I have been pondering for a while on how Wards and Branches can be better educated to be more inclusive. More inclusive of all of those with disabilities, but especially children and teenagers.
There are many ideas out there. The Church currently has a more "segregated" process. I have seen the "special" needs programs sometimes be successful with creating an inclusive ward and stake--where those in the same ward and stake as the youth are those whom are included in the activity of the "special" program. I've seen a few CES programs like this.
But, for the most part, unfortunately, these programs seem to segregate those with disabilities into "special" programs--rather than integrating and teaching the local Ward and Branch leaders to include and fully fellowship all of their members. And most of the time, outside of UT, these programs do not exist.
Thus--I have been pondering how education and training can be offered to ALL the children and youth in the Church--and their leaders and teachers, of course.
I went to a Conference earlier this year (not connected to the Church) and a mom and professor of a young man with severe disabilities and health issues shared how she and her son's elementary school initiated a reading program. This program has grown with her son--and now it has expanded and grown. They did trainings with these young people--mainly those his age. This young man received his education at home, as he was unable to leave his home because of his medical needs--so these young people volunteered to come to him. They had "Circle of Friends" and "Person Centered Plans" with his peers. They taught his peers how he communicated--and it's only grown and gotten better.
I watched and listened to her presentation--and realized, THIS is what we need in the Church. Parents should not be left alone to do this. Ward leaders should not be left without trainings. And certainly, the person with a disability and their peers should be provided the opportunities to know how to include each other.
SO--I have been gathering websites of ideas similar to these. Some are more of "Buddy" volunteer programs--others are different.
So--I have a range of ideas with this. I'd like to begin to design a training manual--short, sweet, but to the point for leaders and teachers--and the Youth.
But, honestly--as different as this might sound--I'd like to begin a movement.
See--although I was an imperfect teenager (just like they all are)--and didn't always see the different ways I could serve and include, I had an great friend in high school.
He was in both my Seminary class, and a Child Development class. We got to know each other. He was well known in our school, and luckily--by high school--was much better treated (this was not true in middle school, unfortunately. I did not know him then either--just of him...)
But--James was my friend. I and my peers in both classes worked to include him. And I volunteered (not formally) to help him a little in the Child Development class. Not as a "peer tutor" or anything like that--just, as a friend.
James was my friend--yes, he taught me a lot--yes, I learned a lot from him. But most importantly--he was my friend.
So--I'm thinking of starting the "James' Circle" for the youth in the Church. Right now, I'm still pondering it all--I hope someday to have a website or something. But, I guess what I hope to promote that youth in the Church choose to become friends with their peers in their Branches, Wards, and beyond--who have disabilities. Not to "tutor" them--but to be their friend. To include them.
A mom of a teenager with a disability told me once about the youth in her ward--the young men. I believe they had moved into that ward once her son was a little older (older Primary)--at first, the young men his age weren't sure what to do. But--quickly they just began including him in activities, scouts, and so forth. Then, she told me how one day they called her, and asked if he could come over and 'hang out". And then began a wonderful thing. They invited him to "hang out" with them on a regular basis--he was very popular--and they included him. The mom was so excited that he had friends--and she also found that his friends were willing to come "hang out" with him when she needed to run errands, or just needed a break. They always included him. She didn't have to ask the ward for this, she didn't have to do more than say 'yes"--and found a group of trustworthy young men--who chose to be this boy's friend--while he was happy to be their friend.
I guess--this is what I envision: that the youth in the Church will follow suit! I believe in them. So--let's see how big we can make "James' Circle"!!!
Here are some of the websites I've found. Hopefully they can be helpful to those from Wards and Branches looking for help/ideas:
http://www.friendshipcircle.com/about_friendship_circle_international.asp This is a "buddy" type of volunteer program through the Jewish religion. Their mission and vision is awesome!!!
http://www.iamnorm.org/home.aspx This is from the Inclusion Youth Council! Have to love them!!!
http://www.pathwayskids.org/dream/include_me.html This is another great set of programs--for BOTH children and teenagers. I ESPECIALLY like the children ideas on this one---to start it young!!! Brilliant idea!! I can testify--it made a HUGE difference to me that my nursery and Primary were ALWAYS fully inclusive!!! Way back in the late 70's and early 80's!!!
http://www.pathwayskids.org/ Direct link to Pathways (same as above)
http://www.circleofriends.org/ Explanation web site of the Circle of Friends idea. This idea is not new, in the "disability" world--but A LOT of parents and families do not know about this--or how to do it. Yet--the concept could be IDEAL for wards and branches--along with the "disability" concept of "natural supports"!!!
http://tucollaborative.org/pdfs/Toolkits_Monographs_Guidebooks/relationships_family_friends_intimacy/Natural_Supports.pdf Here's a basic explanation of "Natural Supports"--so ideal for Wards and Branches!!!
http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/edi/pcp/ This is a great website about Person Centered Planning. Again, a GREAT ideal thing for families and Wards/Branches!!!
Here's a great news story from March, 2010--about students in New Jersey petitioning their school's administration for more inclusion of their peers with intellectual disabilities! This story still makes me just so happy! And children (or in this case--teenagers) shall lead!!!
And another one--from one of my favorite towns!!! Again--teenagers leading the adults--beautiful!!!
I am adding some information on Partial Participation. I watched a video on Mormon.org a while back--about some Young Women who completed the Young Woman Medalion (sp?) by proxy for a young woman with autism. I don't know the whole story--and although it seemed like a nice story--I admit I was "bugged". I wanted to know--as this young woman was able to communicate "yes" and "no"--and perhaps other things--how involved she was in the process of completing the project. As far as I understand the Eagle Scout requirements--the future Eagle is expected to complete as much of the project on their own as they are capable of. Thus, even if they can communicate a decision (yes, no)--they should be involved in deciding what is done, and doing any part they are capable of. It did not seem like this is what occurred in this situation (on the Mormon.org video)--but, I don't know the whole story--so can't really say for sure.
So--I'm advocating for guidelines to be added--and that "partial participation" becomes a part of this "by proxy" idea--both for Eagle Scouts--and especially for Young Women! The person who the project is "in proxy" of--should do the project "with"--not have it done "for" them!!!
So--here is a video that shows a visual image of "partial participation"--and a short Powerpoint too.
Anyone else know any good ideas? Let me know :)