LEXINGTON, Ky. (4/12/13) – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, some 54 million Americans, nearly one-fifth of the population, have some form of physical, intellectual or sensory disability. With those numbers, many American families are likely to be personally affected by, or know a family or individual living with, a disability. Nowhere is that felt more than when children are affected.
While significant strides have been made assisting those with special needs, one area that has lagged behind is the education and integration of non-special needs children, helping them understand the challenges and rewards their special needs counterparts experience.
To help bridge this divide, Cassidy Elementary is hosting the Special Needs Awareness Week April 15-19. One of the event's organizers, Dr. Kim Thompson Winkler, says the event will build on the success of a similar program hosted last year at Glendover Elementary. The program's theme is: "Different Abilities, Many Possibilities!"
Monday will provide an overview of the event, with each subsequent day focusing on different disabilities, and include guest speakers who successfully cope with them. Tuesday will highlight hearing and visual impairments. Jennifer Billiter, with the help of her sign-language interpreter, will help the audience understand what it is like to be deaf. Wednesday will highlight Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and motor disabilities, while Thursday will spend time on "hidden" disabilities, ones that may not be obvious, but nonetheless have a large impact on people's lives. These include severe allergies, dyslexia, diabetes and others. In honor of April's status as Autism Awareness Month, Friday will focus on autism.
Further promoting understanding and empathy, each day's hour-long gym class will feature six simulation stations that will help neuro-typical children and parents understand the challenges special needs children face every day. Some exercises will involve navigating blindfolded, wearing weights while performing fine motor activities, using a wheelchair and more.
Between the guest speakers and the simulation exercises, the event organizers hope to dispel some of the mystery and misconceptions many children experience when encountering a peer with special needs, answering the basic questions:
"What is it?"
"How did you get it?"
"What does it do to you?"
"How do I interact with someone who has it?"
By answering these questions, and promoting education and empathy, the Special Needs Awareness Event will be an important step in the integration of special needs children and their neuro-typical peers.
Information provided by Kim Thompson Winkler
Photo provided by SurfKY Graphics
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