How can we interact more with people with developmental disabilities?
October 15, 2012 3:31 PM   Subscribe

How can I help my daughter interact with people with developmental disabilities?

I'd like for my 7-year-old to know people with developmental disabilities, and to feel comfortable interacting with them. Ideally she'd have semi-regular interactions with kids roughly her age, doing some kid-type activity, but I haven't had much luck looking for such situations. I've called a few places that provide services to people with disabilities, and the special ed office at her school, but I haven't been able to find anything, and people generally seem kind of confused about what it is I'm looking for. I'd like some suggestions for how else I could try to create this. I'm in Anchorage, AK.
posted by stinker to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Surely these places need volunteers? Our school is always looking for volunteers to have lunch and play boardgames with our developmentally delayed students.

At the same time, 7-years-old is still pretty young. I can see how an organization or a school could see your daughter as another person that would need to be supervised rather than someone actively assisting. Your child will more than likely get to interact with developmentally delayed students simply by being at school. At this age, I would talk with your daughter about why some of her classmates are different and explain how to act appropriately around them while answering any questions she has. She will have plenty of time to get more actively involved in the next few years.
posted by Nightman at 3:46 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check out your local Easter Seals - in my experience (different state) they have excellent volunteer opportunities. For instance, the pre-school here has children with various disabilities as well as those who do not to encourage integration and respect.

The National Down Syndrome Society would be another place to start - maybe you could help out with a Buddy Walk?
posted by cessair at 3:47 PM on October 15, 2012

Do you mind if I ask why you're interested in having her meet people with developmental disabilities? That'd help me frame my answer, anyway. Not saying that she shouldn't spend time with them, but your motivations might help people answer your question.
posted by summerteeth at 3:50 PM on October 15, 2012

Do you have Special Olympics events in your area?
posted by greta simone at 3:54 PM on October 15, 2012

Summerteeth, I guess I want her to have this kind of experience because she doesn't know anyone right now who has these kind of issues, and I want her to. I grew up around people with developmental disabilities and I know if kids haven't had this opportunity that it be hard to know how to interact with them. She goes to public school and her class is reasonably diverse, so I know she gets to play with lots of different kinds of kids, but I wish they could have more direct experiences with developmentally disabled kids. It seems simple in my mind, but when I try to talk about it it feels like I'm being unclear about something and I'm not sure exactly what's missing.

It's true that she's isn't old enough to "volunteer" and I'm not sure I'd like to frame it that way, anyway. It's not like she'd be doing anyone any special favors, because (as has been pointed out) she's 7. Also, I'd rather not make this into a "service" activity, more like a generally social activity that happens to involve people with disabilities. Also, most places I've contacted about volunteering opportunities don't allow kids to participate or even accompany their parents because of insurance issues.
posted by stinker at 4:04 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was going to point you to L'Arche as a group that has a philosophy that might lend itself to this interaction, but there's no community in Alaska.

Special Olympics Alaska as a spectator?

On preview: I see greta simone has beat me to it.
posted by Jahaza at 4:04 PM on October 15, 2012

In Anchorage, Hope Community Resources works with the developmentally disabled population and has some volunteer opportunities throughout the year.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:08 PM on October 15, 2012

If you want to keep trying with the volunteering angle -- yes, one does run into "no kids" a lot, but, press on; I volunteer at two places that are happy with me bringing my 5yo along.
posted by kmennie at 4:44 PM on October 15, 2012

I don't know about AK, but locally where I live speech-language pathologists actively recruit "typical" students to participate in group activities with children with Autism. You might want to consider contacting local clinics (speech, occupational therapy, or physical therapy) to see if they have similar set-ups.
posted by absquatulate at 4:56 PM on October 15, 2012

If you volunteer for events, then your daughter's presence there will be much more natural. My sister-in-law runs my niece's Buddy Walk, and the planning meetings always include babysitting because most of the volunteers are moms. Over the course of the year the kids get to know each other very well, and it's very natural. They end up going to each other's birthday parties, having play dates, all that stuff.
posted by headnsouth at 5:24 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

