it last week most of all. Found families are just a wordy way of saying families. We find the people we need, and we make them ours, like stars forming constellations, because the rest of it is just noise and bother.

“As a writer, I hate to admit this,” I said in my speech last week, “but our biggest moments usually defy description. The relationships and experiences we make in the course of our lives define the paths we take into the future.

“We’re all just little frogs trying to cross the swamp,” I continued, “and there are alligators and snakes waiting to gobble us up, to be sure. But there are also lily pads. We search for the ones that will support and sustain us, and that’s how we find our way.”

In recent months, we’ve found some crucial lily pads, and our lives have been enriched beyond measure as a result.





August 27, 2018

Uncharted: An Exploration of AAC, Advocacy and Agency

October 11, 2018
6:00pm
Uncharted: An Exploration of AAC, Advocacy and Agency
Featured speaker, with Schuyler Hudson
Bridgeway Academy
2500 Medary Ave, Columbus, Ohio 43202

Please RSVP to Janelle Maur at jmaur@bridgewayohio.org to let us know if you will be attending. $5/person and $20 per family maximum. CASH ONLY at the the door. 

Bridgeway Academy welcomes Robert Rummel-Hudson and his 18-year-old daughter Schuyler for a presentation and discussion about advocacy and agency for users of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication).

Robert Rummel-Hudson is an author and advocate based in Plano, Texas.

His 2008 memoir, Schuyler's Monster: A Father's Journey with His Wordless Daughter (St. Martin’s Press), tells the story of raising a little girl with a disability and learning to become the father she needs.

Robert is joined by his daughter Schuyler, a recent high school graduate who uses AAC and participates in Project SEARCH, an employment internship with Baylor Scott & White Hospital in Plano, Texas. In July, she participated in a leadership workshop for AAC users at the ISAAC Conference in Australia. 

For the past several years, Schuyler has joined her father in his presentations, giving her own perspective as a young adult with a disability discovering her own path to agency and independence. Together they examine Schuyler’s journey through public school, implementation of her AAC technology, finding their authentic family, and the larger issues surrounding employment opportunity, social integration and building a truly inclusive society.

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780312538804


July 30, 2018

The Few Things

There’s a lot I could tell you about Schuyler’s trip to Gold Coast, Australia for the 2018 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) Conference, where she took part in the Dare to LEAD workshop for selected participants who use AAC technology to communicate. There are a great many stories to tell about our trip.

I could tell you about the sense of adventure that accompanied a trip to the other side of the planet, or about Schuyler’s joy in discovering all the differences both tiny and significant between the US and Australia.

I could tell you all about how she finally got to meet my friend Lindsey Paden, and how in an instant, Schuyler didn’t just have a new friend, but family; Schuyler fell hard for Lindsey, and the feeling was mutual. I could tell you all about how Lindsey sketched Schuyler’s mantra “No more hiding” in lovely script on her arm, and copied her own symbolic speech bubble onto my finger, and how the next afternoon, we celebrated Schuyler’s workshop by having both these sketches made permanent by a very cool Maori tattoo artist.





I could describe the conference sessions we attended and the talented professionals we met.  I could tell you my own feelings of renewed advocacy and my own continued commitment, already fired up, to helping build an inclusive, meaningful and authentic advocacy movement.

I could even tell you about Schuyler’s first legal drink (18 in Australia).

There’s a lot I could tell you about our week in Australia. But there’s one thing I can’t tell you very much about at all.

I can’t tell you about Schuyler’s leadership workshop itself. I wasn’t there.

It wasn’t for me. I didn’t have a place at that table, one where AAC users were discussing ways in which to advocate for themselves in the world. And Schuyler, my darling little baby girl who has inconceivably transformed into a young adult, didn’t need me there. She was able to handle herself entirely, and contribute and participate, without my help. I watched her improvise her way through an introductory speech she didn’t realize she needed to give, and then they broke for lunch. And I was gently shooed away.

Which is absolutely how it should be.


Schuyler’s advocacy has been growing over the past few years, although in a sense I suppose it would be impossible to really mark its beginning. She’s always been the most qualified person to tell her story. But this trip changed things for her. Suddenly it wasn’t me pushing her gently from the nest. There were other hands waiting to catch her when she took flight. A week after finding her Polymicrogyria family, she found her larger community, too.

She was ready.

