Repost from CLC–The Gift of Presence: Reflections on “Including Isaac”

This week, we are thrilled to feature a post from the CLC Network (Christian Learning Center), a site that promotes the inclusion of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Christian communities. We were so touched by this post, “The Gift of Presence,” for which the CLC Network partnered with Kala Project to share the powerful effect of inclusive education in the life of a young man named Isaac.

CLC Network recently teamed up with Kala Project to share the story of Isaac, a student at Byron Center Christian, and the way inclusive education has impacted his life and the life of the school. Watch the film at this link.

When you look at a person, what do you see? My first encounter with Isaac was through an article I read about a group of Calvin College engineering students who recently built a new mobility cart for Isaac. My reactions were as follows:

1. Wow, this boy has some pretty severe disabilities.

2. Wow, that mobility cart is amazing. How did they come up with that?

3. Wow, what a cool thing, that this boy is able to be mobile and active in his school.

This was the extent of my observations. I saw Isaac as a boy with special needs and didn’t give it a second thought.

James Kessel filming Isaac at school

Recently, I was given the opportunity to tell Isaac’s story through the Kala Project. If you aren’t familiar with Kala Project, we exist to share stories through film that would otherwise go untold. Before going into production of “Including Isaac”, the only thing planned was to interview family, friends, teachers, and of course Isaac himself. Our goal was to simply listen and let Isaac’s story and the impact of inclusive education come to life through many voices.

During the editing process, something about what these people were saying struck me. I was familiar with the idea of inclusive education, but when it comes down to it, inclusive education is a radical thing. In our society, we often are given value by how much we have to offer and how well we perform. But with inclusive education and in the case of Isaac, we are to live by a different set of values. We are to see people with Kingdom eyes. These are the eyes of inclusivity, eyes that see beneath the surface.

Isaac with friends

The story of Isaac challenged me to meet him at a place deeper than the “special needs” label. I was able to see Isaac for the precious person that he really is. Although he does have many gifts to offer, Isaac’s value (as well as our own) is not ultimately found there. Our value is found in our very being.

To me, that is the beauty of the Gospel. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done (good or bad) or what we have to offer. What matters is the wild idea that God loves us for who we are and delights in our very existence. Isaac’s greatest gift is deeper than what he teaches others or contributes to his community: his greatest gift is simply the gift of his presence. For in the deepest part of a human being we see the image of God, where the presence of Christ dwells. In Isaac, in you, in me. When we look at a person, is that what we see?

Isaac and his friend

Learning from the story of Isaac, let us look beyond labels and see people with new eyes, recognizing the inherent worth of their presence. May the inclusivity of not only our schools but also our hearts match the inclusivity of God’s Kingdom. And may we never look past the simple yet profound reality of God’s presence among and within us, experienced in the presence of each other.

James Kessel    James Kessel is a 2011 graduate of Calvin College with a degree in psychology (he also attended Byron Center Christian, where Isaac attends). He is currently the post-production manager at Bradley Productions, a video production team in Grand Rapids, and often collaborates with Kala Project.

From Shy Guy To Drama King

As young adults through all walks of life move towards adulthood, they are challenged at some point with navigating through the education system and maintaining social relationships. As a teacher, working with students with autism, many of whom communicate through the use of assistive technology, I have witnessed the magnification of these struggles in the lives of many of my students. But, the events of one young man in particular, Paul, I hold dear as a reminder of why I continue to teach and strive towards inclusion. Even when confronted with adversity from general education teachers, I press on, and Paul’s story of inclusion is one that is an inspiration for all.

Paul, more than many other students of mine, was very shy and completely dependent on others to prompt him through social exchanges using his iPad communication system. In fact, on many instances, he covered his face with his hands to avoid any interactions. I was determined to help Paul move past this, but knew the situation would need creative thinking.

Previously, Paul had been included in general education classes such as art and P.E., but with little success progressing towards meeting his goal to increase social interaction. As his teacher I decided to try something new for him, enrolling him in drama. With Paul having no verbal communication and the drama teacher no experience with inclusion it was a battle to get him enrolled.

