The web has been buzzing over a vile incident involving a 15-year-old with autism in Bay Village, Ohio. A group of teens asked him over to their house, purportedly to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge geared toward raising money for the disease. Instead, as the teen stood in a driveway in his underwear, a bucket full of urine, fecal and spit was dumped onto him from the roof. The boy’s mother, Diane, discovered a video of what happened on her son’s cell phone. Police say that the group of teens who committed it could face delinquency chargers. The parents released the video, hoping to raise awareness about bullying.
People have been justifiably horrified, with many speaking out against bullying. Last Friday evening, his community held a rally with people holding signs such as “No room for hate.” Comedian Drew Carey has offered $10,000 in reward money to help find out who was behind the incident. All over social media, people have denounced what happened.
As horrific as this assault was for this teen and his family, as extra-upsetting as it is to those of us who have kids with special needs, the outpouring of support has been heartening. Still, it’s sad that it takes a shocking incident like this for people to spread the word that people with special needs deserve respect. If that were to occur regularly, though, events like this could be avoided. Not entirely, of course, because there will always be rotten apples. But if kids were raised to treat peers with special needs as their equals, children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other special needs would be less subject to derision, exclusion and bullying.
This isn’t just about making sure kids with special needs are included in school’s anti-bullying messages; this is about parents talking with their kids about children and adults with special needs from a young age, so children grow up with that equality mindset.
Here’s a challenge for parents to take. It involves no icy water, just a willingness to help kids understand the diversity of people that exist in this world, and to talk about it with them.
• Explain to your child how everyone has differences, and that some kids and adults have ones that are more visible—and that different is OK.
• Point out even though a child may act, speak, walk or talk in a non-typical way, in many ways they are like other children: ones who like to play, laugh, eat ice-cream, read bedtime stories…you know. That they feel happy and sad, just like they do. That they are kids.
• Help make kids aware of the ability in disability, and that everyone has their own kind of talents. If you do not have any kids or adults with special needs in your circle, google images of Special Olympics athletes—a good conversation starter. Or poke around blogs by parents of kids with special needs to help your child get a sense of what our children can do.
• Discourage the use of the words “retard” and “retarded,” which perpetuate negative stereotypes of people with disability. (If you don’t get what’s so wrong with them, watch this video.)
• Make this an ongoing conversation, just as parents regularly talk with kids throughout childhood about race, ethics and other all-important topics. Encourage them to ask you questions.
• Bridge the gap that can exist at parks, playgrounds, parties, when kids may be hesitant to approach a child with special needs. Encourage interaction. Tell them to just say “Hi,” as they would with any child.
I hope you’ll take this challenge. It’s not just for the sake of kids like my son—it’s for the benefit of your child, too. Teach your child to welcome and respect people with special needs and you will raise a better human being.
Among the many things I wished for when Max was little: a daycare that specialized in kids with special needs. We had a regular sitter, but when she was on vacation or called in sick, leaving Max at a regular daycare was stressful. Sometimes, my husband and I ended up taking off days from work.
I was so thrilled to read about A Place For Grace in Saginaw, Michigan, a daycare center for kids with special needs that opens September 2. Its founder: a mother of a child with special needs. As Jenny Dumont recalls of her struggles finding daycare for her daughter Emma Grace, now 9, who has intellectual disability, “She was having meltdowns four times in one week and I got called in to pick her up and when I got in the caregiver was doing the best she knew how. I got really frustrated and thought, Why isn’t there a place for children like Emma?”
Jenny Dumont and daughter Emma Grace
A Place For Grace has teachers trained in special education, along with a sensory room and toys for kids with special needs. It will ofter preschool for children ages 3, 4 and 5 (who missed the school cut-off) and aftercare for kids ages 5 to 16. The goal is to offer full-day childcare for school breaks and special days by Summer 2015, including therapies in accordance with children’s IEPs.
If you Google “special needs daycare center” in your area or state, some might crop up—key word being “might.” This country is sadly lacking in daycare options for children with special needs. It’s astounding, though not surprising, that this one was started by a parent of a kid with special needs. Parents like us often have more than our hands full and yet, we best know just how needed services like this are.
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at Atypical Familia.
Jyrobike is the World’s First Auto Balance Bicycle that features a patented Control Hub in the front wheel that uses gyroscopic technology to keep riders upright, even when they tip or wobble.
Riding a bike has not come easily for my son, Norrin. After he was diagnosed with autism, we learned that he didn’t have the strength or the coordination to pedal. For years we’ve worked with therapists trying to build up Norrin’s muscle strength and teaching him how to balance. We’ve bought tricycles, big wheels and even scooters – hoping Norrin would be able to master one. Eventually Norrin learned to pedal but he still lacked the focus, tired easily and had difficulty maintaining balance.
