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UNR Student Encourages Kids To Dream Big With New Book

Dave White, a junior studying special education at the University of Nevada, Reno, has just published his first book. It’s a story for children about overcoming obstacles, something Dave has done in his own life. Our contributor Luiza Vieira has this profile.

“Pop-pop, why don’t we go onto space? Why don’t we go to the moon?”

Dave is reading from his book Jack and Pop-pop’s Spectacular Journey. It’s pretty early in the morning but he colors the room with his charisma and psychedelic tie-dye T-shirt.

“The story is about a kid named Jack who dreams big, big dreams and he lives alone with his grandpa Pop-pop.”  

Like Jack, Dave always believes he can do anything. It’s just a matter of working hard. But the real story here is hidden behind the pages. Since the day he was born, Dave has been fighting the odds.

“When he was born he had no suck, he was blue, he wasn't crying. It was the worse day of my life."

That’s his mom and full-time nurse, Joanne White. 

Joanne and Dave coming home from the hospital.

Dave was born with cerebral palsy, a group of movement disorders caused by brain damage. Early on he was not able to suck or move. Other symptoms can include problems with muscle coordination and speech.

“There were stories of, he might not walk, he might not do this, he might not do that.”

After an emotional phone call, I head to Joanne’s cabin in Truckee, where I’m welcomed by her and Dave.

We gather around the living room next to a box full of pictures and cards. Joanne says they are mostly good memories, but some are still raw 25 years later.

Joanne is showing me a picture of Dave in his hospital bed. He’s using a ventilator to help him breathe.

To stimulate his senses, the doctors told Joanne to put pictures around his bed and play music that she listened to while pregnant.  

“It was so cute because the minute I put that music in there it was the first time he started moving,” she says. “It was almost like he was trying to get his shoulders up to his ears like, 'Oh, my god, she's singing it again, not that music.'”

Credit Joanne White
Dave on the ICU bed days after he was born.

That moment, Dave achieved the first of many milestones, but there was a lot of work ahead of him. For most of his childhood, he wore an orthopedic brace that went from his feet all the way up his calf. He also went to speech, occupational and physiotherapy almost every day.

Frustrated with the lack of adequate therapy services and health insurance support, Joanne decided to open a therapy center with other friends in Davis, California.

“We formed together and we went non-profit and we formed our own children's therapy center which offered these services for these kids.”

The center started in 1993 with only two therapists and now there are 17 full-time professionals who serve almost 400 kids with special needs a year.


On top of all of his difficulties, Dave was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, most knows as ADHD, in first grade.  

“There were windows right behind me, and I would just stare out the window,s tare into the courtyard. Kids would be passing back and forth, back and forth,” he says. “My teacher always thought I was ignoring her and somewhat slower than the other kids when all I had was a simple case of ADHD.”

Joanne says ADHD was a sort of a blessing and a curse to White.

Credit Joanne White
Dave drawing at the dinner table.

"Sitting in the back of the class, he couldn't understand the class, so he would doodle. A lot of his art work is from doodling as a little guy.” 

None of that stopped Dave from living a full life, which included art classes, basketball and snowboarding.

After high school, Dave headed to college in Colorado, where he found yet another interest.

“He's walking through all the clubs and that's when someone recognized him and asked, 'Dude, can you play lacrosse?' He said, 'I can't run.' They tried out for the team and he went on anyway and got on the team and made first cut.”

With special cleats giving him more support when running, Dave became a starter and played NCAA lacrosse during his freshman year.

While his differences couldn’t be noticed on the field, Dave did not feel the same in the classroom because of his ADHD. Even though the school had a disability center, he refused to accept that help.

“I was allowed to take any of my services for my classes like extra time on tests, different accommodations,” Dave says. “But I didn't want to take my accommodations, mainly because it was a very small school and I'm 6'4 and I knew that everyone would notice I was out of class and I didn't want to be different.” 

Dave ended up dropping out of school and moving to Truckee. One year later, he got accepted into UNR. With the help of his English professor Rachel Salas he found another talent, writing.

“Just the process of using my imagination and channeling my eight-year-old-self of drawing cartoons back in the day. Dr. Salas just sparked something in me,” he says. “The last class period, right after taking the final, I went up to her and I was like, 'How do I go about publishing my very own children’s book?' She gave me all these different names of people and all these different sources.”

Salas has been teaching children’s literature classes for 20 years and says Dave was her only student to publish a book.

“He’s the first person to actually take me seriously about developing a children’s book, so I was very excited that he wanted to do that and that he wanted to put the time and the energy into it."

Credit Luiza Vieira
Prof. Rachel Salas and Dave talking about his book Jack and Pop-pop's Spectacular Adventure.

His first book was about overcoming personal challenges and Dave says his next book will tackle the perception of disabilities.

“Have you ever seen Fight Club? First rule of Fight Club: Don't speak about Fight Club. Unfortunately, that's how I feel about learning differences. For many people, the first rule of learning differences is you don't speak about learning differences. I'm really trying to change that.”

The upcoming sequel will have a Wild West theme and will introduce a new character: Jack’s little sister, Emma, who has cerebral palsy. Dave says he wants all kids to know that, no matter what, everyone is allowed to dream big, big dreams. 


Luiza Vieira is a former contributor at KUNR Public Radio.
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