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Difference is not deficiency

I recently attended the Division on Career Development

Jonathan Mooney headstand on school bus

The Short Bus; A Journey Beyond Normal, by Jonathan Mooney

and Transition (DCDT) Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.    The keynote speaker on the first morning was Jonathan Mooney, a learning disabilities advocate and public speaker.

 Jonathan Mooney is an activist and writer with dyslexia who did not learn to read until he was 12 years old.  He is a graduate of Brown University and holds an honors degree in English Literature.  He is co-founder of Project Eye-To-Eye, a widely duplicated mentoring program for students with disabilities.  He is also a winner of the prestigious Truman Scholarship for graduate studies in creative writing and education and was a national finalist for the Rhodes scholarship.

Jonathan has authored two books and lectured at Harvard University, Brown University, the University of Wisconsin, New York University Medical School’s Grand Rounds and Beaumont Pediatric Hospital’s Grand Rounds.  He has been featured and quoted in The New York Times, The Providence Journal, The Boston Globe, USA Today, and numerous other local and regional papers in the cities, states, and countries where he has traveled. 


Speaking to a room of special educators and professionals, Jonathan emphasized what he believed to be the real issue at hand.  Self-concept.  The core disability that individuals must overcome is how they view themselves.  Before he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, Jonathan was labeled as the ‘stupid, lazy, crazy kid’ because he couldn’t sit still and couldn’t read.   He heard, “what is wrong with you?!” over and over again in his elementary school days.

Jonathan dropped out of school for a year in 6th grade because he believed what his teachers were telling him about himself.  He believed that he was stupid, lazy, and crazy.  That was his real disability; his negative self-concept.   And this self-concept led him to a very dark place.  During the time when he was out of school he devised a plan to kill himself. The turning point for Jonathan was when his mom brought home a CNN video of an interview with a man who had dyslexia who had received a Law degree from Harvard.  Seeing an image of a positive future for the first time, Jonathan finally saw that he could have a very different future than the one his teachers were assuring him of.

Sadly, it seems that society values one brain at the cost of all others.  This was why no one believed Jonathan could succeed.  He didn’t learn to read until he was 12-years-old. We think that the smart kid is the kid who reads, the smarter kid is the kid who reads early, and the smartest kid is the one who reads early and fast.  You’ve all heard people bragging about how early their child can read or do multiplication, yet we never hear anyone saying, “My daughter is amazing at building things with her blocks” or, “My son is really intuitive about other people’s emotions and needs”.  Where did we come up with this idea that only ‘readers’ are smart?  Why can’t we realize that cognitive and physical differences are a valuable form of diversity?  Difference is not deficiency.

Jonathan didn’t overcome dyslexia.  He didn’t beat ADHD.  At nearly 30-years-old he still reads and writes at a third grade level and, as he says, “has the attention span of a gnat.”  What he overcame was his negative self-image.  He overcame the picture of a bleak future.

Secondly, Mooney stressed that lives are changed by people-not programs, not software, not products, not systems.  When looking at resilient adults who had overcome difficulties in their early lives, 95% of them reported that during childhood they had one meaningful adult who had inspired them.  An educational professional, a janitor, a counselor, a parent.   Be that person for someone.

Jonathan talked about how, unfortunately, the bar was constantly lowered for him in school, so low that he was tripping on it, falling down and not getting back up.  A high school guidance counselor told Jonathan that ‘kids like you don’t graduate from high school’, ‘kids like you will end up flipping burgers for the rest of your life’,  and ‘most kids like you end up incarcerated.’   But Jonathan did graduate from high school, he is a successful entrepreneur, and he has never been incarcerated. Thankfully, Jonathan also had a few people who believed he could succeed.  These were the meaningful adults who inspired his resiliency.

Mooney stressed to his audience the need to raise the bar of expectations and then give people strategies to get over that bar.  Often we spend so much time focusing on what is wrong with a person and lose sight of what is right with them.  We should accommodate weaknesses and scale strengths.  Everyone is good at something!  Spend time focusing on these things and how they can be magnified.

“To be human is to be valuable.” Period.  Everyone has a fundamental right to be different.  Everyday, people live meaningful, valuable lives, not despite their differences but because of them.

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month


Awareness. Now that it’s mid-October, we’re pretty sure you’ve heard this buzzword quite frequently. What does it even mean anyway? One definition says it’s “to be conscious of”. Conscious of Down syndrome? Most people know that Down syndrome exists, so maybe a better way to describe what we try to achieve in October is an understanding of Down syndrome. For those who don’t have an intimate connection, there is often misunderstanding about what Down syndrome is. And what it is not.

Down syndrome does not equal “angelic” or “happy all the time”. While the sentiment is well-meaning, it’s just not true – people with Down syndrome experience the same emotions as everyone else. They are sad and glad and mad…and sometimes all within the same hour. Just like everyone else.