So of all the stories about this past week I could tell, I think I’ll simply leave you with this. We went to the other side of the world and had a transformative experience, one that filled and grew our lives and our hearts. And I had that experience not with a child, not with the little girl who has inspired so much worry and so much wonder, but rather with a confident young adult. And that is not a small thing. In a week full of the great things in my life, a week where I found once and for all the few things I could build my world of, that fact most of all was extraordinary.

I’ll tell one last story with a photo.


July 18, 2018

Community of Souls

“I thought I was the only one.”

It was a surprising thing to hear from Schuyler. It never occurred to me to think that she really believed she was all alone with her Polymicrogyria, and on an intellectual level, I know she understood that she wasn’t literally the only person in the world with it. But it wasn’t hard to understand why she would feel that way, or why she now understood just how very untrue that feeling was.

She quietly made that statement to me as we sat at the Polymicrogyria Family Conference in Denver last weekend, listening to the keynote address by Australian writer, speaker and life coach Natalie Roberts-Mazzeo. Natalie has been writing about her daughter Chiara online for a number of years at Chiara’s Journey and Miracle Mama, and her keynote address to the conference was powerful and deeply moving. More to the point for Schuyler, however, her story of her five year-old daughter with PMG felt very, very familiar.

All the stories we heard felt familiar. And it was in that familiarity that the real value of the conference could be found.



I’ve written about PMG a great deal over the years, so I won’t go into it too much here. It’s not as rare as we believed it was back when Schuyler was diagnosed in 2003, when her doctors found fewer than a hundred confirmed cases, but it’s still rare enough that we are unlikely to even meet professionals who know about the disorder, much less another person with PMG, unless it’s at an event like this one. Schuyler’s sense of uniqueness and perhaps even isolation has grown out of having friends with their own disabilities like CP or autism that come with a community. It’s hard to be different; it’s more challenging to be different even among the different.

But this weekend, almost two hundred Polymicrogyria family members converged on Denver, including about thirty young people with PMG. And just like that, Schuyler was among her people in a way that she’d never experienced before. She was the oldest with PMG, if I’m not mistaken, and honestly, the one with the most subtle impairments. I think she noticed that. I watched her empathetic nature bloom as she played hard with the younger PMG kids. They adored her, and she loved them right back. She was everyone’s big sister, in a way that was a little bittersweet.

It was bittersweet because we always thought Schuyler would be a fantastic big sister. When we were warned that there was likely a 1-in-4 chance that another child would have PMG and that it would almost certainly manifest itself less gently if it recurred, however, we made a hard choice not to have any more kids, and we never discussed it again. That was thirteen years ago. And that was that, until the doctor who diagnosed her casually mentioned during his video presentation on the ongoing research into PMG that for kids whose PMG manifests itself like Schuyler’s, the cause isn’t genetic.

That was hard to hear. That’s all I think I want to say about that.



We gave our presentation on the last day of the conference, and while I think my part went pretty well (aside from a Marco Rubio-style dry throat moment), it was Schuyler’s presentation that landed with particular impact. It’s not hard to understand why. The word “inspiration” is problematic at best in the disability community, and I try to use it sparingly. But when families and people with PMG looked up and saw a formerly non-verbal kid like theirs sharing her experiences and her thoughts and dreams using speech technology, and when they met her and saw how well she communicates now and the promise of her future, I think they were reminded of possibilities that have been perhaps hard to believe in.

We’re not the only ones who have felt isolated and alone with Polymicrogyria. We’ve all sort of marinated in the dire predictions and the dark prognoses that come with a PMG diagnosis. We’re not the only ones who had this mouthful of syllables attached to our children and then sent out into a world that wasn’t prepared for them or for our questions and fears. There’s no promise inherent in Schuyler’s manifestation of PMG, no suggestion that her fate is going to be anyone else’s. But it’s important to remember that all the dark predictions that most PMG parents seem to get upon diagnosis were the same ones we received all those years ago. Schuyler doesn’t represent the future to anyone, but perhaps she suggests possibilities, and that’s not a small thing.

I’ve presented at many conferences and gatherings over the past decade, and they’ve all changed me, made me a smarter and more empathetic person. I’ve been profoundly fortunate to have these opportunities. But this was special. This was family. I met devoted parents, including a bunch of extraordinary fathers, and I was privileged to meet their beautiful kids. And it is my most sincere hope that the growth and the community that we all felt for one summer weekend in Denver won’t dissipate as we return to our lives, the ones we all lived before but which now seem transformed.

