At Kids Included Together, we focus on helping organizations (camps, programs, clubs, etc.) serve children of all abilities. We help child care providers see the children they serve in a new way. We open them up to the possibility of inclusion, and support them in the development of new skills so that all kids can thrive in their environment. Recently, a dear friend came to me for advice, and I got to see our work through a different lens. My friend, who is one of the most brilliant moms I have ever witnessed, has two school-age children, one of whom happens to have disabilities.
My friend’s daughter was going to attend an upcoming social event. She asked me, “Do I just send her to the event and see how she does, or do I let them know about her challenges ahead of time?” In particular, she knew that one of the planned activities would be difficult for her daughter without accommodations. I encouraged her to let the organizers know ahead of time, so that everyone could be set up for success.
My friend taught me that this can be really difficult for a parent to do. Here is my friend, an educated and experienced advocate for inclusion, and she was hesitant to predispose the other parents and organizers to her daughter’s additional needs. I connected her with one of our amazing inclusion specialists at KIT, so they could talk about possible activity accommodations that she could suggest, and that had the potential to make the activity even more fun for everyone.
A few days later my friend emailed me this beautiful letter she wrote to introduce the organizers and the other parents to her daughter. I asked for her permission to share it with you, as I think it provides a wonderful example of how to introduce a child whose needs may be different to a new group. Please note that I have changed the names and identifying factors, and edited a little for length. In the original version she ends with a list of tips for communicating with her daughter that the parents can share with their children.
Dear Class of 2022 Moms,
Before our meeting on Wednesday, I wanted to write and let you know a little bit about my daughter, Hailey, who is very excited to be joining. Hailey learned about this group through her older sister. I am hopeful that Hailey’s experience is as rich, robust, and meaningful as it has been for her older sister.
I am not sure how many of you may already know Hailey, but I suspect that many of you have not yet had the opportunity to meet her. Hailey is fun loving, happy, silly, warm, genuine, and caring. She loves her family and her two Golden Retrievers. Like many kids, Hailey loves technology, riding her bike, swimming, and binge-watching television shows on Netflix. Hailey is kind and has a big heart. Like your children, she thrives when others welcome and accept her.
Hailey also happens to be a person with disabilities. Her diagnosis includes ataxic Cerebral Palsy and Dysarthria. In simple terms, that means that her brain does not always send the right gross and fine motor signals to her body. Through a lot of hard work and therapy, Hailey is able to walk, run, swim, and ride a bike. However, her gross motor skills lack the refinement that a typically developing kid may have. For instance, skipping, hopping, and balancing are harder for her. Hailey’s fine motor skills also lack some refinement.
The biggest obstacle that Hailey faces is speech. Hailey’s Dysarthria limits her ability to speak clearly. Listeners sometimes have to ask Hailey to repeat herself, and if you are unfamiliar with Hailey’s speech or the context of what she is saying, she is sometimes difficult to understand.
In the past, Hailey’s limitations have kept her somewhat isolated from her typically developing peers. Disabilities, however, are more common than you may think. There are 5.2 million children in the U.S. with disabilities. In San Diego, 58,000 kids receive special education services. In the total U.S. population (kids and adults), approximately 1 in 5 people have a disability (almost 20%). An often-overlooked fact about disabilities is that a person can become disabled at any time (e.g., through an accident or stroke). People with disabilities are a part of every community, including ours.
As Hailey matures, she has expressed a growing desire to become more meaningfully included in her community. She now attends general education classes with instructional support. So how does Hailey’s participation affect you and your daughter? My hope is that with the right support and education, this can be an enriching experience for us all. If you and/or your daughter have any questions about disabilities in general, or Hailey’s specific limitations, I encourage you to contact me. I am pretty much an open book when it comes to educating people about disabilities and inclusion.
I also encourage you to have a discussion with your daughter in advance of Wednesday’s meeting to talk about people with disabilities in general and provide her with some age-appropriate advice about communicating with someone with speech problems.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Again, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. We look forward to getting to know you.
Whenever you put yourself out there like this, you are naturally nervous about how your message will be received. In this case my friend was inundated with positive responses where the other parents shared their own stories of disability, of experiences with inclusion (or lack of it) and thanked my friend for the introduction to her daughter. And, the first social event ended up going well. Driving home, Hailey said to her mom, “That was a really fun party!”
–Written by Torrie Dunlap, KIT CEO
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.