CREST HILL – Blind since birth, Andre King has faced many challenges in his life, like job interviews.
“People don’t know what to do with a person who is blind,” said King, now 43 and living in Crest Hill. “I went on one interview where they pretty much wasted my time. … I thought, should I put that I was blind in the cover letter or just walk in?”
King sidestepped that decision by becoming a certified massage therapist and working as an independent contractor. He also performs massage therapy at a Shorewood facility. King is quite happy with his career, and he credits his perseverance to the confidence his family instilled in him.
“My parents didn’t treat me any differently than my brothers and sisters,” King said.
King is set to share those childhood experiences Thursday at “Living Despite My Disabilities,” hosted by the Special Parents for Special Kids support group. Several other adults, successful despite, or perhaps because of, their disabilities, also will answer questions and tell their stories.
This meeting is open to anyone and not just parents of children with special needs, their family and friends, and physical and speech therapists, said Machell Klee, support group founder. Klee wants the community to understand that a child with special needs has the same needs as any other child.
“They need interaction just like your kids do,” Klee said.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, special needs children should learn self-determination so they can feel a sense of control over their lives, set goals and work to attain them.
Research shows that when students with disabilities developed this quality, they were more likely to be employed, satisfied with their lives and able to live independently. That’s what makes Special Parents for Special Kids so valuable.
“We learn a lot from each other,” said Klee, whose daughter Samantha was 9 when she died in 2011 from complications of catastrophic epilepsy and progressive encephalopathy, according to a previous Herald-News story. “Here, we listen to each other and we get every word and understand every acronym. We all get it. You don’t even have to go into a lot of detail.”
King was born with Norrie disease, a rare eye disorder that leads to blindness in male infants at birth or shortly after birth. According to the National Institute of Health, the blindness is a result of abnormal development of the retina, where masses of immature retinal cells accumulate at the back of the eye.
Some of King’s best memories include playing the drums, reading library books and playing baseball. His brothers and sisters yelled at him when to swing or he used a beeping baseball. King still listens to Bears, Bulls and Cubs games on the radio and TV.
King recalled a teacher at Carl Sandberg Elementary School in Joliet who helped his confidence by putting his class materials in an accessible form. After high school, King earned a degree in finance with a concentration in real estate finance from the University of Illinois. During that time, King also taught Sunday school.
Nevertheless, King decided not to pursue a career in finance and later attended The Soma Institute: Chicago Massage School.
“I’m not a big time believer in conventional medicine,” King said. “I don’t think the body is really made to process drugs or surgery, and I wanted to do something to help people who wanted to try an alternative method of treatment.”
King said blindness does not hinder working as a massage therapist because clinical massage therapy focuses on both the evaluation and treatment of soft tissue problems through manual manipulation.
When treating clients, King uses their descriptions of pain and soreness and what he feels with his hands. Many of his clients are regulars, coming in once a week or every two weeks, King said. Common complaints are back and shoulder pain and headaches, he added.
Being organized and having routines is one key to his success as an adult with a disability, King said. Another, he added, is faith.
“The Lord has blessed me and helps me get through it,” King said. “He saved me and he keeps feeding me every day. He gave me a wife and a young son and work and helps me think right. ... I want to be a blessing like God made Abraham a blessing.”
On the home front, King has been married for four years and has one child. He was a little nervous about changing his first diaper, he said with a laugh, but so are many first-time parents.
“I had never changed a diaper before,” he said, “but it had to be done.”
If You Go
What: “Living Despite My Disabilities”
When: 6 to 8 p.m., April 10
Where: Easter Seals Joliet Region, 212 Barney Dr., Joliet
Etc: Four adults will discuss growing up as special needs children: Andre King of Crest Hill, massage therapist despite blindness; Danielle Austin of Carol Stream, Ms. Wheelchair Illinois 2013; Lori James of Elwood (hearing impaired); and Robert Bagdonas of Plainfield (Down syndrome).
On the Web: www.specialparentsforspecialkids.com
Three tips for nurturing self-determination in a child with a disability:
• As early as possible, give your child opportunities to make choices and encourage your child to express wants and wishes. Examples are choices about what to wear, what to eat and how much help your child wants from you.
• Strike a balance between being protective and supporting risk-taking. Learn to let go a little and push your child out into the world, even though it may be a little scary.
• Guide children toward solving their own problems and making their own choices. For instance, if your child has a problem at school, offer a listening ear and brainstorm possible solutions. To the extent that your child can, let your child decide on the plan and the back-up plan.