After that challenge was met, I was determined to make this a success, so that teachers could use what Paul and I learned to help other students with similar challenges. During the first weeks of class, Paul started small, staying only for a few minutes each day with me by his side. With lots of prompting, complemented by patience and understanding from his classmates and drama teacher, Paul learned to say one line at a time, while sitting in his seat. He was not forced to go on stage, or stand in the spotlight, but he was encouraged to continue with his new skills. As the weeks progressed, so did Paul. Eventually he eased his way on stage, read multiple lines from his iPad, and slowly started moving his hands from in front of his face while in class. By the end of the semester, Paul walked to class on his own, stayed for the whole session, and had support from many peers in the class who initially were quite unsure of how to interact with him. He participated just as the other students did, went on stage, stood in the spotlight and read multiple lines independently.

Paul had made new friends not only in the drama class, but they sought him out throughout the campus, to introduce him to their other friends. Also, I noticed, with his newly found confidence, Paul did not put his hands in front of his face as much to avoid interactions.  Paul was using his iPad to communicate more, not just for reading practiced lines. The successes that were uncovered for Paul went much deeper than just the intended results. Paul, his peers, and I all learned so many invaluable lessons to take with us.

-Submitted by: Christie Rodriguez, an education specialist, who has a Masters Degree in Autism and is a certified Transition Specialist.

Christie Rodriguez

Christie Rodriguez

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.

“Disney Sued Over Disability Access Policy”

This week, we learned that the families of sixteen kids and adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities are filing a lawsuit against Disney Parks and Resorts because of issues with accessibility for their children. For more information, please click here.

Although we cannot comment on a projected outcome of the lawsuit, we can commend parents for advocating for their children and recognize Disney for all that they have done in the past to support kids of all abilities. We want to recognize how difficult it is to support kids of all abilities when there is no way to predict who will be walking through your doors each day. There is not much that anyone can do to plan ahead for each day’s clientele. However, you can be as prepared as possible for whatever will come your way. We suggest that parks, pools, museums, and other recreational facilities prepare themselves for as many possible unique needs that their customers may have before they arrive. That way, staff can brainstorm how to best address these needs early on.

Comment boxes are another great thing to have. You can even explicitly say, “Was there anything else we could have done to meet your family’s unique needs today?” This can assist you in planning for the future. The best you can do is to work with families and ask what you can do to help. As always, feel free to reach out to any KIT consultant for advice on how to support all families in your recreation locations so that all kids can have fun!

To read the original article, please click here.

- Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Writer

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.

Using Visuals to Best Support Individuals with Autism

Last week, we learned about Jeremy Crisp’s amazing experience when supporting a young boy with autism in a summer camp. This week, we thought we’d give some tips on using visuals to support campers or any participants with autism. When designing a program to support people with disabilities (or people in general), it is necessary to think about each individuals’ strengths, needs, and interests. Not only will this help you target the best ways to help them, but using topics and activities of interest will also guarantee you higher levels of participation (and, therefore, fun!). With that said, there are some techniques that are typically helpful in best supporting kids and adults with autism.

One of these techniques is the use of visuals. It has been shown that visual stimuli are oftenIMG_1618 easier for people with autism to understand. For example, the TEACCH method for educating and supporting individuals with autism uses what is called a picture schedule. The first time I saw these schedules was in a classroom in South Africa. As children finished each activity, their teacher said, “Check your schedules!” Along one wall of the classroom, there was a long Velcro strip going down the wall for each student, labeled with the child’s name and photo. The teacher put the entire day’s schedule on small cards with a photo, in order from top to bottom. One card had a toothbrush to indicate that it was time to brush teeth; another had a photo of the school’s assembly room to show that it was time to go to school assembly; still another had a photo of the school’s speech therapist to indicate that it was time to go to speech therapy. As transitions can often be difficult for individuals with autism, it was so helpful for these students to have a predictable schedule that included visual and tactile reminders. There was no uncertainty for kids who depended on knowing what was coming next.

IMG_1617

Effective visual reminders do not always need to be pictures. The first time I learned about the effectiveness of “writing it down” was last summer, when I interned at TEACCH. One of the students was having difficulty staying on task and was singing lyrics to her favorite Disney Princess movie while she was working. Her trainer wrote down, “I will work quietly. I can sing when I am finished with my work.” I was shocked when the student immediately turned her focus completely to her work and completed the task without any more distractions. The transformation was magical. This worked for her because she loves to read, and she’s good at it!