Last spring, we bought Norrin his first real bike. And while he showed an interest in riding it, he still needed a lot of work. Even with the training wheels he still had trouble with balance and had difficulty turning. Now that bike is too small and we’re wondering whether or not we should buy another. Norrin will still need training wheels and it may be years before he learns to balance independently.
That’s when I heard about the kickstarter campaign for Jyrobike I knew I had to share it! It’s the ideal solution for kids like mine. “Jyrobike is built on the core principle that bikes become inherently stable at higher speeds because the faster the wheels spin, the more balanced it becomes.” While originally designed for 3 – 8 year olds, “one of [the company's] stretch goal rewards will be very popular with parents of older children.” There are also plans to launch an adult product.
Jyrobike will change the lives of so many families with special needs, especially kids with autism. It allows children to learn to ride a bicycle with confidence and a sense of security. It will provide the physical activity they need to maintain their health and it’s a social activity that can be shared with family and friends. Bike riding is a skill that can lead to a more independent life.
I’ve just watched a video three times in a row, crying continuously. It’s the one of a daddy-daughter dance that’s gone viral. I mean, anytime I see fathers dancing with their girls I get a bit choked up, but this dance is unique. McKenzie Carey, 12, has mitochondrial disease, which depletes her body of energy and keeps her in a wheelchair. Most children diagnosed do not make it past their teens years. The disorder has not stopped McKenzie from entering pageants—more than 100, as Today.com reports. And she’s been doing them with her father, Mike, a truck driver. They’re trying to raise money for her treatments.
Here’s the pair dancing in a pageant earlier this month to the song The Climb; McKenzie will be competing in three more this summer. The one thing Mike Carey does not want: pity. “I always tell people not to be sorry for us,” he’s said. “McKenzie was put on this earth for a purpose. I believe she is an angel. I’m just her spokesperson, I’m just her arms and legs.”
In the third grade, Alexander had an assignment to dress up as a famous inventor and give a presentation to his class. At that time, one of his favorite things was helicopters. So he chose Igor Sikorsky, father of the modern helicopter, as the inventor to dress up as for his report. Because his reading and writing skills were not up to level, I wanted to help him show his classmates and his teachers that he was indeed capable.
I made a phone call to the press relations contact at the Sikorsky company and asked if there was someone who could help me get some special materials for my son’s project. I told the press person about Alexander, his love of helicopters, a bit about his challenges, and what we were trying to do.
Less than a day later, I received an e-mail from Elena Sikorsky, wife of Sergei Sikorsky, Igor’s son (Igor died in 1972). She let me know that Sergei would send Alexander a package with helicopter-related stuff. Soon, we received a package with a selection of trinkets and keepsakes from Sergei’s attendance at an airshow in Europe as well as a copy of Sergei’s biography about his father. The book was autographed for Alexander and had a hand drawing of a helicopter in the inscription.
Alexander and his mother and I worked with him using large letters and pictures in a three-ring binder to remember some sentences for his presentation. We practiced getting dressed in the Igor Sikorsky suit and hat. And drawing on a mustache. All very challenging things due to sensory issues. But we practiced and had a lot of fun and he really liked it.
The day of the presentation was a very busy one in Alexander’s classroom. Lots of kids dressed up as Ben Franklin, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, and other famous inventors. It was a very busy room, and Alexander and I left because of the commotion. I helped him prep in another room. Alexander was fairly anxiety filled. At home, he could do his presentation well. But it didn’t seem like it would go as well in the classroom with all of his classmates and a lot of parents watching.
I was able to convince him to leave the room, and together, we walked back into the classroom. His mom started to videotape us. And the teacher walked us up and introduced Alexander as “Igor Sikorsky.” I stood behind him to coach him on his lines, and, just before he was to start, he shrieked and then butted his head backward abruptly. Right into my nose. Crack!
In front of 25 kids, all the teachers, and a bunch of parents. On videotape. You could hear a pin drop. And Alexander saying quite emphatically “All Done!” I believe if you listened closely enough you may have heard me whimper in pain. I think my nose was fractured. It didn’t bleed, but it was pretty clear that I was hurt and it was definitely sore for a few days.
This was one of my earlier lessons in meeting a child where he needs to be met. He really didn’t want to do his project in front of the class. I usually pushed him maybe 10 percent past where he thought he could be. That is what a good dad does, right? A slight, but not obnoxious, nudge to help a child learn and move forward? Push him a little outside his zone in order to learn. It usually worked. Except in this case, I guess I read him wrong and apparently pushed him a bit beyond his usual comfort zone.
So, after proving to half of the third grade parents in our small town that I could take a hard head butt to the nose and gracefully exiting the room with Alexander, we decided to adapt Alexander’s project in an edited video. We taped it at home, I edited it, and he showed it to his class. We enjoyed dressing up again, making the video, and he enjoyed watching his classmates watch his video. We also sent the video to Sergei and Elena Sikorsky.
My son, within one degree of separation from the inventor of the modern helicopter. And me, with a sore nose and an evolving perspective on parenting.