One of my very favorite Ollibean families is The Whitlock Family. They are fun, wonderful, kind, cool, and all seven of them can play a mean game of ‘Just Dance’. We met them about a year ago through  baseball and bonded at the back to back Tampa screenings of Wretches & Jabberers last June.

You know how family friendships can go through a “dating” period almost..potentially awkward dinner, kids are figuring each other out, maybe one of the spouses knows one of the other better, everyone wondering will everyone get along? The same is true for families that have children with special needs, we’re just like any other family.

With the Whitlocks, it was  just one of those magical family dates, everybody got each other right from the start. I’m pretty sure we started planning a family vacation together at the end of our first dinner. Lily and Jordan were both starting high school and talked about that. Tres and Henry quickly connected over a mutual respect for each other’s favorite sport, WWE and Nascar, and typed about that.

Our families have been learning about advocacy and inclusion together, and it’s been pretty wonderful.

Relationships like this are the reason we started Ollibean. We wanted to create an inclusive environment for families. A place to get reliable, positive connections that relate to raising children with special needs. Most importantly, a place that included the voices of people with disabilities. A place for parents to get information where respect, diversity, and presumption of competence of all people is the norm. While our connection with the Whitlock’s is both on and offline, the connections we have with parents, self-advocates, and professionals that we’ve never met are equally strong.

I interviewed Tres Whitlock back in the fall, after his story about discrimination at charter schools aired on NPR . Now, it’s time to hear from another tribe member, the mama of five, Tonya (yeah, that’s her in the picture, and she’s million times more beautiful inside).

Tonya answers some of our Ollibean forum questions now and we’d love for you to jump in the conversation.

We aren’t alone in any of our journeys and the more we connect, the more we learn.

More alike than different.
Share a favorite memory about someone in your life.

Tonya Whitlock: One of my favorite memories: Tori and Tres were 6 and 5. Tori was skating and she wanted her little brother to skate with her.  I caught her trying to place skates on his feet while he was trying to balance and stand in his gait trainer.  She has never allowed his inability to walk prevent them from enjoying physical activities.  She has become one creative sister.

What’s one misconception you want to change?

Tonya Whitlock: People who are non verbal are not intelligent. People are often amazed at how independent, creative and intelligent Tres is.  He constantly helps others see that his physical state of being does not define who he is.

What would you’d like to see more of on Ollibean?

Tonya Whitlock: I am very excited about the social aspect of parents meeting to exchange information on resources and activities.

Who inspires you ?

Tonya Whitlock: I am inspired by people whose daily goal is excellence, no matter how much more work or effort that entails.  People who do what is right, just and honest when no one else is watching.

I am inspired by my son’s ready smile even when he is hurting or has a challenging day.

What have you learned lately?

Tonya Whitlock: We recently learned that our non verbal child could consistently score 80% or better singing along with Rock Band for the Wii.

What’s the best vacation spot you’ve visited ?

Tonya Whitlock: Washington D.C ! We have a large family.  Most of the attractions and museums are free and my son had no problem navigating his power chair around the popular landmarks. We used the metro for every destination and it was wonderfully accessible.”

If you could change one thing about your or your child’s school, what would it be?

Tonya Whitlock: I wish my son went to a school that believed in inclusion.

What’s something you’ve done you didn’t think was possible?

Tonya Whitlock: Homeschool…It was 2 years of hard work but I am grateful we had the option.

Thank you so much, Tonya. Looking forward to more people joining in the conversation in the forums.