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.

Traveling Abroad With a Disability

This week, we will be featuring an extraordinary young woman named Wendy Lu on KIT’s Inclusion Potluck. We are thrilled to share Wendy’s story with all of you. Wendy, who uses a tracheostomy tube due to vocal cord paralysis, spent her summer in China. She had an incredible experience that she was kind enough to share with us. We hope it is as eye-opening for all of you as it was for us!

When I told my parents earlier this year that I had been selected as a summer intern at a media company in China, they were split on the decision about whether or not to let me go. Working and traveling abroad may seem like the quintessential opportunity for a 21-year-old about to graduate from college, but for people with disabilities, it’s not easy.

I was born with vocal cord paralysis, and I have had to wear a tracheostomy tube that allows me to breathe properly for my whole life. Blessed as I am with a loving family, living with a trach tube has been challenging, both health-wise and socially. I grew up having to endure awkward questions from friends, teachers, and even strangers on the street. Sleepovers and school field trips were almost always a no-no, as it was required for me to have a parent or nurse with me at all times – literally. Though I’d visited China in the past for brief periods of time, my parents and I knew that living in another country with a completely different culture was bound to pose its own challenges as well.

So did I end up taking a plane to China? Yes, I did, and it’s where I am now. I’m living in Beijing on my own (though my parents often visit when they’re not with our relatives in Shanghai), and my office is just a five-minute walk away.

Wendy exploring in China

Here is what I’ve learned in the past month:

1)    You can never bring too many medical supplies (unless your suitcase exceeds the maximum weight limit – then, bring two suitcases).

2)    Health always, always comes first. If you’re not healthy and taking care of yourself (both mentally and physically), then you can’t really do much of anything else, at least not well.

3)    There are two types of inclusion that I’ve been exposed to since being here: physical accessibility and social inclusion. China does relatively well with providing the first type (as far as I’ve seen), but not so well with the second type.

Horizontal elevator panel

Horizontal elevator panel

In many of the places I’ve stayed since coming to Beijing, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen have been the elevators. Oftentimes, there are two sets of elevator button panels: the typical vertical panel that faces the front of the elevator, and a second horizontal panel on the side of the elevator for people with physical disabilities who aren’t able to reach the first panel (e.g. people who use wheelchairs). I was absolutely pleased when I saw one of those horizontal elevator panels for the first time; I had never seen one before, even back home in the United States.

Many public facilities, shopping malls and corporate buildings also provide ramps. Even though I wouldn’t need these particular accommodations for myself, it excited me that global efforts were being made to not only break down physical barriers for people with disabilities, but to be mindful of their perspectives and alternative lifestyles.

Unfortunately, this mindfulness is rarely found in the general public. While I love being in China, it’s frustrating when there are people I come across every day who can’t help but stare at me everywhere I go – the streets, the restaurants, the grocery store – and don’t realize how rude they’re being. A receptionist actually pinched her throat and made assumptions about my life and the hardships she believed I’d experienced, even when I refuted them. I’ve even had one person ask to take a picture of my trach tube (not me, just the tube). And it’s not just physical disabilities. Mental illnesses are typically seen as shameful and embarrassing, rather than conditions that need to be treated with care and support.

The lack of social inclusion can sometimes be disappointing and even enraging. But for every time that I have a negative experience, I remind myself of an encounter I had with a shopkeeper that completely changed my perspective about people who stare or ask questions. The shopkeeper thought my tracheostomy tube was a fan that spun around and kept me cool during the summer. A fan! It was then that I realized many of these people are curious and just don’t know any better. Some don’t even see it as a medical device. Although this doesn’t justify ignorance, tactlessness or rude behavior, cultural (and individual) differences can often account for miscommunication and seemingly awkward situations – both at home and abroad.

20140607_132725This is why disability awareness and inclusion are so important. As a person with a disability, I don’t mind anymore when people ask questions. In fact, I encourage it because then I’m able to help them learn what it is like for someone else to live with an alternative lifestyle. My disability is a part of my identity, but it doesn’t define who I am. When people ask me what’s around my neck, I answer their question – but then I tell them a little bit more about myself. Something beyond my disability that makes me different from everyone else. I tell them that I love to write stories, that my family celebrates both Chinese New Year and Christmas, and that I make a mean macaroni and cheese. A person’s character is what matters most, after all.

Wendy Lu, this week's guest blogger

 

–Written by Wendy Lu, a reporter, creative writer, disabilities advocate, and recent graduate of the University of North Carolina. Check out her blog 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.