Impact Impact: Feature Issue on Early Childhood Education and Children with Disabilities
I know that I am valued for who I am. When you ask people, "What makes a person successful?" they will say things like, "You need to be a team player," "You need to have a positive attitude," "You need to be a leader," or "You need to be a good problem solver." Employers are looking for personal qualities such as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, character, and citizenship. So how do we get these qualities?
I have never asked anyone what makes a person successful and had them answer, "He can walk" or "He can talk." I can be successful without walking like you and without being able to use a pair of scissors. What lessons are we teaching when we separate kids with different abilities from their so called "typical" friends and classmates? We are ALL individually different, but we should ALL be living and learning together.
When I was little, I spent a lot of time at the park. Parks are fun, free and full of other kids. At age three, I did not talk, I did not walk by myself, I wore leg braces, and I had a patched lazy eye. Playing at the park took a lot of help, but I loved it.
My mom says playing at the park reminded her that lessons from all those "therapies" that we spent so many hours on didn't have to be practiced in a separate room. I was walked up the steps surrounded by talking kids, laughter, and energy. "Up, up, up the ladder and down, down, down the slide." I learned life lessons and good manners at the park. Things like "Excuse me," "We don't push," "We need to wait in line," and "We need to take our turn." Other kids learned that ALL kids like to play at the park.
A lot of kids worried about the bandaid (patch) on my eye. I listened to my parents' explanations that were simple and heartfelt: "Thank you for caring. He's not hurt. He's okay." One day a little girl was curiously watching me play at the park. She played alongside me and watched the supported awkward walk for some time. We said "Hi" as she passed by and she finally stopped to talk with us. "Mama," she boldly stated, "you got that boy's shoes on the wrong feet." It gave us another opportunity to explain, "No, this is Tyler and this is how Tyler walks. He's okay."
When I participated in community activities we learned that it was important to let leaders know our goals for an activity. For example, for YMCA swimming lessons the teacher was very hesitant to allow me to participate with kids my own age. They wanted to put me in the toddler pool with younger kids. After some conversation we realized the instructor was focused on "learning to swim" and we were focused on "being part of the class."
I know that I am a valued member of my school and classrooms; I participated in Family camp, church camp, and Scout camp with support. I took community drama classes and was in our community theater. I played in the school band. I was at the parks and playgrounds in my neighborhood. I had and attended birthday parties. I was an active Cub Scout and Boy Scout, and played Cub Scout softball. I am an active member of my church.
If only it was as easy as shoes on the wrong feet. Well… maybe it is.