Sultan grad in film about overcoming disabilities

Ryan Fox is plenty smart.

His brain works fine, but it takes him longer to hear and respond.

It’s not a disability. It’s a “diff-ability.”

That’s the title of a new 25-minute movie featuring Fox, 20, and other Snohomish County students talking about topics such as belonging, bullying and rejection.

The movie, a project by Kids’ Futures, will premiere at Everett Music Hall from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sept. 25.

The movie is named after Fox’s term of choice.

As he put it: “Diff-ability comes from my mom and sister, since they are always telling me my brain just works differently. I believe different doesn’t mean dumb.

“My sister, Laura, quotes Einstein a lot: ‘If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you will think it’s stupid.’ The lesson is that the fish is a superb swimmer so it’s just different from animals who climb trees.”

Fox, the 2011 Sultan High school valedictorian, is majoring in instrumental performance at Central Washington University. One current gig is percussionist in the Balagan Theatre production of “Les Miserables” in Seattle.

The documnetary features students with a variety of developmental and physical “diff-abilities.”

These include Fox, who has autism; Maggie Rollins, an Everett 21-year-old with Down syndrome; and about 10 others.

Kids’ Futures spokesman Chris Jury said the film is broken down by topic.

“We asked them a number of questions, about fitting in the community, if they belong, what is it we can do, what others can do. And what they can do,” he said.

Jury was pleasantly surprised by the candor of the students. “I thought I knew quite a bit about working with young people with disabilities.”

Kids’ Futures is part of Snohomish County Health and Safety Network, a grass-roots citizens group that addresses the needs of youth.

The event will have a resource tables for agencies and advocacy groups.

Copies of “Diff-Ability” are available online and DVD after Sept. 25.

Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com

Question: How have people at school helped you succeed?

Answer: I feel accepted anytime they include me rather than talking around me. My disability means I hear and speak very slowly, so sometimes I haven’t finished processing what people say before they go on to the next thing.

People who think it’s important to talk fast have little time for me. I understand that I am different, so I just try to be polite to everybody. Sometimes when I meet a person my age who understands me and wants to hang out, it’s wonderful.

A beautiful girl went to the prom with me, and she listened patiently all evening. I think when people treat others differently, it’s usually because of fear or because they don’t understand how to include them.

I’ve also had teachers treat me differently. Mostly, it’s the ones who have low expectations of what I can do, or who don’t know how to teach me.

But I’ve also had amazing teachers who push me, re-explain things, and create unique ways for me to learn.

Q: How has your family helped?

A: They’ve taught me that I have a “diff-ability,”not a disability. My brain just works differently. They have taught me the importance of education, family, good manners and hard work.

My older sister has always explained complex things to me ever since I was little.

My mom left her career to make sure I got an education. My dad is on the school board, and he wants the schools to understand that people with disabilities can succeed.

I’ve had a goal of doing one new job shadow almost every month for the past five or six years to help me figure out what jobs I might like, so that keeps me busy.

Last month I had a behind-the-scenes tour of the post office, and another time I flew a seaplane.

I also toured a spare parts warehouse for car washes and spent a day with a professional timpanist.

Q: How have people in the community helped?

A: Musicians are very tolerant of differences in general as long as you play well, so I feel accepted in musical groups. I speak better through my music than I do with my voice.

I was president of my school’s Key Club chapter in high school. My goal was to find ways that students could do “virtual volunteering” from home without having to talk.

I am also part of an organization called “Inclusion Werks” that has helped me learn to make speeches, meet important people, and inspire others.

One of my favorite groups is the DO-IT Scholars program at the University of Washington. DO-IT is part educational, part social. It teaches high school students with disabilities how to be successful at college and how to advocate for yourself on campus.

The social part is that you learn how to get along with a huge variety of other students who are smart and want to be successful but who have different abilities.

The educational parts include the very high expectations and lots of career mentors. Now that I’ve graduated, I am a DO-IT ambassador.

One person who has helped me more than anyone else to become a better performer is amazing entertainer Tim Noah from Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish.

I’ve done more than two dozen live shows with him. I love doing these because the message Tim gives the audience is not just about having fun, it’s about caring for others, valuing them, doing the right thing, and appreciating life.

A few years ago I made a video for Sound Transit about what it’s like to ride the Sounder train from Everett Station.

The video was for families who have kids with autism, so they could get familiar with the train before they have to ride it.

If you go

The 2013 Kids’ Futures film event with the screening of “Diff-Ability” will be 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sept. 25 at Everett Music Hall, 1402 Everett Mall Way.

Admission: Free.

For more information, call 425-252-2668, email cjury@snoconetwork.org or go to [URL]www.snoconetwork.org;http://www.snoconetwork.org[URL].[/URL]

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