I currently work as a job coach for an adult with autism. He is an excellent reader, and I have quickly learned that the best way to let him know of a change in his schedule or to give him a reminder is to write it down for him. Every morning, we write the day’s schedule out in his journal. We write which activities he will be doing, where he will be going, and any reminders he may need to complete his tasks to the best of his abilities, such as “During exercise class, I will do my best to participate. I can walk around the room to talk to my friends once class is over.” One day, he came to work with no umbrella or rain jacket, and it was pouring rain outside. I knew that it was supposed to rain the next day, so I simply wrote down, “When it rains outside, I need to bring an umbrella with me to work. I will remember my umbrella tomorrow.” The next morning, he proudly announced to me, “I remembered my umbrella, Elise!” Because of his high level of reading ability and his love of reading, this works really well for helping him to stay on task and to seamlessly move through transitions.

The moral of the story: try visuals, they might help with transitions and unexpected changes! It will surprise you how many individuals with autism this helps. Ultimately, know your kids and what they need to succeed. As they say, once you’ve worked with one kid with autism… you’ve worked with one kid with autism. Nothing can replace getting to know your kids and their individual strengths!

-Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Writer

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.

Embracing Individuality: A KIT Trainer’s Perspective

Jeremy is the newest trainer to join the KIT team – he previously worked as a Youth Program Director, where he was a KIT affiliate since 2008. 

I have a letter that sits on my desk. It is from a mother of a camper at a camp where I used to be the director. I keep the letter, in its envelope on my desk, as a personal reminder that the world is not quite as I want it to be when it comes to meaningful inclusion (hold that thought; we’ll get back here in a minute).

Simply put: the letter is a big ego booster! It is full of experiences that I helped cultivate, and stories of how “seeing Jeremy at camp” was part of this family’s language throughout the year. Just by being the director of a camp, “whether I knew it or not” as the mom said, I had become a big part of their day-to-day lives. When I read that letter I see the very best version of myself… the person I want to be in every difficult circumstance I face. I believe it is important to have these life markers to remind myself where I have been and where I am heading.

jeremyEach time I read the letter there is a point where I feel some underlying sadness. The letter is not meant to be sad; it is meant to be a compliment – the mom expresses that camp is the first place her child experienced belonging. When her son talks about camp, he says – “my camp.” i.e. “have you heard of my camp?,” “mommies can’t go to my camp,” and “for my birthday I am going to my camp!” (because his birthday really was during camp…how awesome is that?!) I always let the concept of belonging sink in for a few moments. The camper we are discussing was 8 his first summer at camp and had some issues that required some accommodations for communication and social structure. As a staff, we did some really simple stuff – we made a picture schedule, read some stories to help facilitate understanding that everyone is different and that different is okay, celebrated the moments this camper was really involved and engaged with peers, and we did not make a big deal about the times he needed to do his own thing and was less engaged with the group. We just accepted that this child was an individual and had individual needs. At no point did we feel like we were going out of the way, or doing anything we would not do for any other camper.

As I read the letter there is a part of me that feels a little guilty, as though I do not deserve the fanfare, because when it comes down to it I do not believe I did anything special. I do not want to sound ungrateful – the gratitude this parent showed me and the staff was always welcome (as were the sweet/cold treats she frequently delivered during the very hot North Carolina summers). It saddens me that accepting and accommodating a child’s individual needs was a rare experience for this family, because embracing individuality is a big part of my world view.

jeremy training

Jeremy training on “Behavior Support Techniques”

I will always be grateful for the time I spent as a camp director – it was an honor to be a part of so many families’ lives! Whether this mom knows it or not, her family has become a life marker in my heart – a marker that was part of what lead me work for KIT. Thinking of her family and her son has become an internal compass pushing me to work harder to help create a world where more and more families like hers can be thankful for great camp staff, and where it is just a normal everyday thing when their child is accepted as an individual regardless of their needs.

-Written by Jeremy Crisp. 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.