Success Stories Within The IDD Community: Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is a competitive swimmer who is known for being the most decorated Olympian of all time. Throughout his life, Phelps struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But, he did not let that stop him from accomplishing his dreams.

Early Life:

Michael Fred Phelps was born on June 30th, 1985 in Baltimore, Maryland. Phelps is the youngest of his three siblings. For education, he attended Rodgers Forge Elementary, Dumbarton Middle School, and Towson High School. In kindergarten, his teacher told his mother that Phelps would never be able to focus on anything. In classes, he was known for being a troublemaker. When Phelps was 9 years old, his parents got divorced. He later said that this negatively impacted him as his relationship with his father grew weaker. 

When Phelps was in the sixth grade, he was diagnosed with ADHD. Shortly after this, his mom decided that he should try swimming as a way to release his energy. At first, Phelps hated swimming, but once he got a hang of it he started to love it. 

“Once I figured out how to swim, I felt so free. I could go fast in the pool, it turned out, in part because being in the pool slowed down my mind. In the water, I felt, for the first time, in control.”

Michael Phelps

Although Phelps had a difficult time concentrating in the classroom, he excelled in the pool. By age 10 Michael Phelps held a national rank as a swimmer. When he was 11 years, he met renowned swim coach Bob Bowman. Although the two butted heads at first, Bowman saw potential in Phelps and continued to work with him. 

Career Success:

At the young age of 15, Phelps swam for the first time at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Since then, he has medaled at every Summer Olympics event he has participated in. In total, Michael Phelps has 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which are gold medals. Phelps has competed in numerous World Championships, Pan Pacific Championships, and Olympics. 

In 2012, Phelps announced his first retirement from the sport of swimming. But, in 2014, he announced that he would be coming out of retirement. In May 2014, he competed and won gold in the 100-meter butterfly event at the Arena Grand Prix in Charlotte, North Carolina. Phelps continued to compete in the 2015 US Nationals and 2016 Summer Olympics before officially retiring. His last event was the  4 × 100-meter medley relay in which he won his 28th gold medal. He had an amazing career!  

Current Day:

On June 13, 2016, Phelps was married to Nicole Johnson, who is a former Miss California. Together they have three sons: Boomer, Beckett, and Maverick. Phelps, along with Coach Bowman, volunteer as coaches for the Arizona State swim team. 

Be sure to check out our previous success story featuring RJ Mitte and a similar success story featuring Li Xiang!





https://www.biography.com/athlete/michael-phelps https://www.britannica.com/biography/Michael-Phelps


Success Stories Within The IDD Community: RJ Mitte

If you have ever seen the television show Breaking Bad, you may be familiar with the character Walter “Flynn” White Jr. White was played by the actor RJ Mitte. Mitte is an American actor who lives with cerebral palsy. 

Early Life:

Roy Frank “RJ” Mitte III was born on August 21, 1992, in Jackson, Mississippi. When he was born, he was not breathing. This resulted in permanent brain damage. He was adopted by Roy Frank Mitte Jr. and Dyna Mitte. At the age of 3, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. His doctors put his legs in casts in order to straighten them. Mitte spent most of his childhood using crutches and wearing leg braces. By the time he was a teenager, his body had developed the strength to not need these devices! When he was 14, he moved with his mother and his younger sister to Los Angeles. This is where his career as an actor started to blossom.

Career Success:

Mitte is most famously known for his role in Breaking Bad, but he has held several other roles in various television series. In 2007, he played a variety of extras, including “School Jock,” on the television show Hannah Montana. These roles piqued his interest in film and he began taking acting lessons. Shortly after this, in 2008, Mitte was offered the role of Walter “Flynn” White Jr. on the television series Breaking Bad. He acted on this show until 2013. He has also appeared in various short films and music videos.

Mitte has received several awards for his performances and his activism work. In 2013, he received the SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award for his role as Walter “Flynn” White Jr. on the television series Breaking Bad. The Screen Actors Guild named him as an advocate for actors with disabilities. Mitte is also a supporter of “Inclusion in the Arts and Media of Performers with Disabilities,” which aids actors with disabilities with getting jobs. He also has an award named after him – the RJ Mitte Diversity Award. 

Mitte is an active spokesperson for people with disabilities, specifically cerebral palsy. In fact, he is a celebrity ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy. He has spoken several times about growing up with cerebral palsy and the challenges that he overcame. 

“People with CP [cerebal palsy] overcome hurdles every day. One thing I’ve learned from my disability is that when there is an obstacle, you adapt and grow. You can’t let that obstacle break you down and discourage you.”

RJ Mitte

Current Day:

Today, RJ Mitte is still performing in various productions and continuing his activism work. Most recently, in 2019, he portrayed the character of Leif in the television series Now Apocalypse

Be sure to check out our previous success story featuring Susan Boyle and a similar success story featuring Daniel Radcliffe!







Success Stories Within The IDD Community: Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle is a Scottish singer. She is known for participating in the television show, Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. In fact, she came incredibly close to winning! 