Down syndrome does not mean being incapable of learning. People with Down syndrome are lifelong learners – just like everyone else. The understanding we want to convey is this: Down syndrome is just a part of who a person is. They each have unique gifts and personalities; strengths and weaknesses; likes and dislikes. They are More Alike Than Different. Of course we all know that, but it is incumbent upon us to help others understand it. So, thank you all for your energy and hard work devoted to making this October the best one yet when it comes to creating awareness and understanding!


borrowed from the National Down Syndrome Congress Communicator, October 2011

Surveys & Research

Clipart of a person checking a box with a pencil.

Clipart of a person checking a box with a pencil.October 19, 2011 – Surveys requested by SIBscape. If you would like BVCIL assistance in accessing or completing any of these, please call us at 979-776-5505 or email

Info and contact for SIBscape: SIBscape is an organization for siblings of people with developmental disabilities.  They are trying to reach siblings throughout Texas and help those with developmental disabilities.  For more information, contact Stacey Mather

Sibling Survey
In order to better understand the needs of siblings, we would like to invite all siblings to complete our sibling survey.

Educational Program Survey
We would like to invite educators, other professionals and the families to complete our educational program survey.


Free Crisis Counseling: Wildfires

Bastrop Fire

Bastrop FireCall BVCIL at 979-776-5505 or email if you need more information.



Free Crisis Counseling Can Help Texas Wildfire Survivors Cope

Updated Oct. 17th: AUSTIN, Texas — Texans who survived the recent wildfires — or saw neighbors or family experience loss — can be experiencing post-disaster stress that is as real as the destruction itself.

Because of this, free crisis counseling is available to Texans in the 23 counties designated for Individual Assistance under the major disaster declaration. The program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS), is open to any child or adult who is experiencing disaster-related stress.

“FEMA funds this program after major disasters because counseling can help people understand that their emotional reactions to the disaster, such as grief, frustration, anger and fear, are normal,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin L. Hannes of FEMA. “We know that the right support and coping skills can help most survivors pick up the pieces and go on with their lives.”

Trained counselors are provided by the network of state Community Mental Health Centers. Calls to the crisis lines are free of charge, as are face-to-face follow-up sessions for adults and children whose needs cannot be fully served through phone counseling.

 Central Texas

•  Bastrop, Caldwell, Fayette and Williamson Counties: Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, crisis line 800 -841-1255
•Colorado County, Texana Center, crisis line 800-633-5686
•Hill County, Heart of Texas Region Mental Health Mental Retardation (MHMR) Center, crisis line 866-572-3451
•Travis County,  Austin Travis County Integral Care, crisis line 512-472-4357
Southeast Texas

•Grimes and Leon Counties, MHMR Authority of Brazos Valley, crisis line 888-522-8262
•Houston County, Burke Center, crisis line 800-392-8343
•Montgomery and Walker Counties, Tri-County Services, crisis line 800-659-6994
Northeast Texas

•Anderson County, ACCESS Anderson Cherokee Community Enrichment Services, crisis line 800-621-1693
•Cass, Gregg, Harrison, Marion, Rusk  and Upshur Counties, Community Healthcore, crisis line 800-832-1009
•Henderson and Smith Counties,  Andrews Center Behavioral Healthcare System, crisis line 877-934-2131
•Navarro County, Lakes Regional MHMR Center, crisis line 877-466-0660
•Waller County, Texana Center, crisis line 800-633-5686

Residents of other Texas counties may call 2-1-1, the central point of contact for health and human services throughout the state.

The State/FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Bastrop is staffed with crisis counselors, and appointments are not necessary. Registered survivors from any of the designated counties can drop by the Bastrop center to speak with a counselor.

The Bastrop recovery center is at the Bastrop High School 9th Grade Academy, 1602 Hill Street, Bastrop, Texas 78602. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Another resource is the TDSHS website addressing post-disaster mental health. It lists frequent reactions to catastrophic events and methods of coping specifically for families, children and older adults.

Texans can register online at, via web-enabled phone at, or by telephone via FEMA’s toll-free numbers: 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585. Those who use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services can call 1-800-621-3362. Operators are available from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

RENTERS added to FEMA Outreach Efforts:

Updated Sept. 28th: AUSTIN, Texas — State and federal emergency management officials have three important messages for renters who lost their homes or personal property as a result of the recent wildfires: Register, register, register!

Help from the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is available to eligible Texans in 16 counties who lived in apartments or other rental units before the wildfires — but they must first register with FEMA.

“FEMA wants to ensure that all eligible survivors, regardless of whether they rent or own their home, get the assistance they need to recover from this disaster,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin L. Hannes.