When we were kids, I met my first folks with any sort of disabilities (outside of the special education program at my school) because my mom had a friend who worked at Perkins School for the Blind and we went over there a few times and sort of "shadowed" her at her job. Coming from a really small town I'd met very few people who weren't exactly like me and this ranked high in the formative experiences I had around that time, talking to visually disabled kids who played basketball and did other kid things just like I did and talking to them about what that was like and etc. Much different from just reading books about Helen Keller.

I'd consider talking to your local public library who is likely to have more of a handle on different special populations that they serve and who may be able to give you some tips or advice.
posted by jessamyn at 6:23 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you able to provide respite care for children with disabilities in your home? Both bio families of kids with disabilities and foster families sometimes need a break and that's where respite providers come in. Your local ID/DD (or DHS) office will probably have resources for you to pursue. Providing respite care would likely come with some basic training requirements, a background check and a home visit.

You'd be providing a much needed service and helping your daughter learn about people's differences. Win/Win
posted by dchrssyr at 6:33 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a fantastic thing you're doing for your daughter and I applaud you. My nieces and nephew all have various ranges of disability, although all three are able to live semi-independently today. Because of their participation in "mainstreamed" supportive education and other programs, including a school district independent living preparation program*, they have had extensive contact with others who have disabilities, sometimes much more profound than their own, and they have developed significant empathy, understanding, and acceptance skills that I envy.

I don't know what I can add to the above, really, because you are creating a challenge for many organizations; they just aren't equipped for helping your young daughter, and they carry some concerns of their own. Volunteering yourself in things that are big group activities, such as a Special Olympics team (my nieces are both in bowling), can be one way as long as your daughter is in fact prepared to handle herself and you're prepared to make sure she isn't a problem. Most of the adults in these team situations are parents or other relatives, but some are teachers and community leaders. It can't hurt to ask, or even to show up as a spectator. I guarantee that the wide range of ages and abilities in attendance makes for a warm, diverse environment that it's hard to consider ways to be intrusive.

My best suggestion, I think, is to think along the lines of advocacy and perhaps even opening new channels. The biggest advocacy org is The Arc, and they have an Anchorage chapter. You can start there.

There is also a non-profit specifically dedicated to building one-to-one friendships between those with and without disabilities. It's called Best Buddies. Though it's widespread in the US, there aren't any chapters in Alaska, so maybe you could start one after making some contacts locally e.g. through The Arc. There are a few similar orgs, but mostly one-offs for specific communities.

If you're not willing to go to the extent of starting something new, you may want to look into existing transitional/inclusive programs. Places to ask around are the YWCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, and the Girl Scouts.
posted by dhartung at 12:43 AM on October 16, 2012

I didn't have very many experiences around people with developmental disabilities growing up, but my mom worked as an aide at a day camp for them when she was a teenager and adored it, so I did grow up hearing about all the different kids in her class, their personalities, the jokes they told, the songs they liked (how they were all sterilized, which my Mom thought was awful).

Modelling behaviour to your kids is invaluable, and it is possible to model this without having a person with developmental disabilities standing in front of you.
posted by Dynex at 6:40 AM on October 16, 2012

I don't know of anything in Alaska or your religious beliefs, but I know that Camp Glisson in North Georgia also runs Camp Sparrowwood onsite for adults with developmental disabilities.

All the kids in regular Village camp do integration activities with the Sparrowwood campers. I think it is fairly unique in this regard. Camp activities are a great way for kids to get comfortable around folks with developmental disabilities and fun too.

Disclaimer: (Was a lifelong camper and then counselor for one year in both Village and Sparrowwood.)

P.S. My momma lives in Alaska. I will ask her if she knows of anything. Memail if you want to chat.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:18 PM on October 16, 2012

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