Laura is an incredibly intelligent, kind, thoughtful person and we knew right away that she was a perfect fit for the Fun and Function team. Her personal story, which includes her growing up alongside and being a caregiver for a brother with multiple disabilities, touched our hearts. We knew that her compassion, respect for all individuals, kindness, and perseverance in the hardest of situations would make her an invaluable resources to the Fun and Function team and our amazing customers. Her great sense of humor only adds to her ability to understand, empathize and connect with others who appreciate being understood and supported. Oh, and we get to have fun and laugh together too. :)
Laura is the oldest of three. The youngest is her brother Shane and the middle is David. David has lived his life with profound disabilities (he is 22 years old currently). He is nonverbal, autistic, and non self-care. We talked with Laura recently about how David has shaped her life.
Tell us what it was like growing up with a family member with special needs?
Being in a family with a person of any type of disability, especially a sibling, shapes your character greatly. At a young age, you develop things that children who don't have this experience, wouldn't. Having my brother in my life has definitely made me more nurturing and empathetic, and I could see that at a very young age in myself. A lot of the kids around me thought my brother was just being a brat, but I had the larger picture of our family as a tight unit. There was no room to be selfish, it just wasn't an option. The bulk of the attention is on the other child, so you learn to prioritize your feelings.
How has your brother shaped who you are today?
It drove me to be responsible because not only did my decisions affect me, they affected him. Everyday choices, like staying late at sports practice, were different. I owe my self-confidence and self-awareness to David as well.I learned very quickly to not let what other people think of me matter, since you can't walk anywhere without people being curious about your family. Most people go through insecurity in their teenage years, but there was no sense of that. I never had an awkward phase!
What are the biggest challenges you faced growing up?
I am sure it's something that every parent experiences (I am not a parent, by the way), but I think the biggest challenge is fear. When someone is so unpredictable, and many times, helpless, and goes through unimaginable things, you're terribly afraid to lose them. But because you are afraid, you appreciate them more. Of course, there are small things I wish he could overcome, like getting better at brushing his teeth, for example. But it's very life-defining, this central challenge of fear because you also feel the exact opposite: the love you didn't know you were going to experience becomes a part of you.
What are some of the best moments you faced growing up?
Another lesson you learn very quickly is that you learn to celebrate the small victories, like running to the store, having a social life, extra money, extra patience. This year we decided this is the year to go to the movies! No matter what. I showed up in a different car to meet everyone at the theater. Immediately when he saw me, he knew he must be going somewhere. So he vomited because when he is uncomfortable, that's what he does. Instead of turning around and going home, we cleaned him up and marched him into the movie theater. I had forgotten how his face lights up when he's experiencing something new. He had the time of his life!
Do you think you'll have another adventure soon?
I think so. This will give my family more courage that if all three of us (in the family) are there, we can do it. I couldn't get him there alone and neither could Shane. But all three of us were there to help David. As a family, there really is strength in numbers.
What is the something you wish people would know about people with special needs?
When it comes to being interested in another family that's different than yours, it's ok to be curious as long as it's done respectfully. If you don't think you're capable of that, don't put yourself in that position.
I do wish that people knew that people with disabilities are not defined by their disabilities. If someone asked me what my brother was like, disability wouldn't even come to mind. Its just one minor part of who he is as a person. Like, he's hilarious. He's so funny. I mean, to be nonverbal and to be funny, you have to be REALLY funny. He always makes everyone laugh. He's caring...he loves babies. He is a nurturing individual.
Tell us how you came to be involved with Fun and Function.
When I was approached by Fun and Function, I knew this is what I'm supposed to be doing. The people who work here are connecting with people on such a broader level. I didn't know what to say or who to say it to. I always knew i wanted to help or be a support. Growing up, my family struggled to find support and a sense of community was very hard to find. Financially and medically, you felt alone. When I found this company, I realized it was so connected with so many people. Its a true blessing that came across my lap.
We thank Laura for sharing her story with us. We'd love to hear your family's story too! If you're interested in contributing to our Stories blog, send an email to: [email protected]