Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Happy Trails!

Well, folks, we’ve made it. We’ve reached the first day of spring. Regardless of what the weather is like in your area, you’re probably looking forward to a time very soon, when you’ll be able to go out and enjoy nature. That’s a good thing! According to the National Wildlife Association’s Be Out There campaign, spending time outdoors has substantial benefits to our physical, psychological and spiritual health and well-being. For children with disabilities, those benefits are even greater says Kathy Ambrosini, director of education at the Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz, N.Y.  In addition to her professional credentials, Ambrosini is also the mother of a child with autism.

“For these kids,” says Ambrosini, “time spent in natural settings can offer relief from their symptoms and an environment that helps them to think differently as they begin to craft new strategies for managing their disabilities.”

But, if you or someone you love has a disability, finding safe and accessible places for a hike, bird-watching outing or picnic isn’t necessarily a given. Making the issue more complex is the fact that what’s accessible to one person may not be accessible to another.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Karen and Marie Killilea: Trailblazers in CP Awareness

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month and at Enabling Devices, we believe that one of the best ways of raising awareness is through books! Few books did more to raise awareness about CP and the potential of people with CP than the 1952 best-seller, “Karen” by Marie Killilea. Killilea also published a sequel called, “With Love from Karen” in 1963 and “Wren,” a children’s version of Karen’s story published in 1968.

Written long before the Americans with Disabilities Act and decades before people with disabilities had the benefits of technology, at a time when doctors routinely told parents whose children were born with CP to institutionalize and forget about them, “Karen,” which tells the true story of Karen Killilea, was nothing short of groundbreaking.

When she was born in 1940, Karen Killilea was three months early and weighed less than two pounds. As she failed to reach developmental milestones, Karen’s parents consulted with doctors who were unable to provide a clear diagnosis but were overwhelmingly pessimistic about the little girl’s prognosis. According to Marie Killileas’ 1991 obituary, doctors told her and her husband James that their daughter’s “case was hopeless”. They said that “Karen had no intellect, could never learn to walk or communicate with others.” But Marie knew they were wrong.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

How Horses Heal

Courtesy of PATH International
With only a couple of weeks until the official beginning of spring, many of us are raring to get outside. And when the weather’s fine, indoor therapy sessions may be the last thing you, your child or your clients want to do. Fortunately, some types of therapy are meant to take place out of doors. In fact, early spring is a great time to saddle up. For children and adults with special needs, spending time on and around horses can be great fun, as well as therapeutic.

There are two types of horseback riding especially for people with disabilities—hippotherapy and therapeutic or adaptive horseback riding. One of these therapeutic activities may be right for you, your child or a client.

Hippotherapy
Derived from the Greek word for horse “hippo,” hippotherapy is a medical treatment modality that utilizes the natural movements and unique qualities of horses to produce neurological changes that may result in improved posture, increased strength and coordination and sensory integration. Hippotherapy can be beneficial to individuals with neuro-musculoskeletal disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, neuromuscular disorders, post-traumatic brain injury, autism, ADHD and cognitive disorders. The therapy is prescribed by a physician and conducted by an occupational, physical or speech and language therapist who has received training and is certified in hippotherapy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Another Honor for Matlin

It’s hard not to feel like an underachiever when you read about people like Marlee Matlin. Perhaps best known for her Oscar-winning performance in the 1986 film, “Children of a Lesser God,” Matlin was just 21 in 1987, when she became the youngest actress in history to receive the award for Best Actress in a debut film performance. In addition, Matlin was and still is, the only deaf actor ever to receive the award. Thirty years later, Matlin will receive another award—this time for her activism on behalf of people with disabilities.

After her Oscar win, Matlin went on to perform in many films and held major roles in television shows such as “The West Wing,” “Picket Fences,” “The L Word,” “Switched at Birth,” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Matlin is also an author, having published three children’s novels and a New York Times best-selling autobiography, “I’ll Scream Later,” in 2009. Matlin even has an app in which she teaches American Sign Language!

