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Disability Awareness Day

By Miriam G. Mazliach

June 11, 2013

To help younger students understand and learn more about classmates with special needs, Fremont’s Special Education teachers and staff planned a Disability Awareness Day at Grimmer Elementary on May 31. Aligned with the school’s anti-bullying campaign, the event was organized by Resource Specialist, Joni Clark. The daylong program was filled with hands-on activities for first, second and third graders geared to help them experience and understand what it is like to have a disability.

Clark explained, “As special educators we strive to bring awareness and to promote acceptance for our students with special needs -- we’re all alike, but in different ways.”

Throughout the day, classes rotated through the Multi-Use Room to participate in activities at four different stations. “It’s important to integrate and help students feel included and educate our students,” added Clark. “We, all as a school community, need to be talking about this.”

At each center, a school specialist explained a specific disability and had the students take part in an activity to increase awareness and acceptance.

At station one, “Speech and Language,” Deanna Tosh, a Speech and Language Pathologist, led the activity that enabled students to experience what it is like to have speech difficulties. To learn what it is like to not be understood, students were given a marshmallow to put between their lips and attempt to speak. Tosh encouraged them to think about using an alternative method to be understood such as hand gestures, drawing pictures or writing their message.

Station two, “Learning Disabilities,” had students listen to a story about learning disabilities and respond to questions and take part in various tasks such as trying to follow instructions while looking at a mirror. School Psychologist, Kristen Martin, and Resource Specialist, Joanie Clark, worked with groups of students to teach them that sometimes the brain works differently and that it can be difficult to follow directions. “Finding out how things work takes practice,” explained Clark.

Clark had decided to become a Special Educator when a friend of her son had difficulty in school. She wanted to find out how to reach a kid like this who was bright and talented, but wasn’t successful in the classroom. “It’s important to find similarities to connect us,” she said.

At station three, “Autism” was the focus with Inclusion Specialist, Cherie Sanchez. Students took turns experiencing what it might feel like to be a person with autism and participated in a sensory exercise relating to the five senses (sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing). Sanchez explained, “It’s not a bad thing to have a disability, it’s just different. They have to learn to do things differently as their senses are affected and might be bothered by distractions in a classroom,” said Sanchez. “But everyone wants to be included,” she added.

Outside, in the courtyard, Occupational Specialist, Maria DeWitt, directed station four on “Physical Disability.” Students gained a greater understanding of how those with physical disabilities have to work hard and persevere. In the exercise, students had to sit on the ground and with one hand behind their back (to simulate a non-functioning or missing limb), try to open a sealed bag, unscrew the item inside and then reassemble it. In another activity, students attempted to walk with a Frisbee placed between their knees without dropping the item. The students realized the difficulty someone with Cerebral Palsy, for example, might have with just being able to walk.

The students all seemed to be actively engaged in the activities at each station and were able to learn new information and gain insight into what classmates with disabilities might have to go through. One of the young student’s commented, “This has been the best day of my life. I’ve learned a lot and see that it’s really hard.”

Sanchez asserts, “More education about disabilities is important. Once you start learning and talking about it, it’s not taboo anymore.”

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