Disabled East Dayton teenager takes on the challenges of life


Photo: Jeff Allen

Nicholas Neal and his mother Joann Long.

Imagine not being able to perform like your peers, not being able to think every complex thought you’ve ever thought before, and being considered an outcast by some. Imagine not being able to control these circumstances.

This is an unfortunate reality for Dayton teen, Nicholas Neal, who is faced with multiple learning disorders and a speech impediment.

To some, Neal is considered mentally retarded, “special,” and different. Although the delicacy that we take towards this topic in today’s society is widely known, Neal still says people treat him differently. “I mean I think I’m normal but people think I’m not,” Neal said.

He has completely capable friends, he’s played baseball a good part of his life, even at the varsity level in high school. He’s had normal relationships, does normal things, and yet often times gets looked down upon.

Neal thinks that the slowness of his mental state is simply just a disadvantage. “They think they got more advantage than me, because I’m like disability and they not,” he said.

Neal is an 18-year old graduate of Belmont High School where he took special classes for students with mental and behavioral issues.

In school he performed well, but his mother, Joann Long says he kept the simplistic perception that he developed at a young age and has always had.

“He’s just real matter of fact, he doesn’t overthink anything like so many of us do,” Long said. “But then again he doesn’t realize the obvious either.”

Long, the mother of Neal and his older brother Shane, think that he’s normal when it comes to the body, and his growth. “He’s normal physically, his mind is just wired differently,” she said.

Neal, born and raised on the streets of East Dayton, never had trouble getting along with his peers. He’s always had a rather large array of friends and people that he hangs out with on a regular basis.

The way he was wasn’t a problem to too many other kids and the way he talked became sort of his own language among others.

Long says Neal’s disabilities never stopped him from making friends. “He has friendships lasting over 10 years which is kind of unusual a little bit,” Long said. “He’s got quite a few of them and these kids just accepted that’s the way he was from the get-go.”

Nick’s mother, Joann, is his muse, the thing that keeps him going. “My mom helps me to get up and go to work, without my mom I probably be nobody,” he said.

Another thing about people with disabilities, that some don’t realize, is that they have emotions and insecurities, just like you and me. “I feel pretty good, pretty depressed, pretty sad, lonely sometimes, I feel happy that friends care about me,” Neal said. “Another part of myself, I don’t like my speech, my teeth, normal people have good teeth, good eyes and speech and stuff.”

As any average person often does, Neal has strengths and weaknesses. “I think I’m better than some people at sports and video games,” he said. “But not the real world, I need to practice that.”

When addressed about the real world, Neal has a sort of hesitation. He’s scared and doubtful, that in his mental state, he can make it alone in the “real world.”

“Same time I think–I .. 50/50 for me,” Neal said. “I think I’m going to be homeless but same time people say ‘no, you’re going to be fine,’ but I don’t think I can make it in the real world.”

Neal says the only difference between himself and today’s “cliche” young adults is how ill-prepared he is to be out on his own. “They can start earlier than me, I’m going to start more later than them, because I ain’t ready,” he said. “They ready, but not as much as they think they is.”

Neal is a normal person, even if he is considered “special.” His mental perception is just altered. He has this way of breaking down everything to it’s simplest form. His mind is wired differently for sure, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

He just simply accepts his state of mind, and acknowledges that his brain works a little slower and more unusual than others. “I think whole different thing than other people, like I’m in my own world,” Neal said. “They think normal stuff, I think crazy stuff. Simple as that.”