Including Aidan

This week, on the Inclusion Potluck, we welcome Heather, author of Team Aidan, to share her thoughts on inclusion and her unique perspective. We hope you are as touched by her piece as we were.

Inclusion is a trigger word for me. It’s the kind of word that makes me want to pull out all of my hair and run screaming for the hills.

My son Aidan has an undiagnosed developmental disability, and I have years of experience now with IEP meetings.

The first years of Aidan’s schooling were hard for all of the usual reasons. As his educational team, we did our best to include Aidan and learn from each other, but we also came to the table with different expectations.

While I will continue to beat the drum for inclusion at school, I realize that school is not the only place Aidan will experience life. While it hasn’t exactly been easier to involve him elsewhere, it’s been more of a priority.

When Aidan was five years old, we spent the weekend with family. Aidan and his cousins are all close in age. It was time for the big family pancake breakfast. As I was indulging in a quiet moment, enjoying my coffee before getting Aidan up, I heard the kids counting to three. Then I heard, ‘Okay, take a break.” Then, more counting. This continued for a few minutes until Aidan appeared in the kitchen, carried by his cousins. Of course, everyone deserves pancake breakfast! They worked together, smartly and safely, to get him where they were going. With no instructions, legal mandates, or formal training, Aidan’s cousins knew he belonged with them.

Aidan also participated in both a pig’s heart dissection and bird dissection experiment. Under the supervision of their very eccentric Pop, these same cousins got their hands on some science. Now, Aidan tends to put his hands in his mouth quite a bit, so the activity was changed up a bit for him. Aidan held a hard boiled egg instead of a heart and didn’t get to use the surgical grade scalpel. He looked at the diagram, peered through the magnifying glasses and watched as his cousins cut away. With these accommodations, there was never a question that Aidan would participate.

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Aidan and his cousin getting ready to dissect a bird

When Aidan was old enough to start attending church camp, I got a call from our children’s director. “Why isn’t Aidan signed up yet?” Realizing Aidan would need a one-to-one aide and some modified activities, I didn’t want to impose on their already stretched resources. The children’s director gave me a good talking-to on that one. “This is his home church, and these are his friends. He needs to be here.” He belongs.

In these other settings the question isn’t, “Where does Aidan belong?” but rather, “Aidan belongs with us. How do we make that happen?” I sometimes still get discouraged when I think about inclusion in the school setting, but wherever we go, the park, the beach, or the store, some child always says hello to Aidan. They know him because they’ve been in a class together, or they’ve seen him around the hallways in his powerchair. He’s been included, perhaps not to the degree I’d wanted, but enough that others recognize him as their peer. They understand that he belongs, and that gives me hope.

–Written by Heather, of Team Aidan, edited by KIT Staff

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Heather met her husband in a castle in Ireland and they have 2 handsome sons. When Heather is not involved in the myriad of tasks required in raising a child with a disability, she can be found with her hands on her piano, her nose in a book, or her fingers at her keyboard blogging at Team Aidan.

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

Asanas For Autism

This week, we are ecstatic to share a post by Shawnee Thornton, founder of Asanas for Autism, who expressed her views on inclusion for us. We hope you enjoy!

Shawnee_Isaac embryoWith education, compassion, understanding, and a sprinkle of creativity, we can adapt any activity to meet the needs of any child. It is a basic need of all humans to be accepted, included, and loved. When we are able to see through a child’s behaviors to identify what it is that they want or need, we can support them in getting their needs met, feeling safe in the world around them, and blossoming into the best little humans that they can be. Inclusion is about accepting children for who they are and adapting our views, our ways of thinking and doing, for them to feel accepted.

My vision of an inclusive world is a world in which we teach our children early on to embrace others for their differences, their imperfections, their quirks, their individuality, their humanness, and their awkwardness, and to embrace their own uniqueness as well. An inclusive world is a world where all children have the same opportunities and are viewed equally, regardless of their abilities.

shawnee-childs-groupThe biggest focus on inclusion came to me when I began teaching yoga to children with special needs. I noticed that there were many yoga classes, camps, and opportunities out there for children to benefit from yoga, but there were very few opportunities for children with special needs to participate in yoga activities in their community. I wanted children with special needs to have access to yoga, so they could develop tools for reducing anxiety and soothing their nervous systems. Developing coping skills for stress and anxiety will not only support children with special needs in participating in more activities with their families and community; it will also support them in living happier, healthier, more peaceful lives. 

