Tag Archives: diversity

The cool thing- Part 1

12 Jul

There are so many cool things about my job besides, of course, the whole I-get-to-make-a-difference-in-people’s-lives thing. When I’m not enjoying the satisfaction of teaching a kid how to communicate or how to do basic life skills independently, I’m enjoying the little aspects of the job. One cool thing about my job is: it gives me exposure to all sorts of diversity.

diversity

I work with all different ages, races, religions, family structures, and socio-economic statuses. I once worked with a kid at a Jewish temple. I ate my fair share of challah bread every Friday and knew the Ha-Motzi word for word. Then I spent several years shadowing kids at a Catholic elementary school.  I went to Mass every week with my kiddos, and could recite the Hail Mary in my sleep. I’ve worked in Christian households, and Buddhist homes. I’ve worked with families who live in bona fide mansions with home theaters and high-tech security cameras installed everywhere. And I’ve also worked in mobile homes and single bedroom apartments. One of my former families owned half the homes in a well-to-do housing neighborhood while another squeezed 3 people into 1 bed because all they had was a rented room in someone else’s house. Some of the families I’ve worked with have stay- at-home moms (or dads!), while others have both parents working and live in nannies. Some even have both parents at home, or extended family that lives with them. I’ve worked with families struggling so much financially that they kept several rooms without any working light bulbs. And others who were so wealthy they offered to pay me to travel to other continents with them. I’ve worked with married parents, divorced parents, single parents, adoptive parents. I’ve worked in a home where the divorced parents still lived together. I’ve worked with families who are Caucasian, Mexican, Ethiopian, Kenyan, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Greek, and so many more. I’ve worked with parents who share with me their own medical and mental health issues. I’ve worked with families dealing with divorce, unemployment, adoption issues, incarceration… I’ve worked in a home where I had to make multiple child abuse reports. I’ve worked with people from all walks of life, with all different backgrounds.

It’s so crazy the disparity between families that I come across. And, the longer I work with a family, the more I get to learn about them. I learn about their traditions, and holidays, and beliefs, and family dynamics. I learn about their values and their struggles; their faith and their lifestyles. I feel so educated, while at the same time, knowing there is still so much to know and learn. It’s really fascinating, the wide array of people and circumstances my job introduces me to. And, I know many people regularly interact with different cultures, religions, and socio-economic statuses. That’s nothing unique. But, the nature of my profession is to be in people’s private sanctuaries (their homes), working hands-on with what they hold most dear (their children). I’m there with such consistency over such long periods of time, that I believe my job offers me a deeper insight into the diversity so many of us may only see on the surface. So that’s one cool thing about my job… I get the opportunity to learn about others in a profoundly personal way I wouldn’t otherwise get to.

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Bullies

14 Sep

A new study (discussed here) reports that 46% of autistic teens and pre-teens are bullied. This is almost 5 times higher than the national average of typically developing children who fall victim to bullying. Plus, the study indicates that higher functioning kids on the spectrum are targeted more than severely disabled kids.

I guess it makes sense…people, even kids and teens, usually have compassion for those who are clearly disabled. They “feel bad” for the person, and they know it’s wrong to make fun of them. But the kid who walks and talks and goes to the same classes and plays the same sports….well when that kid does something unusual, he’s just a weirdo. It’s almost as though the more a person fits in, the more they stand out. High-functioning autistic kids are on a level playing field with their non-autistic counterparts in so many areas. So the areas they may not be up to par tend to be more noticeable (difficulty with conversation, understanding sarcasm, jokes, or social cues, difficulty relating to others emotions, etc).

So why is this happening? And how can we stop it?

Well this is where education comes in.

Educating kids about diversity, and compassion, and inclusion.

Educating kids on disabilities and how they can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Educating kids on acceptance, tolerance, love…

You see, I was bullied as a kid. Junior high was torture for me. I went to school in a very wealthy beach town, but I wasn’t one of the rich kids. I was teased relentlessly for my clothes, my hair, my teeth, my music preferences, where I shopped…..and I was called all sorts of terrible names. Most of my 7th grade year I spent passing periods and lunch breaks roaming the large campus (pretending to be busy going from building to building) so that I wouldn’t have to be seen sitting alone. I would even make pretend phone calls on the on-campus pay phone sometimes to avoid people. It was really miserable. And to this day I still remember the people who bullied me. (Oddly enough, I’m now friends with a few of them on Facebook. ) But those memories haven’t left. They probably never will. Bullying hurts. And it made going to school a nightmare for me. So, I’d like to impart to whoever reads this some words that an old family friend told me when I started high school…

He said, “You never know who is looking up to you and just wishing you’d notice them. So be nice to everybody. You never know if your smile might make somebody’s day.”

I believe it. None of us know just how much our behavior affects other people. So, I think it’s important to teach kids how they can make an impact. And, to talk with them about what type of impact they want to have. Do they want to be that bully that someone remembers 14 years later? Or do they want to be that friendly person that people remember, the one who was also so kind ? What if their kindness inspired others? What if their greeting or smile or invitation to a special needs student meant the world? What if their attitude about diversity meant no one had to sit alone at lunch? What if they could make a difference? (Spoiler alert: THEY CAN!)

It’s so important to empower children and teens, and to encourage loving relationships with people, even if they’re different. And besides, once someone opens up to an autistic peer, they might just realize what a great person he or she is! And most of all, I want to impress that these beliefs and attitudes start at home. If parents foster an appreciation for diversity, rather than make it something scary or bad or wrong, their children are more likely to follow suit.

Last, but not least, here are some excellent resources for more information on how to educate children about peers with special needs:

http://www.care.com/special-needs-teaching-your-child-about-peers-with-special-needs-p1017-q598.html

http://www.education.com/magazine/article/teaching_kids_special_needs_peers/

http://diaryofamom.tjandpals.com/2012/03/04/teaching-children-special/

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