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7 Inspiring Lessons for Entrepreneurs: As Taught by My Students with Disabilities

Lessons and teachers can come in all forms; even at a time when you are not open to learning.

For years, I taught students with diverse abilities such as Autism,  Down Syndrome,Traumatic Brain Injury, Selective Mutism, and other intellectual disabilities.  

Although my name was above the door of my classroom, my students proved to be my best teachers.

One of the most essential lessons I learned from my students is that just because you are not in the same class as others, doesn’t mean you are any less than your counterparts. It simply means that you are unique and you operate by different rules. So I wanted to bless you and share the most memorable lessons my students taught me and how you can apply the lessons in your career, business, or personal life.

Lesson 1: Not everyone will speak or understand your language.

Children with Autism often have difficulty with speech and verbalization. One of my former students experienced challenges when he tried to convey a message or make a simple request.  He often became frustrated  when forced to engage in social exchanges. As an advocate for my student, I had to find an alternative route. Enters speech therapy, a picture exchange communication system, and diction apps.

As a result of practice and continuous support, my former student can make requests and read graphics!

Life Application:

If you are on a path and you are not rocking out your goals, find an alternative route. There are many ways to solve a problem. Just like Einstein said, problems can’t be solved with the same level of thinking that created them.

Lesson 2: Always have a goal to work towards

Every child diagnosed with disabilities (in a public school with parental permission) has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Within their IEP, their current strengths & weaknesses are identified and measurable goals/objectives included. Each day the students work towards personal mastery.

Life Application:

Don’t live an unpurposeful life. Always work towards self improvement and rarely compare your progress to others. Let your goals be personal, specific, measurable, and realistic.

Lesson 3: Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I had another student who had difficulty with tying her shoes & buckling her belt. It wasn’t because she did not try or know how. She had  motor difficulties. As a result, she received physical and occupational therapy. She received service bi-weekly for over two years and she finally learned how to buckle her belt. During those two years, she never hesitated to ask for help. She understood she couldn’t do it alone.

Life Application:

If you are not making the progress you would like or you are having difficulties in a certain area, employ  a coach or hire someone with the skillset. It is just that simple. You don’t have to know how to do everything.

Lesson 4: Celebrate milestones of yours & those around

If you compare yourself to others all the time; you would be a sad soul. Every year, at my student’s annual IEP meeting, the parents were reminded of how far behind their children  were when they have to complete developmental batteries. However, those feelings are temporal because I would redirect those moments of disparity to celebrate the progress of their children. Something as small as being able to hand me a graphic image with restroom calls for a celebration.  I used to let my students wear a power cape or even skip lunch for a pizza/wing party. My students worked so hard towards their personal goals and they deserve to be celebrated.

Life Application:

I sometimes compare myself to others specifically at a higher level where I strive to be.Now I can say this has attributed to many of my past successes. For example, I finished my doctorate degree with honors last year. However, I didn’t really allow myself time to really enjoy my success. I was pushing on  to the next best thing. Now I’m not saying that you’re supposed to be content where you are. You should always push to improve to be the best version of yourself; but take a minute and celebrate yourself and others around you.

Lesson 5: Being authentic makes you magnetic

There was another one of my students, who was just a lady’s man. He was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. He was a flirt and a dancing machine. No matter where he went, he laughed and danced! We could walk down the hallway and he would wink and blow kisses to every girl that passed him. If he heard music, he would “Hit the supaman.” His realness and lack of conformity drew positive energy everywhere we would go.

Life Application:

So many of us celebrate Halloween year round because we wear so many masks. We wear masks to be accepted by others.  For example, I wanted to be noticed when I went out to networking events, so I purchased a luxury car, bought $700 shoes that hurt my feet, and always said everything is great on social media when in fact things could have been headed to hell in a handbasket. It is natural to try to conform because we desire to look perfect. Little do we know is that we could be respected a lot more if we just embraced our authentic selves. My business did not begin to grow until I just said f*** it; I have nothing to lose. Either you like me for who I am or else.

Lesson 6: Choose silence sometimes

There were two students in my class that used silence as a powerful tool to make a statement. It spoke volumes. One of my students was diagnosed with selective mutism. He only spoke to his mom when he went home from school. He only communicated with her because he was secure and there was an established relationship. He never uttered a word to me but he did write notes! His notes always said, “I don’t like you because you try to make me talk.”  I had to learn to let him trust me before I tried to take him out his comfort zone. My second student did not speak besides nodding, until he heard me  attempt to speak Spanish.He corrected my broken Spanish and laughed. I discovered that he was misdiagnosed with Autism and nonverbal communication. It was not that he did not understand or could not communicate. He was born in Dominican Republic and Spanish was his first language which was the language spoken in his home. He was forced into a culture that did not meet his needs.

Life Application:

There is a time and place for everything. Everything doesn’t require a response. Sometimes it is okay to choose silence. It is an energy preservation tool!

Lesson 7: Look for good in others

I remember in elementary school, the students with special needs were in a small classroom and somewhat tucked away from everyone else.  I never made light of their disabilities, however, I did not see their internal beauty for focusing on their external appearances. When I matured and learned, I didn’t pay attention to it anymore.  I am sad to say that I missed out on developing meaningful relationships.

Life Application:

When we think about people we have known for a long time or someone we just have met; we tend to overlook the earthed uniqueness.  For example,that graphic artist you hired to design your logo is not just a creative weirdo.  She is a woman that was sexually abused as a teen,  left to raise herself, and now she helps girls learn how to design . Don’t see just the creative weirdo, see the woman that is a champion that overcame several hardships.  Caring to learn and know people’s uniqueness will transform your career, life, and business.

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