Shawnee_river 2One of my most memorable inclusion experiences is when I taught an inclusive yoga class to a group of children. The group consisted of many levels of abilities. I gave some of the children the role of being the “helpers.” They were each paired with a child who needed extra support or assistance in doing the poses. The children who were more independent responded so well to being able to help their peers who needed additional support and the children who needed extra help were excited to have yoga bring them together with their classmates. They each shared something with the other– compassion, trust, appreciation, and the notion that we are all different but very much the same in many ways. Children can learn so much from one another when they are in a trusting, open environment where we embrace and celebrate each other’s differences.

–Written by Shawnee Thornton, edited by KIT Staff.

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Shawnee has worked with children with autism and special needs for over 15 years. She has specialized in working with children with significant cognitive and language delays, sensory processing deficits, as well as severe behavior problems. Shawnee has a Master’s in Special Education, is a 500-RYT, E-RYT a Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance, a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, and the Founder of Asanas for Autism and Special Needs. She has a published book coming out in December 2014, titled Asanas for Autism and Special Needs: Yoga to Help Children with their Emotions, Self-Regulation and Body Awareness.  She has also created a Yoga School, Asanas for Autism and Special Needs, through Yoga Alliance, in order to train and certify others to teach yoga to children with special needs.

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

The Girl Behind the Blog

Hi everyone!

Now that I’ve been writing and editing for the Inclusion Potluck for a few months now, I guess it’s about time (or, really, past time…) that I tell you a bit about myself! My name is Elise Hopkins, I work as KIT’s Blog Writer/Editor, and I am most definitely an Inclusionista, as we like to say at KIT. I have actually been an Inclusionista since age 12…

When I was in sixth grade, I starred in my middle school’s production of Tom Sawyer as Becky Thatcher. I absolutely loved being on the stage. It was such a rush. One of my favorite parts of the production was getting my hair and makeup done before the show; it made me feel like a superstar. The young woman who did my makeup turned out to be seventeen-year-old Micaela Connery, founder of Unified Theater, Inc. As she told me about her experience with Unified Theater, a program that provides theater for everyone, with no auditions or competition, I was inspired. knew I was going to love it. Unified Theater allows kids to create and facilitate their own inclusive programs using the arts. I wanted to be able to share my love of performance with students who had never had the opportunity to shine on stage.

I ended up starting my middle school’s first Unified Theater program, serving as its Student Director. Through this position, I began developing my leadership skills from a very young age. The best skill I learned from Unified Theater was the ability to see the good in all people. Every single person has a talent that they can share. You just have to be willing to look and listen for it. The lack of competition in Unified Theater allowed us all to blossom, seeing each other for our abilities instead of disabilities.

Throughout high school and college, I continued my work with Unified Theater, carrying with me the lessons I learned from inclusion. I now work as a special education teacher in Chicago, and I am a huge advocate for inclusive settings for my students whenever and wherever possible. As a product of inclusion, I know its power. We need to teach our kids to be tolerant and welcoming, and to see the best in everyone they meet. By shining the spotlight on ability, we raise people’s awareness of the talents and contributions that all people can make. Instead of searching for flaws, we find possibilities. headshotAnd who doesn’t want their kids to be people who look for good in the world?

–Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Writer and Editor

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

September’s Advo-KIT of the Month: Chantal!

Every month the KIT staff nominates and votes for one person who we feel stands out as an inclusion Advo-KIT. These nominees have not just hopped on board the inclusion train; they are shoveling the coal and blowing the whistle! This month we are recognizing Chantal Lane, from The New Children’s Museum in San Diego!

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Chantal Lane, Education Coordinator at The New Children’s Museum in San Diego.

Chantal was nominated by KIT Affiliate Coordinator, Viviana H. Saint-Louis, who says that “Chantal cares and wants to provide a quality experience for all of the children that attend the museum activities. She has supported her counselors and part time staff to be flexible and open for full inclusion in their programs. This summer, the museum was able to include a child with muscular dystrophy, and Chantal reports that it is going great! They are pioneering the ways to accommodate children of all differences & abilities into their camp programs.

