Dave Hale started attending camp at The Woodlands in Wexford, PA as a teenager in 1997. A lot has happened in his life, before and since, and Dave decided to share the five things he’s learned from living with a disability. Dave, you see, was born with spina bifida or “open spine,” which left him “with limited feeling and movement in my legs and feet.”

Here are the five things Dave discovered to live well:

Independence: I’ve learned that there were things that I could do even as a person with a disability. There have been many people in my life who took serious interest in my well-being. When I was six-years-old, I began developing my life skills in occupational therapy in school. I brought those skills home, where I expected to use them. I did, and the more I developed my life skills, the less help I needed. When I learned a new life skill, the sense of independence I felt was so pleasing. That feeling of freedom continued into my teen years. By then, I had mastered even more life skills. Today, I’m a responsible adult. I can do things like go grocery shopping, cook, clean, and pay bills. This is mostly because the people in my life encouraged me to be independent, and showed me that I was capable of accomplishing more than I thought I could.

Dependence: I’ve learned that some things are too difficult to do alone, and that it’s okay to have assistance. In the months leading to my moving into my apartment in 2001, there was a process to provide a personal attendant for me. Even though I didn’t think I needed one, I went along with it, and I’m so glad I did. Although I don’t need a lot of things done for me, sometimes it is beneficial to have assistance.

Empathy: I’ve learned to identify with others in their struggles and experiences. I have also learned that others can identify with mine. My camp friends, who have disabilities, and I have a lot of the same struggles and experiences in our lives. Stigma, stares, inaccessibility, and negative comments are just some of them. It’s been good to know that I’m not alone, and that I have friends who understand. It’s also been good to let my friends know that they’re not alone and that I understand.

Curiosity: I’ve learned to ask questions about life. Living with a disability has raised a lot of important questions about my purpose for being born and about my place in this world. I enjoy seeking and searching for the answers, which not only helps me live a meaningful life, but also leads to even more questions!

Gratitude: I’ve learned to be thankful in my life and to take nothing for granted. Are there heartaches and headaches that come from living a disability? Yes. Are there a lot of things to be thankful for in my life of disability? Absolutely! One of the main things I’m thankful for is the opportunity I get every day when I wake up to be inspired, learn and grow, and be productive. This is living well.


(Thanks to Terri Otteni, RN, Pediatric Alliance — Northland, for passing along Dave Hale’s inspiring observations about living with a disability.)



This Saturday, August 12, The Woodlands Foundation (134 Shenot Road, Wexford, PA) hosts a workshop presented by Pediatric Alliance entitled “It Takes A Village: Autism/Learning Disabilities.” Here is the lineup of speakers for the event:

A Significant Difficulty – Autism Spectrum Disorder: A discussion with a focus on early diagnosis, new research, socialization, and other therapies — presented by Michael Petrosky, MD, FAAP, Pediatric Alliance — Wexford.

Executive Functioning: This encompasses cognitive, behavioral, and emotional regulation — presented by Dr. Erika Buchanan, Licensed Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist from the Center for Pediatric Neuropsychology.

Learning Disabilities and Navigating School Based Services — presented by Damian Ternullo, MD, FAAP, Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair.

Guest speaker: Kristin C. Weidus, Esq., Ruder Law – Advocates for the rights of children in public schools.

The Woodlands Foundation: Enrichment for people of all ages living with disabilities and chronic illness, while providing respite for families — presented by Jesse Solomon, Director of Programs.

Local resources will be available with materials and additional information following Q&A.

Learn more about “It Takes A Village: Autism/Learning Disabilities” and register for the class here.


Here’s more about The Woodlands:

The Woodlands is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children and adults with disability and chronic illness. Using its fully accessible and barrier-free facilities, The Woodlands’ programs enable participants to experience social, cultural, environmental, recreational and spiritual growth. Serenely nestled in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, The Woodlands’ 52-acre site features: an indoor heated pool, 48-bed lodge, dining hall, creative arts and computer lab, activity center, camping area, sports court, nature trail, adapted zip line, amphitheater, adapted kitchen, adapted archery range, and a par-3 adapted golf course. The Woodlands sponsors a variety of programs and is also available year-round to other organizations that serve individuals with special needs.


Read about prior visits to The Woodlands by The PediaBlog here.


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