There’s work to do. I have no doubt at all that these families, this one newly minted large family, will get that work done.


June 10, 2018

The Folly of Fortune-Telling

In the spring of 2005, Schuyler was evaluated by the diagnosticians and special educators at her school in Manor, Texas, near Austin. They concluded that her fine motor issues would most likely preclude her ever being able to write by hand, and while the extent of her developmental disability was still undefined, it was unlikely that she would ever be able to read or write in any meaningful way.

Additionally, they saw no indication that Schuyler would ever be able to utilize a high-end dynamic voice output device. Such a device was deemed “not educationally necessary”.

In the summer of 2018, Schuyler and I will give a presentation on her journey and her future with PMG, as featured speakers at the Polymicrogyria Family Convention in Denver. The following week, we will travel to the ISAAC conference in Gold Coast, Australia, where she will participate in a leadership workshop with other adult AAC users. In the fall, she will begin an internship at Baylor Scott and White hospital, in a program designed to give young people with disabilities the opportunity for real-world job training and eventual placement.

Before all that, however, this happened:


And if you sent her a gift for her graduation, the thank you note you’ll be receiving this week will be composed and handwritten by Schuyler. Those notes might not be pretty, but they will be authentically hers.

All of Schuyler’s successes belong to her.

The point of all this isn’t that we were right and her earliest evaluators were woefully, dangerously wrong. Although let me be clear: that’s definitely true. The reality is that I’ve gotten plenty wrong about Schuyler. I’ve failed her along the way with remarkably regularity; I’ve probably failed her this week on multiple occasions. I’m not a great dad except in that I mean well, I love her unconditionally, and much like Chumbawamba, I get back up again. If I were to identify my best attribute as a father, that’s probably it. My ability to say “Well, shit, that didn’t work. What else can we do?”

My point, not just for me or Schuyler or even for you but for every educator and every employer and policy maker and citizen, is that the only way the world will work for people with disabilities like Schuyler is if it becomes a place defined by opportunity. Inclusion can’t be a policy or a goal; the time for that is long behind us now. Meaningful inclusion has to reside in our DNA as a society. The idea that we should identify disabled children’s limitations and predict future outcomes based on what we see or think we see was never a good model. It’s an unforgivable one now.

As for Schuyler, I’m left with a torrent of emotions. Chief among them is pride, the kind of unbounded pride that bursts from the cage of trepidatious pragmatism that I’ve constructed over the years. My pride in Schuyler’s achievement runs free now. It sprints toward the future now, a future that is still unknown but which belongs not to poor prognosis or flawed predictions or prejudices and low expectations.

The future belongs to Schuyler and her friends. We need only create a just and inclusive society with opportunities and authentic relationships and real equity. And then get the hell out of their way.

Congratulations, Schuyler, you beautiful epic explorer. What’s next belongs to you.


May 21, 2018

No More Hiding

Schuyler’s time in high school is quickly drawing to a close, faster than either of us are emotionally prepared for. As part of that transition, her percussion studio at Plano Senior had their end-of-the-year pool party yesterday, an annual event that concludes with awards, remembrances of the graduating seniors by her percussion director and a round-the-room sharing and appreciation by all the students in the class.

The final award given is a kind of spirit award, but more than that. It’s named after a former student, one who brought so much enthusiasm and positivity to the band and had such a deep effect on the people around him that the award was created specifically with him in mind. He wasn’t disabled, not that I know of. He just set a bar for bringing a kind of leadership through attitude and personal relationships. He possessed a light, we were told, and a kind of gravity that pulled in the people around him, and the award looked to recognize that quality in others. It’s an interesting award in that the criteria is based on intangibles. It’s one that has a great deal of meaning to the director and to the students.

And this year, the award went to Schuyler.

It was a bit of a surprise, I’ll own that. I worry so much about Schuyler finding acceptance and being understood by the people around her, not just her communication but her overall “Schuylerness”, and out of my fear for her quality of life, I occasionally (and shamefully) forget to make room for the idea that she’s giving something to the world around her. Being surprised by Schuyler’s success is never a reaction that makes me feel like a swell father.