When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion?  
“I suppose my first introduction to inclusion was through a KIT presentation about 10 years ago, when I worked for a different Museum. I don’t think that I saw inclusion as a “thing” before that….Call me an idealist, but I just assumed the world was more accommodating than it really is. As I have moved forward in my career and have managed programs that welcome more and more kids, it has become a priority to make inclusion visible. Most often, people just need to be made aware of it to get on board!”
What do you love about inclusion?
“What I love about inclusion is seeing kids playing side-by-side with kids of all backgrounds and all abilities. I truly believe that kids don’t make assumptions about the ability of other kids – or about their own abilities – until someone tells them to do so. The beauty of inclusion is that no one draws those boundaries for them.”

What is your vision for an inclusive world?
“Inclusion is a no-brainer. Open your programs, offer what you can, and communicate. Again, maybe I’m an idealist, but shouldn’t it always be that way?”

Did you overcome a barrier or roadblock regarding exclusion/inclusion?
“The hardest part is getting past the fear of reaching out. I think there is an initial fear that opening your program to all children will be complicated or may bring a long list of liabilities. Navigating through it all with a great partner like KIT has made it a breeze. We are still working on full inclusion, but we (NCM) feel confident in this rewarding process.”

What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences?
“This summer, The Museum’s camps program welcomed a spirited 6-year-old girl with muscular dystrophy. This little girl was up for anything! She joined us for art-making, break dancing, kite-flying, and countless other active and creative endeavors. Our staff helped her navigate through some challenges, but she was right there alongside her camp-mates through everything. It was a blast!”

What is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children?
“If you don’t make an issue of it, neither will they! Kids have an amazing ability to be open and accepting.”

–Written and edited by KIT Staff

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

Business as a Form of Advocacy

Teddy-in-hoodieTeddy Fitzmaurice, President of Teddy’s Ts, designs, paints, and sells his t-shirts and buttons promoting human rights and disability advocacy. Teddy, an entrepreneur with Down syndrome, is striving for independence and a self-directed life. The business helps Teddy be the independent person he wants to be. His micro-enterprise demonstrates how inclusion drives success. Teddy lives in his own condo on a level beneath his mom’s condo. He graduated from high school in 2003, but he continues to learn through cooking classes and his business, which he began in April 2006. He has sold his t-shirts and buttons in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, and many more places he would not have visited otherwise.

His business is a form of advocacy. People meet Teddy and realize how many misconceptions there are about people with Down syndrome. They also realize that a person with Down syndrome can care very deeply about causes that affect others.

Teddy believes in the dignity of every person, no matter their background, lifestyle, beliefs, or abilities. His buttons and shirts are not just about disability awareness, but also gay rights, reproductive rights, religious diversity, peace, animal rights, and so much more.  Teddy is a proud member of two activist organizations – ADAPT and Not Dead Yet.

Teddy spent the summer of 2010 learning to silkscreen. It’s a process– some shirts come out as expected, while others come with a few surprises, little extra ink blobs here and there.  Please continue to support him while he learns!

Some t-shirts are professionally printed in one-color, similar to a coloring book.  Then, Teddy hand paints in extra color. Teddy tries to paint inside the lines, but just like the rest of us, he strays a bit every once in a while.

Teddy paintingHe also makes all of the small buttons himself, using a Badge-A-Mint electronic button-making machine. Teddy can make about fifty buttons in an hour.

On August 19, 2013, Teddy received the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority (OCCMHA) Dan Moran Award for Inclusion and Advocacy. As the award recipient, Teddy accompanied the OCCMHA Executive Director during “Hill Day” in Washington D.C. This event is held to educate members of Congress about important issues related to people who have disabilities.

Teddy and his mom are available to speak at conferences, schools, and places where people support individuals with disabilities to become self-employed. His mom has worked to craft a business that Teddy enjoys and is successful at. It did not happen overnight, and many changes are still ahead. Some of the solutions they found to accommodate Teddy’s disabilities will work for most micro-enterprises. If you are passionate about supporting a person who is making their mark in the world, and that has the desire to do something more with their life, Teddy’s Ts can help!

- Written by Susan and Teddy Fitzmaurice, Edited by KIT Staff

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.