“Can Do.” An Inspirational Day with Northwest Center & Seahawks’ Shakeem Griffin

I love this. “Nothing is impossible and the only person to get in the way of your success is yourself.”

Recently, my husband, a group of friends and I attended a luncheon/fundraiser for Seattle-based Northwest Center. This amazing organization has served our local special needs community since 1965! NW Center strives to promote the growth, development and independence of people with disabilities through programs of therapy, education and work opportunity. I’m so thankful my family was introduced to NW Center about 5 years ago.

This dynamic event attracted approximately 500 people – many former professional athletes, CEO’s/Presidents of local and nationwide companies and parents (like me) of children with individual differences and challenges.

“Inclusion” for all individuals was the luncheon’s over-arching theme. How many times today do we hear “inclusion” said over and over again with the good-hearted intent of making that happen? We hear it in schools, work environments and other parts of our community. Every time I tour a new school (mainly public schools), the salient point they try to make is that they “include” special needs children in mainstream classrooms. Now, there is no question this is a wonderful idea and outcome if executed well. Sadly, in my experience, reality does not live up to the goal. Too often, I have found, it is because of a lack of acceptance that a special needs child has the ability or competency to participate in a mainstream classroom. 

So, how refreshing and hopeful that NW Center centers its organization and message with unmitigated heart, belief and full execution of inclusion. They talk the talk and walk the walk. Inclusion is truly evident in all its programs. At the luncheon, the CEO shared his wonderful informative story/journey about his daughter who has autism. He went on to describe the vision of NW Center from its school and employment opportunity programs to how they benefit and impact the lives of people with individual differences (how wonderful to say “differences” rather than “disabilities”…).

A highlight of the day was keynote speaker Shakeem Griffin. You must know Shakeem Griffin by now. He is a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks and the first ever NFL player with only one hand. Shakeem was born with the umbilical cord tied around his hand, cutting off all circulation. His hand never fully developed and eventually the doctors amputated his fingers because of his pain at the age of 4. 

Imagine this child. He was told he could not play football. Told he couldn’t do many of the everyday things other kids could do. The challenges mounted as people told him he “can’t do this” or “can’t do that”. Of course, if you know anything about this story, you know that Shakeem has a twin brother, Shaquille, also a Seahawk but with both hands intact. Imagine these parents. This family. Two sons with equal passion, competitive spirit and athletic ability (save one missing hand). Can you really discourage the “different” one while encouraging the “normal” one?

So, Shakeem and his family didn’t go along with anything people said or told him to do or not do. In fact, the boys’ father played football with them both and didn’t treat Shakeem any differently. The message to Shakeem was that if he wanted to play, he would have to do it in the same way as everyone else. As a result, Shakeem grew up not thinking of himself as any different than his brother or teammates. What an inspiration Shakeem is for everyone with perceived “differences.” Here is a man who is a living example of how inclusion gave him the confidence, ability and courage to live his life with a “can do” attitude. 

Maybe my favorite part of the event came at the end. A mom and her son, who has epilepsy, shared their story. Here is an inspiring video from Connor Doran’s performance on America’s Got Talent. Again, highlighting “different,” not “disabled.”

I walked away feeling so grateful for our daughter, Maci, and the opportunities that exist today to help her find success in all the things she “can do.”

Next month, I will focus on IEP’s (Individual Education Plans) and creating an effective, “can do” school program for your child. Stay tuned!

Marikay Cuthill is mother of Maci, a vibrant, curious 13-year-old on the Autism Spectrum, and the founder of Maci And Pebble, a community dedicated to helping people navigate autism by finding answers, direction and peace of mind. Learn more at www.maciandpebble.com

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