We are fortunate to reside in a school district that truly makes an effort to embrace kids of all abilities. Our special education programs go above and beyond to meet the needs of children like M. Like many, we live where we do because of the school district. Our family dollar is stretched thin in order for us to live where we do, but knowing my children are receiving a fine education makes it worth every cent.
Each year, our school district celebrates (read: CELEBRATES!) DisAbility Awareness Week. An entire week is dedicated to educating the children about people who are 'differently abled.' (For those of you not schooled in special needs vernacular, this is a great PC term you can stick in your back pocket.) The children are educated through books and videos, activities and guest speakers.
Yesterday I received an email from Miss J's teacher letting me know that Miss J had volunteered me to come in to speak to her class about M. She even told her teacher that I could bring M to her class. (How's that for a Show and Tell?) The teacher ran this idea by me and I happily agreed.
I felt proud if Miss J.
Proud that she would want me to come in to her class to discuss her brother.
Proud that she was willing to make herself vulnerable to her classmates. (Being nine and in the fourth grade and having a brother with significant special needs can be the Achilles Heel for insensitive classmates to pounce on you.)
Proud that she wanted him to come in to her class to meet her peers. (They attend different schools so most have not met M.)
DisAbility Awareness does not happen for a week in Miss J's life. Miss J lives it every day. One of the greatest gifts that being raised with a sibling with special needs has given Miss J is a beautiful, loving, open and accepting heart. Miss J is sincere and genuine and real in her desire for everyone to feel included. She understands that acceptance does not mean that everyone is treated the same, but rather it means that everyone is treated fairly.
As a family, we have always been very open about M. We encourage people to ask questions about M. Growing up in this open fashion has made Miss J very comfortable talking to others, tactfully and respectfully, about other disabilities.
One day, I was in a mall with the kids when Miss J was about five and M was three. I was pushing M in his wheelchair while Miss J skipped along beside us. She saw a boy, perhaps a few years older than she was, who was blind and using a cane. He was an a school outing and his aide was with him. The boy took a seat on a bench and before I knew it, Miss J was seated beside him, striking up a conversation.
She asked, "Does that cane really help you?"
He explained the cane and even did a demonstration for her.
"Would you like to try my cane?" he asked her.
"Yes!" she exclaimed.
The boy stayed on the bench while Miss J attempted to navigate the mall. Now imagine the sympathetic looks I happened to be getting when shoppers saw me with my daughter using a cane for the blind and me pushing my son in his wheelchair.
DisAbility Awareness is close to my heart for very obvious reasons. The biggest being is that it teaches that even though we may live vastly different lives, those lives can be lovingly, beautifully, colorfully, woven together.