By Amber Swal – WUFT contributor
Isabelle Hadala likes to play soccer. She likes to hang out with her friends. She likes to read and watch TV.
She can do almost everything anyone else can do – except use scissors, she said.
Isabelle, 14, of Maitland, was born with ectodermal dysplasia, a genetic condition commonly known as “lobster claw syndrome” that affected the development of her teeth, fingers and toes.
A nationally recognized author and speaker, Isabelle addressed an audience of about 500 people on March 3 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville.
She serves as an anti-bullying ambassador for STOMP Out Bullying, an anti-bullying and cyberbullying organization, and travels with her message that kindness can be contagious.
After her speech, people gathered in a line stacked two to three people thick in the church’s atrium to have Isabelle sign her book – “The First Day Speech” – about a student’s experiences on his first day of first grade.
She wrote the phrase, “Embrace your difference,” in the more than 100 books she sold and signed.
In her speech, she told the audience she got tired of answering the same questions about her hands every day, so before she started first grade, she asked her parents if she could tell her class on the first day of school that she is different, and she’s also the same.
“I was really nervous, but I do remember telling my class that I was not contagious and that if you hold my hand, your hand will not fall off,” Isabelle said.
Each year of elementary school she shared the same speech with her class.
Most classmates responded to her well, but some didn’t. They bullied her.
Isabelle was upset about the bullying, but it inspired her to write “The First Day Speech” when she was in seventh grade.
The book is about a boy named Nathan who shares the same general first-day fears as his classmates. At the end of the book, the reader learns Nathan has another worry that the other students in his class do not – he has a cleft lip.
Newell Fox, 39, a father of two, said the book could bring up the idea of bullying in homes and schools before it even starts.
Fox said Isabelle’s story and her ability to control a podium at such a young age inspired him to donate more money to her cause. He said he was bullied when he was young and with the prevalence of social media now, bullying can move even faster than it used to.
Isabelle’s mom, Jackie Hadala, said the book is important because it shows other children who are different they’re not alone, but she said it’s also important for bullies to read.
She said by reading it they might realize the pain they’re causing and stop bullying.
By revealing a noticeable physical difference at the end of the book, it shows that children who have differences are like everyone else, she said. They just look different.
Hadala, a mother of three, said bullying is not always taking lunch money, beating children up on the playground or name-calling.
“Sometimes it’s not the words you say,” she said. “It’s not saying anything at all. It’s the stares and the pointing.”
She said silent bullying can create just as much sadness as physical bullying because it excludes the child.
Hadala said Isabelle’s social networks and her family’s support helped her get through the bullying she experienced.
She said it’s been therapeutic for Isabelle to share her story and hear other people’s stories, too.