A few months ago, Hubby, Braeden and I were at a local shopping centre. In the couple of hours we were there I was surprised at the number of children who stared at Braeden. You know that open mouth look that lingers so long that you feel uncomfortable? Braeden was perfectly quiet (sometimes he can be noisy with excitement) The only difference, aside from age, between Braeden and the children staring, was that he was sitting in a wheelchair, and they were walking. It started a conversation between Hubby and I, some research on my part, chats with Braeden’s speech pathologist and Wheely Good Chats with Braeden was launched.
Wheely Good Chats with Braeden – preschool disability awareness program
We are fairly used to children, and sometimes people, staring but some days it gets to me more than others. My usual approach is to engage a child if they are staring and chat to them about Braeden’s wheelchair. Nine times out of ten it turns into a positive experience. On the day we were at the shops I said to Hubby that I was surprised with children still staring as there is more representation of people with a disability, but obviously it’s still not enough. It led to lots of conversation around whether parents chat to their children about disability but maybe they don’t have the answers, and perhaps it’s just a lack of connection with people with a disability that leads to curiosity. Kids are generally curious, and no doubt have so many questions. Despite knowing all of this, as a parent it stings when your child (even now that Braeden is an adult, he’s still my child) isn’t accepted in the way you’d like them to be. I guess it drags up old feelings from school days when it was hard for Braeden to make friends. Braeden is the most social guy you’ll ever meet and connecting with people is one of his main motivators in life. He’s very much like my dad who is also a social person and who has always been well known by everyone in the local area and beyond. Braeden and my dad treat everyone like they are a rock star and that endears them to people. Who doesn’t like to feel special?
After all the thinking and conversation, I hatched a plan. What if Braeden could go into preschools with his augmentative communication and ‘talk’ to the children about his disability. I decided to ask in a local Facebook parenting group what people thought. Would the idea be welcomed, and what did parents and educators think the children would want to know. I was heartened by the positive response. I received so many comments from parents saying they’d love it if their children’s preschool could get involved, From that feedback I immediately knew that families are keen for their children to learn about diversity. That was a really happy moment for me. I spoke to Braeden’s speech pathologist, and we started planning. I wanted Braeden to be independent in the process and as I am so busy, I left it to Braeden’s speechie and support worker to work with Braeden to decide what he presented. Braeden had choice over everything. He chose the photos and the words to describe how he felt about what he was presenting. The program would run with Braeden arriving, presenting a short ‘talk’ using his iPad on living with cerebral palsy and then the children would have an opportunity to ask questions. After that the children would have time to play games with Braeden using his low-tech picture exchange book and they could record messages or jokes on the recordable buttons he would take with him.
Just before Easter Braeden had his first preschool visit. The feedback we received from the preschool after the visit was that it was “a raging success” from their point of view. Braeden’s speech pathologist and support worker also were thrilled with how it went. Braeden did well presenting and loved being at the preschool. The children were inquisitive and engaged and asked great questions. For me it was interesting hearing what they wanted to know. Their questions included, how does Braeden play at the playground, how does he have a shower, why is he in a wheelchair and the biggest curiosity was around how he could get into a car and how did his wheelchair fit. So, when it came time for Braeden to leave the preschool, the children all went out to watch him get into the car. Apparently, that was a highlight and Braeden never minds an audience.
Between Braeden, his support worker, his speech pathologist, photos and videos, the team was able to bust lots of myths and help the kids learn more about disability. The children sang Braeden a song using sign language and the preschool did a great job of preparing the children in advance of Braeden’s visit. Only two children were unsure about Braeden when he arrived, which the preschool said highlighted how valuable the session was in helping the children. After Braeden’s visit, we sent further information to the preschool for them to provide to families in case there were any follow-up questions.
We are now booking more preschool visits for Wheely Good Chats with Braeden so he can keep spreading the word. For Braeden this fulfils his desire for social connection. It also allows him to use his communication skills in a meaningful and rewarding way, and to build on them as time goes on. We hope that he will build confidence and skills during these visits. We hope that Braeden visiting the preschools will allow children the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity, ask questions and go into the community knowing a bit more about disability. The visit brought up questions around access, disability, and alternative communication. If preschools are open to it, I’d love to eventually build on the single visit with a follow up visit where Braeden delves a bit deeper (at preschool level of course) into the topic by playing activities with the children and showing them more of what he can do. I need more time to develop that idea and to work out what would be a good next stage.
If you’d like to read more, you can check out Wheely Good Chats with Braeden page.
Also, if you have an ideas for the program please let me know in the comments either here or on Facebook.
Leanne Watson says
This is brilliant, Julie.
Good on Braeden and his speechie-these chats are very valuable, andand I like to think that there will be more and more representation in all levels of schooling to improve disability inclusion and acceptance.
Thanks for this.
I’m glad you like this idea. Hopefully with everything everyone is doing we will see a change over time when it comes to disability inclusion and acceptance.