Breaking Down Barriers: Working with Children, Youth, and Families Impacted by “Disabilities”

By: Dee Blose, Executive Director, Youth & Family Services, Inc.

We all have a “disability” of sorts.  I wear glasses.  Without them I would be lost in this world.  Glasses are basically my accommodation to help me better access my environment.  They help me be the best that I can be!

That is the purpose of any accommodation for someone that learns, processes, or accesses the world in a different way.  If we could think of “disabilities” as mere differences, rather than a weakness, then we have made the first step to break down a barrier for our clients.

I have had the amazing opportunity to get to know a group of children, youth and young adults with a variety of “abilities” through some of our programing here at Youth & Family Services, Inc. in El Reno, Oklahoma.  We have a partnership with AutismOklahoma.org, a state-wide parent driven autism support system.  Through that partnership we assist with a couple of summer camps, and a year round social/entrepreneurial club called Bee’s Knees.

What we have found through working with a variety of children, youth and young adults on the autism spectrum is that they are more like the rest of us than different!  And that is where our common ground lies.  Finding those “touch points” where our interests can intersect give us the perfect space to come together and share, communicate, and grow together.  Music, animals, art, and hobbies all offer this common ground that we can join together celebrating.

One of the most rewarding experiences I have had with Bee’s Knees was attendance at an art show showcasing their artwork.  Youth that are quiet, non-social, suddenly open up about their art, especially when their art is about an interest of theirs.  Art about computers, video games, electronics, movies, books, animals, whatever is their passion all the sudden leads to communication and socializing.  It is a glorious sight to see them engage.  One particular young man will take a strangers arm and gently lead them over to his work.  Although he has a stutter, he is adamant that he describes his work in detail.  It always seems to actually have a complete story, a beginning and an end.  One of his works describes the process of renting a video game, everything from ordering it on-line to the postman delivering it to his mailbox, to him enjoying it (artwork included below).

gamefly

Without common ground opportunities, this type of communication would be lost, never even heard in the context of a public event or public opportunity.  It would rather be a topic of a social skills conversation where a therapist would be challenging this youth to NOT talk about his video game, but to try and stay to more “socially appropriate” topics.  I don’t know about you but one of my favorite things to talk about are my current interests, so why would they be any different?

Developing programs that capitalize on their interest and their strengths opens up the world to new possibilities.  Suddenly these barriers become moments of enlightenment and new human interactions, new appreciations for different points of wonder, new experiences from both directions.

Consider as you are identifying “barriers” to participation for children, youth, and families impacted by “disabilities” that you look at it in an entirely different way.  If you were on their side of the “barrier” what would be important to you?  Where would you want to interface and engage?  What have you got to showcase to the world?  Then build a program or event or activity from that perspective, inviting all the rest of the world (or group) to join.  It may very well be that the barrier we have erected is basically only perceived from the original perspective.  You may very well now not see a barrier, but rather a bridge that connects us all together into one glorious group of humans that can laugh, sing, dance, and participate as complimenting spirits in the program we call “life”.

For more information about Youth & Family Services in El Reno, Oklahoma, visit their website: http://www.yfsok.org/

For more information about Bee’s Knees visit their website: http://beeskneesart.com/ 

To see a full length movie (one hour) about Swanky Art Camp, including meeting many campers on the autism spectrum, view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MMDSzqtwww 

To get more general disability accommodation information, visit this websitehttp://www.aucd.org/itac/template/index.cfm

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