“We’ll Be Friends Forever, Won’t We, Pooh?”

The following post was written by Amy Wright, mother of four children, two of whom have Down Syndrome. Amy writes a blog called It Starts With a  Voice, where she shares stories about her children, along with airing original songs to advocate for inclusion. One story in particular really stuck out to us. well be friends forever wont we pooh

A few weeks ago, I received the most wonderful voicemail message.  It wasn’t what was said in the message that brought my tears of joy, but rather the voice on the other end of the line.  The caller was one of Beau’s school buddies, John Daniel.

By the time most children are 8 years old, they’ve gone on numerous play dates, been invited to countless birthday parties, and even experienced a few sleep-overs.   Over the years, I remember taking my older girls to one party after another, all the while longing for a quiet Saturday afternoon.  And yet, with Beau, most Saturday afternoons are quiet.

With Beau, the world moves a little slower, which can make play dates, birthday parties, and sleepovers a little more challenging.  And while Beau has been blessed with many good friends who have included him in various ways, he has never really had a friend who moves at his pace…until now.

John Daniel is a special little boy with loads of personality, compassion, and curiosity.  A few years older than Beau, he looks out for him like a big brother, encouraging him to try new things and reminding him to follow the rules.  And as a result of John Daniel’s courage to pick up the phone a few weeks ago, Beau and his buddy finally had their play date.

Today, on a playground, surrounded by children running much faster and climbing much higher, I witnessed a friendship being born.  A friendship based upon the mutual admiration two little boys have for each other and their ability to tune out the world to solely focus on one another.   In this fast-paced world where we text our friends more than we share face-to-face conversations, I was reminded of what friendship is all about…

“‘We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.  ‘Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”
–A.A.Milne

In this story, Amy writes about a day when both John Daniel and Beau demonstrated inclusion.  John Daniel got just as much out of this friendship as Beau did. The beauty of inclusion is that all participants see the value of diversity, learning from people with unique talents and needs. Thank you, Amy, for sharing this beautiful story with us! Keep advocating for inclusion!

–Written by Amy Wright, author of It Starts With a Voice. Commentary by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog 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.

Community Integration Act calls for Inclusion of Adults with Disabilities

For most of us, inclusion in our schools and recreational programs is highly important. We see the potential social effects for children with and without disabilities. We build communities where children value diversity and want to learn about each other’s differences. Students learn from each other, and they are more willing to recognize that every one of them has specific strengths and weaknesses. But once these children grow up, where do they go? What inclusive opportunities are there for them through adulthood? Unfortunately, not as many as we would like. Though there is a demand to continue services and supports in inclusive environments, inclusion is difficult to find for adults with disabilities. Many individuals with disabilities do not live in their own homes or in community-based settings. They instead live in nursing homes, where they receive institutionalized care.

For adults with disabilities, a turn towards inclusive services and supports may be coming soon! For many years,  Medicaid has preferred to provide coverage of nursing home placements over community-based home placements for adults with disabilities. The lack of ability for individuals to choose their living situation has become apparent through a report developed by a committee in the Senate, led by Senator Tim Harkin (D-IA).

Senator Tim Harkin (D-IA), www.mcknights.com

Senator Tim Harkin (D-IA), www.mcknights.com

Senator Harkin has proposed a new bill which would really change the availability of different housing options for adults with disabilities. The Community Integration Act, Harkin’s proposal, would remove Medicaid’s bias toward institutions or nursing homes when community-based settings are equally, if not more, appropriate.

Currently, Medicaid offers more funding for nursing homes and other institutionalized living settings than community-based care for adults with disabilities. About a year ago, Senator Harkin published a report that stated that over 200,000 working-age adults were being segregated in nursing homes. Fifteen years ago, Senator Harkin reminds us, a case called Olmstead v. L.C. led to a Supreme Court decision that, under ADA, individuals with disabilities and their families have the right to receive services in home or within the community instead of institutional care. The findings of Senator Harkin’s report served to prove that states are not fully providing people with their right to choose. The Community Integration Act would provide adults with disabilities more options to receive their support in places more natural to them– their homes and communities.

A lot of work has already been done to include individuals with disabilities in their communities, and they are encouraged to work within certain organizations. However, the full vision is not yet complete. Someday, adults with disabilities will be employed, and they will participate in their community regularly. Each individual’s job experience will vary on their unique interests and needs, but their work will provide a service or product for others and will hopefully be a viable source of income. Additionally, they will engage in their communities in some way. Many adults find purpose through religious groups, community service opportunities, fitness classes or clubs, and continuing education opportunities like cooking classes.

If we want to build an adult community and workforce that is inclusive, though, we need to prepare typically developing children to grow into roles as accepting adults who celebrate differences. These little people will be the business owners, managers, and community leaders who run our communities. If we want communities to be truly inclusive, these future leaders are the ones who will need to be willing to invite adults with disabilities into their community activities and employ them in their businesses. The earlier these leaders learn inclusion, the more they will value people of differing backgrounds and abilities.

