Month: October 2017

The art of inclusive play

Yesterday I was very fortunate to be able to attend a conference held at SUNY Cortland about inclusive play.  My colleague and I heard from speakers about building accessible playgrounds which meet the needs of people with disabilities as well as those without, and the importance of having two groups of people with really very different needs be able to play- not just side-by-side, but actually together.

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Seriously, why is my head so gigantic?

The first speakers were from an organization called Shane’s Inspiration, and I think I’m in love with their mission and their vision:
“Our vision is to foster a bias-free world for children with disabilities.  Our mission is to create inclusive playgrounds and programs that unite children of all abilities.” (taken from their website)

They don’t just create the playgrounds, they offer programs with schools so that kids without disabilities can be paired up with kids who are different from them, kids who may play very differently than they play. There is a whole curriculum around inclusive play that can be used by schools, daycare programs, even summer camps.  Why?  Because every facility out there should have a way for inclusive play to happen.  Because sometimes we need help with the “how” of it all.

In speaking with one of the presenters later, she said “I hope that one day I’ll be out of a job”.  One day, kids may not need special programs to help them buddy up with kids with disabilities in order that they may learn that there are more similarities than differences, and to not be afraid of those differences.

Okay, so I also maybe geeked out a little (a LOT) when I met the Yogibo lady (a.k.a. my new BFF Amber).

If we’ve met, I’ve probably told you about Yogibo I My children have two of the stuffed animals at our house, and the Autism Lending Library that I run has a couple.  I’d love to fill the room with their products, and yesterday I met the manager for one of their local-ish stores.  I gave her the library’s flyer (which shows our sensory room) and my card, and invited her and her team to visit the library and learn more about what we do.

 

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Yogibo Hug (I didn’t hug Amber, but I wanted to)

We then were invited to tour the SIMS Lab (Sensory Integration/Motor Sensory).  I immediately began concocting ways that we can have something like this in our community, and thought of the Occupational Therapy Department at one of our universities.  As the boys are attending a group there once a week, you can bet your bippy I’ll be asking if they’ve considered setting up a similar facility.

One of the first things that struck me was that when kids come to the Lab, they get to select their preferred lighting.  Lighting makes a big difference for many of us with extra sensory needs, and that impressed me.  The place was full of gym mats and Yogibo beanbags, a zip line that leads to a suspended ball pit (!!) and all manner of things to climb, things to toss, things to land onto.  I mean, come ON.  How cool is that? Being able to access a place like this and get all the sensory input one needs in order to be able to better self-regulate is so important, and this Lab is providing that for kids.

I also met a woman who is working on the changes to a local (and very NOT inclusive, currently) playground.  There is this presumption sometimes that the way to make things inclusive is to simply stick a ramp on things.  Um, no.  There is so much more than that.  You must consider the gamut of disabilities, and which types of equipment might provide something that may be needed by someone with those disabilities.  We talked at length about what they might provide to assist kids for whom the wide open space and the very large concept of PLAY might be disregulating.  They hadn’t thought of that, and I hope we’ll be talking more as they continue to develop their designs.

So here’s my homework for you: go to a local park with a playground.  Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone with a disability- that can be anything from being blind to being in a wheelchair, being hypersensitive to being hyposensitive, having trouble navigating even the seemingly smallest hurdle to having trouble navigating a social situation such as the playground.  Look at it through these lenses, and see what could be different.  And then work with the community to create change.

I would like to thank SUNY Cortland for offering families and professionals an opportunity to come together to learn about inclusive play, adaptive physical education, the use of technology, and music therapy programming.  

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The beauty of unstructured time

For a family so used to schedules and specific things happening at very specific times, the weekends can feel a little daunting.

Oh sure, the boys go off for four hours every Saturday so that the parental units can regain an iota of sanity, so we can count on that one thing happening without fail.  This weekend, I had glorious visions of me and my true love at the Apple Festival, drinking cider and smelling apples and eating amazing things…

And then we remembered…people.  We don’t like to people.  So instead, we went shoe shopping! Wee!

Okay, sometimes it’s hard to get me to focus.  I think I have a plan, but the plan goes sideways and we come up with a new plan.
Today I had a new plan, one I wanted to at least try to stick with.  We’d take the boys grocery shopping, come back for lunch, and then go apple picking.

Keep in mind that when I say that something is “unstructured”, I mean that we don’t have the day planned out in 15-minute blocks like their school days.  We have ideas about what needs to happen, but we also know that most of those things can and will be sacrificed should everything fall apart.

You know those ideas that sound great on paper but are not so nice in the execution?  Taking two easily distracted children apple picking is every bit of that.  It sounds so idyllic, the sunshine and the cool early autumn air, the smell of apples and the sight of pumpkins and mums.  It’s all really lovely. Sounds like a scene in a movie, actually.

Until your actors forget their lines, their stunt doubles call in sick, and the person in charge of keeping everyone close at hand for their scene has disappeared.

Although the day itself was full of challenges and all of our typical planning out of each stage (yes, even on unstructured days we do this) and reminding the boys of every move we will make (which is really exhausting), I think of smaller more beautiful moments:

Wonder Boy to his brother: “Look to the west!  Look over there! There’s a barn in the west!!”
And a little later, as Wonder Boy quietly hummed “Piano Man” (one of his new favorite songs) to himself.
Or perhaps earlier in the day, when Speedy helped the cashier at the grocery store by spinning the bagging carousel whenever she prompted him ever so patiently.
Or the moment when, after seeing Speedy eat successfully without any struggles, my husband turned to me and said “Maybe I need to rethink how we handle mealtimes.”

You see, this evening, we allowed them to eat dinner while watching a movie- something educational and relatively chill in its nature.  And as Speedy’s one to one aide had observed, when he’s occupied with something like this, he eats.  He doesn’t exhibit any of the usual signs of anxiety, and he often eats the entire meal.  That was a beautiful thing to see first hand, and I was really taken aback that my husband was open to setting aside one of the few non-negotiables- family dinners happen at the table.
Sure, statistics do show the many benefits for adults and for children when mealtime is taken together and sitting around the dining room table.  My counter to that is that I would bet that upon further examination those studies did not take neurodiversity into consideration.  That the white-picket-fence families with 2.5 children (I’ve often wondered about that odd number) who are neurotypical are the ones examined.  And yes, for those families it makes a lot of sense.  But we really must appreciate the needs of the individual, and set our children up for success.  If that means alternate meal configurations, then I’m all for it and I’m really grateful to have my husband on board.

But my all-time favorite moment from the day:  When my husband broke his “grumpy old man” persona and left me absolutely guffawing.  It doesn’t happen often, because life is so busy, but my word these are the moments which keep me going.