Hannah Thompson's sense of humor is immediately apparent. When
asked what she's studying in college, Hannah, who uses a digitized
speech device to speak, replies, "I'm majoring in communications.
Ironic, isn't it?"
In spite of being born with cerebral palsy and three movement
disorders, Hannah, who needs assistance to speak and walk, thinks
life is great fun and wants to let others know.
"I can't climb Mt. Everest, but I can change lives with my
attitude and it really balances out," she says.
When she completes college, Hannah, 18, plans to become a public
speaker, educating audiences about people with disabilities. But
raising awareness is something she's been doing her whole life.
Hannah has chronicled her adventures as a freshman at Elmhurst
College in a blog dedicated to "My College Adventures." And when
people stare or treat her differently, she just turns the other way
and goes on living her life to the fullest, says Jean, her mom.
"She doesn't hold any hard feelings, but she'll just find the
direction around them and find the way to do things," Jean
"I focus on the people who make my life incredible, and I don't
dwell on the things I can't do or the people who just don't
understand," Hannah says. "I simply go about my life happy."
Among the people who have inspired Hannah are her parents, Jean
and Dan, of Glenview. Growing up, "they encouraged me to do
whatever I wanted to do," she says.
Jean admits it's not always easy to follow along as Hannah
challenges herself to do everything anyone else could do and then
some. When Hannah came home from school at the beginning of her
freshman year of high school, she told her mom, "'I found a great
challenge,' and she said the speech team," Jean recounts. "I
remember saying to my husband, 'Do I have to be the one to tell her
she can't speak?'" But with her parents' and the school's support,
Hannah joined the team and spent three years earning awards.
When she decided to go away to college, her mom worried-about a
fire in the dorm, how Hannah would handle it if she got sick in the
middle of the night or even who would fix her daughter's long brown
hair in the morning, Hannah recalls. But Jean got to work figuring
it out and Hannah went to work being a college student.
They hired people part-time to help Hannah with personal things,
such as showering and laundry, but when it comes to academics, she
goes it alone. Students in her classes take notes and e-mail them
to her, but from there she works independently and, Hannah admits,
looking back on her first few months of school, "I really impress
Jean knows when it comes to Hannah's determination to experience
life to the fullest, there's nothing she can do but go along for
the ride. "When you're with someone with a spirit like that, what
else are you going to do?" Jean says with a laugh. "Let them choose
their path and if they're willing to try it, you have to find a way
to make it happen. It's led to the best times of our life."
Hannah's advice to parents
"You are probably sitting in a therapy waiting room right now
and have a million errands to run, but maybe those can wait. We've
been working hard in therapy and maybe you can go get ice cream or,
like my mom used to do, take them to the zoo. That's when the
disability disappears. Parents, and especially siblings, have the
power to make us feel normal."
"If they have a dream, encourage it. Don't focus on the
limitations-help them fulfill their dream. You have to provide the
blueprint and we can do the rest."
Liz DeCarlo is the former senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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