Though widely admired for her work in the arts, many fans are less knowledgeable about Matlin’s philanthropic work. That may have changed last week when multiple news outlets announced that Matlin, a spokeswoman for the National Association for the Deaf, will be honored in June with the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion for her activism on behalf of people with disabilities.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Supporting Siblings


It’s not always easy being the sibling of a child with disabilities. Even when parents are extremely sensitive to their typically developing children’s needs, these siblings face unique challenges that are sometimes overlooked because they may pale in comparison to the many challenges faced by a brother or sister with disabilities. 

Some of these may include:
      ·   Guilt about not having a disability
      ·   Worries about the medical status of their sibling
      ·    Resentment that their sibling gets so much attention 
      ·    Embarrassment about their sibling’s appearance or behavior
      ·   Feelings of isolation because their family situation is different from their peers’
      ·    Feeling obligated to take a parenting role in relation to their sibling

Fortunately, there are things parents can do

Monday, February 13, 2017

Seven Ways to have a Happy and Inclusive Valentine’s Day

It’s easy to dismiss Valentine’s Day as just a “Hallmark holiday,” but for many children, February 14 is a special date with great significance. Though children with profound cognitive disabilities may not be aware of the holiday, children with more moderate challenges, especially those who attend school alongside typically developing peers, are at least somewhat tuned into to the Valentine’s Day festivities. As a teacher, therapist or parent, how can you make Valentine’s Day a happy time for your child, students or clients? Here are some tips to make the kids in your life feel loved.

1.                  Focus on friendship
Valentine’s Day is a great time to discuss love, friendship and kindness. Ask children to reflect on what it means to be a good friend and how we show love and kindness. Can they describe a time when they felt loved by a friend or family member?

2.                  Have a love-themed story-time
Read developmentally appropriate books about love and friendship and then discuss them with your child or students. Some good choices for younger children include:  “Love Monster” by Rachel Bright, “Be a Friend” by Salina Yoon and “If You’ll be My Valentine,” by Cynthia Rylant.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Award Season and the Disabilities Community

It’s that time of year again. In the past several weeks, the People’s Choice Awards, The Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Directors Guild Awards and the American Cinematographer Awards have all taken place. The Grammys, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards will all air later this month. Though it’s been a great year for film and TV overall, when it comes to the representation of people with disabilities it left a lot to be desired.

Despite the fact that one in five Americans has some sort of disability, it’s rare to find a realistic, three dimensional major character with a disability on TV or in film. Even when a TV show or movie does feature a character with a disability, the role is seldom played by an actor with a disability. In fact, the Ruderman White Pages Report on Employment Of Actors With Disabilities In Television recently found that, “Ninety-five percent of characters with disabilities … are played by able-bodied actors.”

That said, in the past year, a number of TV programs and films featuring main characters with disabilities have drawn praise from critics. “Speechless” an ABC sitcom that airs on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. is especially groundbreaking.

“Speechless”
Starring Minnie Driver as headstrong mom Maya DiMeo, “Speechless” is a typical sit-com about a typical family with one important difference. JJ, Maya’s eldest son, has cerebral palsy, is nonverbal and uses an augmentative alternative communication device to express himself. “Speechless” deserves credit for casting a young actor who actually has cerebral palsy to play the role of JJ. The actor, Micah Fowler and his realistic depiction of the teen boy with disabilities has received high praise from James Poniewozik of the New York Times.

“JJ DiMeo (Micah Fowler) is no angel. He’s sarcastic; he’s a little devious; he can be rude. In other words, he’s a teenager...That JJ has cerebral palsy, which keeps him from speaking, as well as limits his obscene gestures, is what makes ABC’s “Speechless” distinctive. That he’s a flawed kid with a flawed family in a reasonably funny sitcom is what makes ‘Speechless’ good, rather than simply worthy.”