Early Life:

Susan Magdalane Boyle was born on April 1, 1961, in Dechmont, West Lothian, Scotland. Boyle was the youngest of her four brothers and five sisters. As a child, she was told that during her birth she did not have enough oxygen, which caused a learning disability. In 2012 she learned that this was a false diagnosis. During this time, Boyle learned that she had Asperger syndrome. During her school years, she was frequently bullied. But, she found peace in music and singing.

At the age of 12, she started to perform in musical productions at her school. She had many teachers who saw her talent and encouraged her to keep going! This would influence her career later in life. When Boyle graduated from high school, she trained as a cook for a short period of time before starting at the Edinburgh Acting School. Here she was able to further her musical training. 

Career Success:

In 1995, Boyle auditioned for a British television show called My Kind of People. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful. After this, she recorded a demo tape which she sent to many talent competitions and record companies. Sadly, Boyle took a break from music in 2000 when her sister passed away. She resumed her music career in 2002 but did not receive much attention. After her mother passed away in 2007, Boyle took another break from music. But, in 2009, she auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent. She sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical  Les Misérables. Her audition was met with immense applause and a standing ovation! Visit this link to watch her audition

“Unmarried women in their forties, with false teeth and tousled hair, aren’t usually held in the highest esteem by our society. The feeling seemed to be that if I could be a success then anyone could!”

Susan Boyle

Although she did not win her season of Britain’s Got Talent, she finished as a semifinalist. She received attention worldwide for her voice! Boyle was signed by Simon Cowell’s label Syco Entertainment. She released 8 albums and has gone on worldwide tours. Boyle has seen numerous successes in the music industry. To name a few, she has sold over 25 million albums, received 2 Grammy nominations and 3 Guinness World Records, and has sung for famous people such as the Pope! 

Current Day:

Today, Boyle is still an active artist at Syco Entertainment. She continues to perform on tour and appear on various television shows around the globe. 

Be sure to check out our previous success story featuring Temple Gradin and a similar success story featuring Andrea Bocelli!







Success Stories Within The IDD Community: Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is an American scientist and animal behaviorist. She is best known for her work of creating a humane system for the slaughtering of livestock. Her experience with Autism aided her in creating this system.

Early Life:

Mary Temple Grandin was born on August 29, 1947, in Boston, Massachusetts. As a child, Grandin did not speak until she was three and a half years old. When she was young, the only formal diagnosis she was given was brain damage. Grandin was not formally diagnosed with autism until later in life. 

Grandin attended many different schools up until high school. School was occasionally difficult for her as she was taunted by some of her classmates. In fact, she was expelled from  Beaver Country Day School at the age of 14 for throwing a book at a classmate who made fun of her.

After Grandin was expelled from Beaver Country Day School, she went on to attend Mountain Country School. It was here that she came up with her idea of the “hug box” or the “squeeze machine.” She had many supportive mentors at the Mountain County School. 

When Grandin was 15, her parents got divorced. A few years later, Grandin’s mother married Ben Cutler. Grandin spent her summers on his sister’s ranch. This experience was key in shaping the rest of her career. 

Career Success:

Grandin is known widely for her research and ideas on the humane treatment of livestock, specifically in the case of slaughter. She is also recognized worldwide as a spokesperson on autism

Living with autism allowed Gradin to connect with animals and think in different ways. As mentioned previously, Gradin did not speak until she was three and a half years old. She expressed herself in nonverbal ways. Verbal communication is not needed to interact with animals. Grandin’s experience with autism enabled her to connect with animals because she thinks in pictures. Similarly, there is scientific evidence that animals also think in pictures and have sensory-based memories.

“Animal cognition has similarities to autism cognition. Animals are very aware of small, sensory details in the environment. People on the autism spectrum excel at work involving details.”


When reflecting upon her childhood, Grandin recognized that she often sought out “deep pressure stimulation,” like a hug, when she felt overwhelmed. When working on her aunt’s ranch, she realized that this might apply to slaughtering livestock as well. During this time, the animals are overstimulated, so “deep pressure stimulation” would calm the animals down.

After several prototypes, Grandin developed a “hug machine”/ “squeeze chair.”  Grandin’s invention has been proven to have a calming effect and is now used in several different scenarios. This has been adopted with slaughtering livestock and in some therapy programs for children and adults living with autism.

Current Day:

Despite facing many challenges when she was growing up, Grandin used her experiences with autism to her advantage. Living with autism allowed her to think differently and see issues from another point of view, eventually leading to her success. In 2010, Grandin was named 100 of the most influential people in the world under the category of “Heroes” by Time 100. She also starred in her semi-biographical movie. Today Grandin is a faculty member at the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University.

Be sure to check out our previous success story featuring Stevie Wonder and a similar success story featuring Angela Bachiller!




https://www.bancroft.org/bancroft_stories/temple-grandin/ https://www.templegrandin.com/