Tag Archives: children

Including For Everyone’s Needs

nancy crownBy: Nancy J.Crown, Ph. D.

Last week, a mother describing her eight year old son who has disabilities had this to say:  “He is doing 6th grade math.  In fact, he goes around all day calculating pi, but he can’t find his classroom from the entrance of his school building.”  She went on to tell me, “This is a boy who is thinking about pi 24/7, and the school expects him to change classrooms, some of them in different buildings, for all his subjects.  They’ve given him a key, which he has no ability to use, let alone keep track of, to travel from building to building.  How is that inclusion!?”

As this mother suggests, inclusion is more complicated than it looks.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, inclusion is defined as:  “The act of including; the state of being included; the act or practice of including students with disabilities in regular school classes.”  The Merriam-Webster thesaurus claims there are no synonyms for “inclusion” and directs the searcher to “inclusive” under which the following are listed:  all embracing; all-in; complete, embracive; universal.

Now we are getting closer.  As a psychologist and the mother of a 28 year old daughter who has disabilities, to me and other kindred parents, inclusion means including for everyone’s needs.  If you simply plunk a kid down in a mainstream setting without the proper preparation, modifications and awareness, you are not “embracing” that child.  You are not setting them up for success.  This goes for adults with disabilities too.

Everyone wants to be included.  When a person experiences a profound and unexpected loss, or even an expected one, a rupture occurs in that person’s sense of belonging.  He or she feels a heightened sense of aloneness—a felt experience of being alone with the deep pain of difference that he and he alone must bear.  All of the parents I’ve talked with describe this kind of isolating pain upon receiving the news that their child has a disability.  As Andrew Solomon so aptly says in his recently published book Far From the Tree, “…our children are not us….And yet, we are our children.” (2012, p.1).  I think the same could be said about families.  This is why the effects of disability seep into the life of every member of the family.

Nancy Crown participates in a NY Jewish Week Forum on disabilities and inclusion. http://bit.ly/1gbu0m5 Credit: Michael Datikash

Nancy Crown participates in a NY Jewish Week Forum on disabilities and inclusion. http://bit.ly/1gbu0m5
Credit: Michael Datikash

To the extent that we define spirituality as a meaningful connection to ourselves, others and something larger than ourselves, a parent’s realization of a marked problem with their child is a spiritual crisis.  It shatters one’s fundamental sense of a world that makes sense.  In time, most parents come to genuinely treasure their child in all of his or her splendid uniqueness, but the job of parenting (or brothering, sistering or grand-parenting) a child with any sort of disabling difference requires a kind of forbearance, courage, stamina and resourcefulness that no family is prepared to supply.

People with disabilities are the largest minority in our country.  With an ever growing older population, the percentage of us living with disabilities will only increase.  Research demonstrates an intimate connection between spirituality and positive coping with a disability, for individuals as well as for their families (2007, Boswell, Hammer, Knight, Glacoff & McChesney).  Participation in an accepting community acts as a kind of protective mechanism, a hedge against the loneliness, exhaustion and hopelessness that often accompany disability.

As families, we need our communities to understand that if the challenges we face aren’t recognized along with the unique opportunities, our heartache along with our joy, then we are not seen.  Similarly, to include us and our children requires an appreciation of what our families have to offer as well as the special care we need.  Cater only to our needs and you diminish us.  Pretend that our children are only delightful variations on a theme, and you dismiss the arduousness of our journey.  True acceptance and inclusion mean embracing the whole complicated package, and it means making room in communities for people who have very real difficulties alongside singular and sometimes fascinating gifts.

Dr. Nancy Crown is a clinical psychologist in private practice New York City.  She is the mother an adult on the autism spectrum, and co-founder/ co-director of “Shireinu”, the Congregation Rodeph Sholom initiative to create greater opportunities for inclusion in synagogue life of families with members who have disabilities.  She has presented widely, and published on topics related to disability.

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Back To School Tips

Sharon GoldsteinBy: Sharon Goldstein

Have you ever really thought about all that goes on during your child’s day in school? Each time they switch classes, it can literally feel like stepping into another country. Each teacher has different rules, expectations and customs. Do you raise your hand to go to the bathroom, or just go? Are you penalized for handing in an assignment late? Can you call out an answer, or do you need to raise your hand? Can you eat in class? Imagine how much more overwhelming this can be for students with executive functioning and organizational issues. Here are a few strategies that parents and teachers can implement to help ease back-to-school anxiety and navigate the academic jungle.

  • Before the start of the school year, visit the school and walk around, find the restrooms and other important places. Also let your child check out the playground and play.
  • Butterflies can be anxiety, but it can also be excitement. Help your child articulate what s/he is feeling by asking open-ended questions: What do you think will be different this year?  What are you curious about? What have you heard about ______ grade?
  • You know your child – use her/him as a gauge as to how much information to provide. Some children need to know exactly what to expect and don’t like the unknown; some children become overwhelmed by too much information.
  • Current research is telling us that there are positive correlations between movement/physical activity and learning and achievement.  Encourage some form of physical activity before school. This gets the blood pumping and aids in concentration at school.
Gateways Back to School

Photo courtesy of Gateways

  • Establish a routine bedtime prior to school starting.
  • Most children need down time after school before doing homework. Let them take a breather.
  • Establish a predictable homework routine. Give them a snack before they begin homework. Have a quiet place to study/do homework. Your child will need to take breaks – expect them to take short breaks every 20 minutes to move around (ten jumping jacks is a great tool to get out energy and refocus them). When they complete their homework, have them put in their backpack and pack anything else they need for the next day. That way, in the morning, the only thing left to put in the backpack is lunch.
  • Create a morning routine (e.g. wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and hair, make lunch, put it in backpack, go to school). Remember to eat protein at breakfast and pack healthy snacks to help boost learning and concentration.
  • For older students with longer term assignments, consider hanging a whiteboard calendar in an obvious spot with any appointments/sorts/activities so they can plan accordingly.
  • Be aware of how many/what types of after-school activities are appropriate for your child. Again, you know your child best.
  • If you point out the fact that each class/teacher is different, it will help students focus on figuring out the “customs” of each class.  Making them aware will help them pay closer attention to these rules that some students figure out easily but others need to be explicitly told.  Encourage students to feel free to ask the teacher about his/her rules and expectations, if they are not sure.

Using these strategies will cut down on typical back-to-school anxieties and help ease your child back into the daily grind. We wish you a happy, successful year!

Sharon Goldstein is the Director of Day School Programs for Gateways: Access to Jewish Education. Gateways is Greater Boston’s central agency for education for children with disabilities across Jewish institutions. Additional tips were provided by Sharon’s team of therapists. Engage with Gateways on Twitter or connect to Gateways on Facebook.

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