Inclusion from an early age serves a valid purpose for children who are typically developing. Tolerance is not the only thing these children learn. They also appreciate the benefits to themselves when they are in diverse settings. If children are taught to value diversity from early on, they will likely continue to value diversity as they grow older, collaborating with each other and individuals of varying abilities to create and maintain a truly inclusive society.

The way I envision an inclusive adult community is one where adults with disabilities participate in regular activities with typically-developing people. These activities may include grocery shopping, fitness, and community service acts. In order to get to this vision of inclusion, we must prepare all of our students. Let’s work together to build mindsets of understanding and appreciation of all kinds of people!

–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor.

More information on the Community Integration Act can be found here, here, and here.

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.

A Parent’s Perspective on Inclusion

Many people may not fully understand the importance of an inclusive environment. Inclusion is not about being politically correct. “Inclusion is how you live your life every day and every minute. It’s a way of living – a way of thinking, believing, planning and acting.” Jeffrey Strully

debra_sweeting_inclusionI personally feel that having an inclusive educational environment has positive benefits for students with and without disabilities. My daughter, Alana (pictured in the above Inclusion cover), just started kindergarten at Eagle Ridge Elementary. Alana attends the school that she is zoned to attend and is in the least restrictive environment, where she can interact, communicate and develop natural friendships with children from her own community. This environment allows her to receive an education that meets her personal needs. Alana’s teacher, Mrs. Richards, and other staff have the training to integrate teaching practices, such as communication strategies and hands-on learning experiences, that have been shown to improve academic achievements for students again and again.

After Alana’s primary school day has ended, she attends the Kiddie Academy for after-school care, where Alana is in a classroom with typical children. This is where real magic happens! Children at this age don’t care about their differences, they just want to play with one another. Alana’s teacher, Ms. Jo, has first-hand experience teaching in an inclusive environment because she is both an educator and a mother of a child with autism. More importantly, she has the love, patience, and understanding to guide Alana. That is what all children need.

The importance of putting Alana in an inclusive environment is that she can see, hear, imitate and interact with typical children in her class. She knows that she is expected to do everything that they are expected to do. These natural environments allow all children to develop an understanding that everyone is different in some way. Children can gain social and emotional benefits, communication skills, and the opportunity to develop organic friendships. I feel strongly that if there were a greater acceptance of the differences of others, we would not have so many issues regarding bullying in the school system that we see in the news today.

A mother's dreamThe ultimate dream for a parent of a child with special needs is to mainstream them. The reality is that children with disabilities grow up and want to have careers, live and function independently, and have full, rich, high-quality lifestyles, just like everyone else. Without exposure to life outside of the disability community, the reality of life after high school might be very difficult. This is why I have embraced the use of “Person First” language. This language puts the person first before their disability. My daughter is a child with Down syndrome, but that is not who she is. She is a beautiful, smart, loving little girl who has hopes and dreams to do great things with her life, just like everyone else.

“No special needs. Needs are the same as everyone else, to thrive and belong.” George Estreich

-Written by Debra Sweeting, 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 & afterschool programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

 

July’s Advo-KIT of the Month, Erin Clapper!

Erin Clapper AdvoKITOur AdvoKIT of the Month Award goes to School Age Program Director at Joint Base Lewis-  McCord MWR Child, Youth & School Services, Erin Clapper! Our KIT Trainer, Janet George, nominated Erin for her hard work for the children of JBLM CYS. Her heart for inclusion is what earned her our Advo-KIT of the Month Award for July!

When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion? 

I’ve been an advocate for inclusion for many years, just through my experience in the childcare field, and the training and support I receive through our military based program. I think I began supporting inclusion because I seem to build connections with those children who are in need of support. Overall, I want all children in my program to be happy, successful, and productive, and inclusion has been the best avenue for me to achieve this.

What do you love about inclusion? 

For me, I love the noticible change in the children’s behaviors, their self esteem, and their peer relationships. This seems to create a domino effect that positively impacts the caregivers and families involved as well. Successful inclusion is meaningful because everyone benefits.

What is your vision for an inclusive world? 

I think an inclusive world would be one where we have more understanding and willingness to have dialogue before jumping to conclusions or making preconceived notions. Even if inclusion is not completely successful for a child, the ability to try, and put our best effort forward is what matters. We really need to advocate for our children as best we can!

Did you overcome a barrier or roadblock regarding exclusion/inclusion? 

Not necessarily, no. However, I grew up a military child, and the mobility involved with being a military family is just by itself a roadblock to being included!

Advo-KIT Seal Design

What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences? 

I have one child in mind who will always be memorable to me. He was a very explosive child, when he started in my program. He was quite tall for his age, which made his behaviors very intimidating for my teachers. He was also a flight risk. I would spend many days with him as he tore apart an empty room or paced the hallways, intervening when he attempted to get physical with another child. Some time into our relationship together, he bolted from the playground after getting frustrated. He was angrily explaining to me what happened as he was walking home. I listened intently, and then after a few minutes stated that I was going back to the center because I was tired and didn’t want to walk anymore. I matter-of-factly stated he could come with me or I could call the authorities to get him. His eyes got big, he thought for a minute, and he said he’d rather come back with me. He didn’t run from the center again after that day!