And yet, as her director described the award and the young man for whom it was named and founded, I found myself thinking that in a just world, in a fair and inclusive society, Schuyler could win an award like that. Hearing her name announced did something to me, something weird and hopeful and a little bit guilty for believing that in THIS world, in MY world, Schuyler wouldn’t win, couldn’t break through the barriers that have dogged her and her friends all along. When Schuyler won that award, it spoke to possibilities.

In his comments about Schuyler, her director spoke about her early days in band, and was frank about how so many people at the time simply didn’t get Schuyler. I remember those days. When she got to middle school, something changed for Schuyler. She didn’t charm everyone like she did in elementary school. She confused many of her teachers and frustrated a few. But her band director got her entirely, and that band director was married to the percussion director at Plano Senior. He knew Schuyler already, and he got her. He was one of the primary reasons we elected to send Schuyler to Plano Senior. He and his wife get Schuyler as much as anyone in her life, as much as any family member. They will be profoundly missed when she graduates.

Schuyler’s fellow students spoke about her positivity and how much joy she brought to their lives. One young man spoke about how happy he was to see that he had been assigned to Schuyler’s concert band because she was so much fun to make music with. Another told her how when he saw her at Homecoming, he was taken by how much natural beauty she possessed, and how so much of that came from the person she is at her core. The one thing that none of her fellow percussionists said about Schuyler was that she was an inspiration. The thing that no one did was condescend to her.

That was a big deal. That was a really big deal. I've been writing and speaking about the value of authentic relationships with people with disabilities, about how I believe that's the key to successful disability advocacy and a truly inclusive society. I don't think I give a half-terrible presentation on the topic, either. But Schuyler is my best argument. At times, she's the living embodiment of what I'm trying to describe. She lives and breathes it. Schuyler illustrates the value of getting to truly understand people who are profoundly different and looking past their disability to appreciate the whole human. Not to pretend that disability isn't there or doesn't matter, but rather to put it in a larger, more nuanced context. The kids who have been in band with Schuyler, particularly her fellow percussionists, they started out meeting a girl with a disability, and perhaps a daunting one at the time. But to the best of them, that didn't define her for long.

In a few short weeks, Schuyler will leave the protective environment of school and the community that has come to really know and understand her. That concerns me, of course, because until she got to Plano Senior, Schuyler was dedicated on a fundamental level to passing. If you don’t know that term, in the disability world “passing” refers to the practice among people with more invisible disabilities to pass as neurotypical, to hide their disability and walk through the world with their differences unrecognized.

It’s controversial, the concept of passing, and for good reason. For one thing, at least for Schuyler, it was doomed to fail. Even if she succeeded for 95% of the time (and that would frankly be a high percentage), that last 5% is where it would fall apart, like a commercial plane flight that was 95% successful in taking off and landing safely. Passing for Schuyler meant delaying the inevitable, and it perhaps sent a message that there’s something shameful about her disability, and that she sees herself as less. In a society that struggles to treat people like Schuyler as fully realized human beings, that’s a dangerous path to go down.

When I say dangerous, I mean that literally. My dear friend and speech language mentor Lindsey Paden Cargill recently tweeted the disturbing results of a study showing that passing (or social camouflaging) is the best predictor of suicidality among autistic people. Think of that for a moment. Trying to mask their differences and pass for typical is literally costing neurodiverse people their lives.

Schuyler isn’t autistic, and I realize that there’s only so much that can legitimately be applied to her from that study. But I believe that the more Schuyler attempts to present herself as something she’s not, the more damage she takes on herself. She’s not less. She’s different, and she requires some patience and some accommodation in order to move successfully through the world. But when she’s truly understood and truly known for herself, she takes flight.

I think she’s beginning to get that. Maybe it began when she found her tribe in band at Plano Senior last year. It was certainly strengthened when she began to advocate for herself in the presentations we’ve given over the past few years. Perhaps it’s simply part of her growing up and finding her place in the world, an elusive groove that is only now presenting itself to her. All I know for sure is that she’s excited about this summer, presenting in Denver and in Australia, being surrounded not just by people like her but also by people who aren’t but whom she could maybe reach and find a new understanding.

Recently Schuyler got a new speaker to boost the inadequate sound produced by her iPad. When it arrived, I confess it was larger than we expected. She was looking for something she could attach on a lanyard, but this speaker was a little too large for that. It was also much louder than any speaker she’d used before. Louder, and deeper, more present.

