Siblings deliver message of acceptance

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on May 6, 2016 in Rat News | Subscribe

In Tommy Glatzmayer’s case, words can speak louder than actions.

Hurt by his schoolmates making fun of his older sister’s disability, he decided to write a book with his mother.

“I’d always come home crying, almost every day, because it happened all the time,” said Tommy, 13.

Wanting to make things better for Melanie, who is now 16, Tommy felt the best way to educate his peers would be through the written word.

“I just thought if my friends saw it on paper, they’d learn better,” said Tommy, who, in 2010, co-authored Melanie and Tommy Have Two Pet Rats and One Syndrome. “If someone doesn’t know it, they’re obviously going to make fun of it. But if they learn, they’re going to stop teasing.”

And it worked.

“They just all of a sudden stopped teasing,” Tommy said in an interview Friday morning before he made a presentation at Rama Central School. “I guess they noticed what they were doing, and I guess they decided to stop.”

Melanie was born with Cornelia de Lange syndrome, a rare condition that has left her with several developmental delays, including hearing and vision problems, speech delays and difficulty eating. She has had 14 procedures and operations, and the condition seems more controllable now, said her mother, Nathalie Wendling. Over the years, with the help of hearing aids and interaction with Tommy, Melanie has developed a vocabulary of 1,000 words and also knows American sign language.

Since the book was released six years ago, Tommy and Melanie have made more than 80 presentations at schools, hospitals, fundraisers and at conferences across Canada and the U.S.

Accompanying Tommy and Melanie on their tours are their parents, Don Glatzmayer and Wendling, and their furry friends, Rideau, Frosty and Tinker Bell, the family’s pet rats.

The brother-sister duo engaged the audience with a multimedia demonstration of how Cornelia de Lange syndrome makes Melanie different from her peers, displaying, by example, how she will always have feet and hands smaller than those her age.

The two also answered questions from the audience. But what drew in students for a closer look was the concluding rat race that took place on a closed track the family brought along.

“I liked it a lot,” said Gavin Lapp, a 14-year-old, Grade 8 student. “It’s a connection about somebody my age doing something for the good of the community and it inspired me to help them by raising awareness.”

Tommy’s mission in support of his sister isn’t showing signs of slowing. This year, he started a drum circle for both able-bodied students and those with disabilities at his current school: St. Mark Catholic High School in Manotick.

“It gets everybody together and people can make friends,” he said. “There are so many clubs for me to take part in at school, but they have no clubs for people with disabilities.”

Tommy and Melanie hope their message — “If you see someone different, smile and say hi” — resonated with the Rama Central students and will help discourage discrimination against those with disabilities. 

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