What is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children? 

Patience.

Thanks to Erin for sharing her words of wisdom, and to all you advocates out there– keep up the fantastic work in including kids of all abilities! 

–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.

Talking to Kids About Disability and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named

Last week, we posted videos on how adults can talk about disability with other adults. This week, we’d like to talk a bit on how to create meaningful conversation about disability with kids.

We recently came across this AMAZING post on how to talk to kids about disability. This is a topic that often comes up in our trainings, as kids have a lot of questions. Sometimes it can feel awkward to answer them. Here is some advice from a parent of a child with special needs. Whether you have children of your own, or whether they are campers or students, we hope that this answers any questions you may have. This article will help us all move forward in talking productively to kids about disability and creating inclusive communities everywhere. Thank you to Mary Evelyn and Kristi for sharing this post with us! Check out the original posts here and here.

kids and disabilities

When my son Simeon was seven-months-old, I took him on a stroll through our local toy store.  The place was almost empty, but as we rounded the corner, we bumped into a woman and her husband.  They leaned over and looked at my son as we passed.  He giggled.  They waved hello and told me how cute he was. But near the end of the aisle, we passed the woman’s son, an eight-year-old boy.  He glanced down at Simeon.  His jaw dropped.  He looked confused at first, then nervous.  He went to his mother, standing a few feet away, pointed to my son, and said with confusion, “What IS that?”

My son has spina bifida and he breathes with the help of a trach, which, if you’re not used to seeing it, can be a bit surprising.

I saw the mother’s eyes brim with embarrassment.  And her face turned stop-sign red as she glared at her son and spat out, “Don’t. Say. Anything.

And I felt terrible– like my little boy was shameful somehow.  Because he has a disability, and disabilities should not be spoken of.

Kind of like Voldemort.

kids and disabilities

Can we talk about Voldemort for a second?  He is one bad dude.  He’s so freakin’ scary that if you even speak his name, all horrors might rain down upon you. The kids at Hogwarts knew better than to mess with that can of worms (except for Harry Potter since he’s brave– and also a hero–  NBD).  Just like we teach our kids in the real world, it’s best not to talk about bad things.

Bad things should be kept quiet.

But disability isn’t bad.  And I’m sure that the woman at the toy store doesn’t think my son is a menace of Voldemort proportions.  Still, pointing out our differences makes us uncomfortable.  We don’t know what we’re allowed or not allowed to say about disability.  So we prefer to say nothing.

The problem is that our children are still learning the rules. They see difference in the world, and they ask questions. They see difference, and they speak it.  They see difference, and they point their fingers.  All we can do is react.

And our reactions send a message to our children.  Our reactions tell them how to feel about the differences they see. 

Would we reprimand or hush our children for pointing out a woman who has blond hair instead of brown? Probably not.  Because it’s okay to have blond hair.  But what are we telling our kids when we reprimand them for pointing out a person in a wheelchair or a person who is blind? We have to help our children to be comfortable with differences.  We can’t treat disability like Voldemort.

So, when our children go all finger-pointy on us, here’s my advice:

When your child is the finger pointer: 

  1. Stay calm.  I know it’s embarrassing.  I know it’s awkward.  But seeing you stressed over the mention of someone’s disability could make your child feel that they’ve done something bad by bringing it up.  Know that it’s normal for kids to ask questions– or even point and stare.  Parents like me are used to it.
  2. Be open to discussion.  No need to shush or remove your child from the situation.  Try to calmly answer their questions and remember that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer.  When the boy at the toy store asked his mother what was going on with my son, I wish she would have felt comfortable saying, “Would you mind if my son asked you a question about your baby?”  Like all parents, people who have children with special needs like talking about their kids, and most of us enjoy raising awareness, too.
  3. Lead by example. Do your best to talk to your kids about differences– not just disability.  Try not to use words that might imply that disability is sad or bad, like “poor thing,” or “something is wrong with him.”  If your child says something hurtful like, “That person is funny looking” you can talk to them about using polite words when they see someone who is different.

When your child is the one being pointed at:  

  1. Stay calm.  Remember that your reaction sends a message too.  Little good will come from lashing out or reprimanding a stranger’s child.  The last thing we want is for children to stay away from our kids for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
  2. Be open to discussion.  Answer questions if you feel comfortable.  If not, redirect the conversation to what your children might have in common– Do you like video games?  My son loves to play them too!
  3. Consider the intentions more than the words.  Most of us have been in the special needs community long enough to pick up on what words are okay and what words not okay to use when discussing disability.  Remember that most people do not live where we live, but their intentions are good.  I dislike when someone asks “What’s wrong with your son?” but shutting them down will only halt what could have been an eye-opening conversation.

Remember that we’re in this together.  Whether your child has a disability or your child is typical, we’ve got to give each other some grace, take a deep breath, and let go of our fears.

Be brave. Be a hero. Be Harry Potter.

Voldemort:

kids and disabilities

 –Written by Mary Evelyn, who has a son with Spina Bifida and who writes What Do You Do, Dear?

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.