The first time she used it to order at a restaurant, she jumped when her electronic British voice spoke. But the reaction she got was entirely positive, and since then, she’s been using it at full volume most of the time. She’s less afraid of being noticed and more enamored of being actually heard and understood. Finding more success at communicating is apparently worth the risk of being looked at and having her difference recognized.

When I asked her how she liked her big, loud speaker, Schuyler told me that she has a new motto. “No more hiding,” she said.

She may backslide from that from time to time; I can’t imagine she’s done with people who don’t understand what she’s all about and who have no patience or empathetic inclination to try. But yesterday, as she learned just how highly she is regarded among her peers, Schuyler saw with fresh eyes just how much she has to gain from being who she is, without pretense.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of her embracing her authentic self. The world is going to be a better place with that particular Schuyler in it.


May 6, 2018

The Care and Feeding of Monsters

I recently had the surreal but entirely positive experience of revisiting my book on the occasion of its release, ten years after publication, in audiobook form. I began listening as a kind of quality check, bracing myself for the voice actor to introduce “Shooler’s Monster”. (He didn’t; he was actually a fantastic actor, and I couldn’t be more pleased that he was the one who got to spend nine hours in a recording booth instead of me. We were all spared my stuttering, monotone twang. You’re welcome.) I began listening to the first chapter, and then, like a drunk who blacks out and then wakes up the next day pantsless in the park, suddenly I found I’d listened to the whole thing.

I stayed for the entire book, not because it is such a brilliant work of wordsmithery, but rather because I hadn’t actually read the whole thing from beginning to end in, well, probably ten years. Once I stepped into the prologue, back in New Haven with baby Schuyler and that beautiful, horrible afternoon in a late New England summer, all my half-forgotten anxieties and heartbreaks and WTF moments became real to me all over again.

I found myself back in the summer of 2003, when my baby girl was an internally focused and entirely wordless enigma, and the future consisted of a rolling mist, opaque but presumedly fully of hungry, hateful monsters. Schuyler was imperiled by that future, and I was too dumb and too scared to do anyway thing more than step into it with her. 2003 was the summer of “Well, shit, here goes nothing.”

Monsters. Their nature has changed over the years, although they are as omnipresent as ever. I have a small confession to make about the title of my book. Some people hated it, and others found it to be an elegant metaphor, but either way, it wasn’t my brilliant idea, not directly. I’d been referring to “Schuyler’s monster” on my blog for some time before the book was written, but the term itself originally came from Schuyler.

I’ve said many times that the only two things I know for sure I’ll always give Schuyler are love and the truth, and that was true from the very beginning. After her diagnosis, she knew something was wrong, she understood that something big had changed. When I tried to explain it to her on a level that would make some sense to her (as if it made any to me, then or now), her eyes lit up, and she asked a question, with her combination of primitive sign language, even more primitive verbal language, and her omnipresent miming as if her life was an unending game of charades,

Was it a tiny little monster living in her head?

And I thought, You know what? It kind of is. Let’s go with that.

At the time immediately after Schuyler’s diagnosis, in my state of numbed panic and heartbreak, the idea of what a little monster inside her beautiful but inscrutable brain might be doing to her was simple. It was hurting her. It was trampling her future and making its plans to whip up lightning storms inside her sweet little head. It might have even been preparing to extinguish her life altogether. No one knew, and because I’m her father and thus needed to be prepared, I believed the worst case scenarios and stood by, ready to do what I could to protect her from that monster and those storms. I was aware then as I am now, of course, that what I could do to save her was not a goddamn thing.

It’s been almost fifteen years since that awful summer, the one that broke me but not Schuyler. The life she lives now is not the one we were warned to prepare ourselves for. Her brain was badly malformed, maybe as much as three quarters of it affected by her polymicrogyria, but it nevertheless reformed its lines and rewired its functions and is doing its brainly job with style and ingenuity. She had feeding difficulties, but aside from maybe half a dozen terrifying choking incidents, she’s navigated the world of food with gusto, and most of those feeding issues have completely faded. She has intellectual disabilities, but she’s not a fool. She experiences and processes the world around her in her own way, but that way isn't childish or insufficient.

It’s weird and wonderful and cool, Schuyler’s brain world. And she’s right. It has a monster in it.

