March Madness, forget College Basketball. Dudes the Bruins were on! In all seriousness the month of March was incredible for me. And a bit ‘mad’ as in crazy busy but for something important.
I joined a fantastic group of people at Abby’s school and created Special Needs Awareness Month.
The program happened because of Abby. We were at a therapy appointment of Boo’s and she saw a classmate. She told me that she never realized XX was special needs. She wish she had known because she would have helped him more. I was shocked. How could this child who lives with a special needs sibling not see the uniqueness of a classmate?
Thus an initiative was born. Working with teachers, parents and administrators at Abby’s school we created a month-long, school-wide event. It was a simple concept:
Each week we had conversation starters, activities, videos and books for the classrooms to use. Every class, kindergarten to grade 8, participated. Every discipline, gym to library to music to art added to the program.
Week One focused on the children’s definition of challenge: something that is hard for you to do without help. We had pictures of celebrities with disabilities (the girls swooned over Justin Timberlake–ADD and Orlando Bloom–dyslexia).
So what is it? What is something hard for you to do?
The response was heartwarming to heartbreaking: It’s hard for me to catch frogs to I spend a lot of time in the hospital.
Each week the program grew. And you know what? It worked. The school nurse during W3/Down Syndrome week ended up sharing a story about her favorite cousin. With the entire school. Children went home and talked to their parents about empathy and those with special needs. They saw the video Just Like You and understood that friendships are built on love not need.
We had each student write down their challenge and hung them in school entrance. A teacher walked by, read a few and said, “These are all my challenges”. We all have trouble making friends, speaking in public, doing math homework. Some of our challenges are more difficult: being in the hospital, having asthma when you want to run, losing a parent, having dyslexia.
A young boy expressed that he wasn’t afraid to say he had ADD. Today. I pray for his tomorrow.
My friend, Kristi, recently asked how to create a world of empathy and understanding. A world where we wouldn’t have to worry about her beautiful son or my Boo being bullied because they are not typical.
It starts with you. And me. And our children. Integration means that your typical child will become friends with Boo or Tucker or Kayla or Little Dude. They become friends with children who are not typical but have something extra. Children’s ideals are formed at such a young age. They see friends where parents see ability.
Like the video says, understanding leads to acceptance. By having open dialogue with students and their challenges our school tried to create a small epicenter of tolerance, acceptance and peace.
How about you? What’s your challenge?
I urge each and every one of you to begin seeing the ability in a child and not the disability. If anyone would like to implement this in your school please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you our program.