Cassidy reinforces understanding of peers with special needs

Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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In one of the simulation stations, students wearing dark glasses or cumbersome gloves worked to button up shirts, tie shoelaces, and open candy wrappers -- testing their fine motor skills.

In one of the simulation stations, students wearing dark glasses or cumbersome gloves worked to button up shirts, tie shoelaces, and open candy wrappers -- testing their fine motor skills.

In one of the simulation stations, students wearing dark glasses or cumbersome gloves worked to button up shirts, tie shoelaces, and open candy wrappers -- testing their fine motor skills.Third-graders found that vision-distorting glasses made it difficult to navigate a maze.Wooden puzzles are hard to master when one cannot see the picture or the pieces. Students also gave wheelchair basketball a shot.Classmates paired up to practice communicating with sign language flashcards, simulating conversation between people with hearing impairments.Blindfolded fifth-graders practiced tracking a specially designed softball with a beeping mechanism inside, used by athletes with impaired vision.Wearing headsets, the youngsters tried to block out background noise and focus on the teacher’s instructions -- discovering the challenges faced by classmates with ADHD.

When students take their turn at the disability simulation stations, the experience is an eye-opener at Cassidy Elementary. And that is precisely the point of the school’s Special Needs Awareness Program or SNAP. “Children get the chance to know how some people feel in their everyday lives with these disabilities,” said fifth-grader Kyra McGee. “It shows us how to react to people with disabilities and not to treat them as a lesser person,” added classmate Hayes Pieratt.  

Cassidy’s week-long event aims to increase awareness of physical and so-called hidden disabilities that students increasingly encounter at school and in the larger community. Interactive and didactic activities help educate the youngsters and instill a positive attitude toward acceptance and inclusion of everyone. The 2017 theme, as determined by last year’s winning art contest entry, was “Better Together!” 

Classroom speakers, as requested by individual teachers, include such experts as the school psychologist and the speech pathologist. Each day also has a different focus, such as sensory impairment (e.g. vision, hearing), hidden disabilities (ADHD, autism), motor skills (cerebral palsy, paraplegia), and medical (epilepsy, food allergies). “We try to have a presence throughout the week so it’s reinforced, and the kids talk about it when they go home and teach their parents a little bit,” said Dr. Kim Thompson, who organizes SNAP. 

In the early years, Thompson invited guests for the school’s morning news show; recently, however, students have shared their own stories with the Cassidy family. “They feel kind of proud that the school wants them to talk about what makes them different,” said Thompson, assistant professor of internal medicine and family medicine at the University of Kentucky’s Polk Dalton Clinic. 

Monday’s kickoff to the fifth annual SNAP gave students an idea of individuals’ particular challenges and a sense of reality as well as possibilities. The guests included two UK student-athletes with hidden disabilities, service dog trainers, and a local advocate for people with Down syndrome. The rest of the week, a cadre of parents and other volunteers staffed the simulation stations in the gym. “They’re learning, too, and hopefully it makes the environment at Cassidy much easier for everyone,” Thompson noted.  

The simulation rotations covered three areas: academic, daily living, and athletic/social activities. Kyra found the ADHD auditory challenge especially difficult as she tried to block out background noise and focus on the teacher’s instructions. “It helped me understand how hard it is for (students with ADHD) to do their activities and how hard it is for them to learn,” she said. 

Across the gym, Hayes also felt a bit frustrated by the wooden puzzles, which blindfolded students struggled to put together by feeling the shapes and the edges. “When you can’t see the picture or the pieces, you have to use other senses,” Hayes explained. 

At other stops, students wearing cumbersome gloves worked to open candy wrappers, button up shirts, and tie shoelaces (testing their fine motor skills), while classmates wearing vision-distorting glasses tried to find their way out of a circular maze. Other activities simulated reading and writing with dyslexia, and balancing with an overloaded backpack (gross motor skills). Students also gave wheelchair basketball a shot and practiced communicating with sign language flashcards. 

“I hope (SNAP) makes them more appreciative of what kids with disabilities have to do and gives a sense of how much harder a peer has it, so they’re a little more patient with the kids around them,” Thompson said. “It makes it more of a common thing, and familiarity is important so the kids are comfortable with each other.”


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