This monster isn't the one I feared when she was so much younger. It’s not a monster that Schuyler hates, I don’t think, not really. Her polymicrogyria, and the unique life it gives her, is hard, and it lacks navigation or instructions. But after all these years of keeping on keeping on, of finding what works and what she wants to do with the complicated and compromised life she’s been given, Schuyler lives that life always aware of her challenges but not fixated on them. At the impossible age of eighteen, she’s doing her very best, and her very best isn’t bad at all. As a matter of fact, Schuyler’s best is pretty extraordinary.

And there’s a monster there still. She seems less and less motivated to hide it than she was even a year ago, which I believe is a very positive development. She seems less interested in trying to pass for neurotypical than she was even a year ago. Perhaps she’s experienced the world of the neurotypical for long enough to know that we’re not so perfect, or more to the point so undamaged, as she might have once believed. The reality of the world has made a strong case for alternative possibilities she might not have entertained before now.

The typical world is kind of fucked up, in other words. Her atypical life might not be all that lacking after all.

If you’re not a part of the disability community, and by that I mean if you don’t have a disability yourself, or have immediate family members or professional clients with a disability, you might imagine our lives as being an ongoing season of The Disability Show all the time. And I guess on some level that’s true, in that it never goes away. There’s always a monster-shaped chair in every room, and it’s never unoccupied.

Our reality is more subtle than that, however. We don’t talk about it every day, or even most days. The older Schuyler gets, the less she worries about it. And for all that I write about Schuyler’s polymicrogyria and trying to make sense of it, I don’t think of Schuyler as the disabled kid all the time. I’m not always Disability Dad. Sometimes I’m Amateur Musician Dad now, for example; I’ve begun to learn a new instrument (the ophicleide, which is perhaps the ultimate hipster instrument, in that you’ve probably never heard of it). Schuyler helped me get it, starting a little fundraiser last fall, and now she watches me play and asks lots of questions and may in fact be the only human being in both my near and remote orbits who isn’t sick to fucking death of hearing about the goddamn ophicleide. We’re all living our lives as people, and Schuyler’s disability is a significant part of that, but it doesn’t suck up all the oxygen in the room the way it once did.

It’s not that I live in denial. But the fact is, when you know Schuyler, she’s just Schuyler, polymicrogyria and weird ways and rockstar presence and big laugh and all. When you get to know her, she becomes more.

That’s important. The world in general sees someone like Schuyler as less. It sees people like her as diminished members of society, because it doesn’t see them in their totality. People with disabilities are treated like partial people by our society because our society doesn’t know them. Much of our society doesn’t even realize they are knowable. And until those relationships become real, until students in school and adults in their workplaces and tv viewers turning on their favorite shows begin to see people like Schuyler existing and working and laughing and cursing and living messy lives right next to them, there will always be a divide. There will always be an Other. And as a society, we are absolutely shit when it comes to embracing the Other.

Schuyler’s life now is a mix of the typical and the monstered. She attended her school’s Homecoming dance last fall, with a shy young man who asked her to the dance and made her world suddenly bright with possibilities. She went to prom last week with another exceptional young man, this time one whom she invited, perhaps because she’s beginning to understand that if she wants to have the world on her terms, she’s got to spell those terms out herself. This summer we’re speaking to a gathering of polymicrogria families and then traveling to Australia so she can attend a leadership workshop for adults who use assistive speech technology. And at the end of the summer, she’ll enter into an internship at a major local hospital, where she’ll spend about nine months learning valuable job skills in a variety of different positions.

After that, Schuyler will enter the adult world in earnest. She’ll step into the foggiest of fogs, and she’ll lose the protections that school and childhood have cloaked her in. Will the world be ready for her? Is it ready for any of her peers? I sometimes wonder. The speeches I’ve been giving over the past few years have contained a lot of calls to arms where disability rights and societal change and authentic relationships with people like Schuyler are concerned, but I sometimes fear that while the faces in the audience may change, they’re still mostly members of the choir that I’m preaching to.

I want to change the world, and I fear that I can’t. It’s dawning on me now that I’m not going to be the one to do it.

It’ll be Schuyler, and people like her. And they’ll do it because it needs to be done. The rest of us need to help them build a world in which they have the opportunities the rest of us enjoy in our extreme privilege. And when we step back and watch what they do with those opportunities, all I know for certain is that our only appropriate reactions will be ones of respect, and maybe even just a touch of awe.