Through Housing Assistance, FEMA offers two kinds of help to eligible renters:

•Money to rent a different place to live for a limited period of time while repairs are done to a home that was made unlivable by the disaster;
•A free referral service to find a safe replacement rental property.
Both renters and homeowners may also be eligible for Other Needs Assistance (ONA), designed to help survivors with uninsured or underinsured necessary expenses and serious needs caused by the disaster. ONA grants can be used for:

•Disaster-related medical and dental expenses;
•Disaster-related funeral and burial expenses;
•Replacement or repair of necessary personal property lost or damaged in the disaster, household items such as room furnishings or appliances, and tools and equipment required by the self-employed for their jobs, and;
•Primary vehicles and approved second vehicles damaged by the disaster.

Wildfire survivors in Bastrop, Cass, Colorado, Gregg, Grimes, Harrison, Houston, Leon, Marion, Montgomery, Smith, Travis, Walker, Waller, Williamson and Upshur counties can register online at, via web-enabled phone at, or by telephone via FEMA’s toll-free numbers: 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585. Those who use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services can call 1-800-621-3362. Assistants are available by phone from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

For more information about wildfire disaster recovery, Texans can follow FEMA tweets at Other online resources are, and


More Texas counties declared a Federal Disaster Area.

 September 15, 2011. AUSTIN, Texas — People in Colorado, Houston, Leon, Travis and Williamson counties in Texas whose homes or businesses were damaged or destroyed as a result of the recent wildfires can now register for federal and state disaster assistance.

Just days after a major disaster declaration was declared for Bastrop County, Individual Assistance (IA) is also being made available to these additional counties; this follows a review of damage assessments by officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).

“We strongly encourage residents in all six counties — Bastrop, Colorado, Houston, Leon, Travis and Williamson — to register as soon as possible for federal disaster assistance,” said Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) Kevin L. Hannes. “The sooner you register, the sooner you can possibly receive federal and state disaster aid.”

Disaster assistance for eligible individuals may include:

  • Grants to help pay for temporary housing and home repairs to make a home habitable
  • Grants for serious disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance
  • Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes and private nonprofit organizations to cover losses not fully compensated by insurance.

Residents in Bastrop, Colorado, Houston, Leon, Travis and Williamson counties can register for assistance online , via smart phone at or by also calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585. If you use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. Specialists are available by phone from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. local time seven days a week.

Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs) in other Texas counties continue; additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of the damage assessments.


09/12/2011 09:53 AM EDT

AUSTIN, Texas — The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), at the request of the state of Texas, has activated its Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) initiative, which allows eligible Texas wildfire evacuees from Bastrop County, who cannot return to their homes, to stay in hotels or motels until more suitable housing accommodations are available.

This federal assistance is intended to provide a place to stay for a longer period of time for evacuees whose neighborhoods are not accessible or whose houses have been destroyed. The initial period of assistance is from Sept. 11, 2011, to Oct. 10, 2011. However, this federal program will not reimburse applicants for previously incurred hotel expenses. Applicants are responsible for their own meals and for any lodging costs above the authorized allowance. The state of Texas earlier announced programs, which are listed below, that may supplement federal TSA.

“To be eligible to receive this federal assistance you must register with FEMA,” said Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) Kevin L. Hannes. “Keep in mind the TSA initiative is only a temporary fix. We are working diligently with our state and local partners to develop a long-term housing solution to help people until their homes and communities are repaired or rebuilt. But, again, you must register with FEMA to be able to benefit from this short-term aid.”

“We are encouraging wildfire evacuees to learn how state and federal programs can help them get through this very difficult period,” said Deputy State Coordinating Officer (SCO) Shari Ramirez-MacKay. “We want to do everything we can to provide assistance to residents whose homes have been destroyed or cannot yet return to their neighborhoods.”

You can register for FEMA assistance online at or via smart phone at Applicants may also call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585. If you use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

Eligible evacuees must fit the following criteria:

1.FEMA must be able to verify the identity of the evacuee;
2.The primary residence of the evacuee must be in one of the counties that has been designated a disaster area; and
3.The primary residence is inaccessible or unlivable due to damage or lack of power.
TSA allows eligible individuals or families to stay in a hotel or motel for a limited time and have the cost of the room and taxes paid directly to the hotel by FEMA. Meals, telephone calls and other incidental charges are not covered.

The state earlier announced that up to $250,000 from the non-profit Texas Disaster Relief Fund will be distributed through Combined Community Action Inc. to provide seven-day emergency hotel vouchers to families whose homes have been destroyed by the Bastrop fire. The fund is intended to supplement – not duplicate — resources provided by FEMA, private insurance companies and non-profit organizations.

The Texas Disaster Relief Fund gives Texans the opportunity to donate money directly to Texas communities struck by disaster, and donations may be made by calling 1-866-463-7982, or view: for more information. Combined Community Action is also administering flexible assistance cards using up to $350,000 in federal funding from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to cover essential expenses for individuals who meet certain federal income requirements.


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