Chicago-based mother Keesha Hall is changing lives for the better by helping moms help their kids.
After learning that her fourth child began showing signs of developmental disability, Chicago-based mother Keesha Hall changed her life for the better. After becoming unemployed, broke and on the brink of poverty, being a mother, she was determined to learn how to become a champion for her son. Through the help of non-profit organization Educare, she learned how to accept her son’s diagnosis and strengthened his social, emotional and behavioral health. This is her advice for young mothers who faced similar challenges and how she turned an unfortunate situation into a gift for many other mothers too.
I know everyone wants this election to be over already – you’ve seen every debate, every news clip, every “shocking revelation”; been inundated in your social media feeds for what seems like an eternity with everyone’s thoughts, opinions, screeds, salvos and takes on who is or isn’t a worthy presidential candidate and why. So here, in these last days, I’ll weigh in with what my choice ultimately boiled down to for me: When the final results are in, what do I want to be able to say to my 9 year-old and my 7 year-old about who their next president is?
In 2008, this moment was revelatory: I was bathing my then almost 2 year-old son Xavier (who since birth has been negotiating the challenges of cerebral palsy and epilepsy) when Barack Obama was officially proclaimed the future 44th President of the United States. I looked at Xavier… he smiled. I teared up, my heart swelled and I told him it was just proven without a doubt that the impossible IS possible, that his own potential was limitless and he could be whatever he wanted to be when he grew up.
In 2012, more of the same – but now I got to say it to my then 3 year-old daughter Phoebe too, who in her lifetime has never known a president OTHER than Barack Obama. Wow. And now in 2016 she has the potential to see a woman rise to the top post of our nation for the first time in U.S. history – which will also be a truly awesome milestone of possibility to celebrate.
But even more than that, I want to be able to tell my children whether or not I or their father agree with the politics of our next president, that our next president is worthy of our respect and support. That our president at her or his core is a decent human being who is doing her or his best to make our country stronger and create more opportunity for the majority of Americans. That our president values and respects women, the LBGTQ community, people with disabilities, people of color and people with varied religious beliefs.
For me, it is glaringly obvious that there is only one candidate in true contention for the Presidency who fits that description: Hillary Clinton. Which is why my sister and our Lifestyle Editor Lesa Lakin produced the ad below and why I agreed to have me and my children take part in the political ad below (we are at the :12 mark). I wanted Xavier and Phoebe to know who I supported, and why it was worth putting ourselves out there to do so.
As difficult and divisive as our current times can be, as I do here on Good Black News, in everyday life I work hard to stay focussed on the positive (and some days, as we all know, that is REALLY REALLY hard). I always want my children to live in a welcoming atmosphere of possibility, encouragement and hope. Of civility and decency. Of responsibility, fairness, and a willingness to admit one’s mistakes and do better. I want the same values they are learning to live by at home and school – to listen, be polite, not name call, take turns, share – to be values I can say our nation’s leader lives by as well. Come Wednesday morning, if Hillary Clinton has won, I can say that to them.
But if she doesn’t win… frankly, I don’t know what I’m going to say.
Parents can help smooth interactions – and build friendships – between typical children and those with special needs
By Lori Lakin Hutcherson
Look at me! Why don’t you talk to me? What’s the matter with you? Do you have cancer?!
“A young girl stopped my son and started screaming at him,” says Monika Jones, describing an incident at the park with her 7-year-old son Henry, who was born with Hemimegalencephaly, a non-genetic condition where one side of the brain is abnormally larger than the other. Henry is non-verbal, and his behavior can be similar to that of someone with autism, including repetitive actions such as humming, flapping and walking in circles.
“The mom was on the phone and didn’t stop her daughter, just seemed to be totally oblivious,” continues Jones, co-founder of the Brain Recovery Project in Pasadena. “My husband was not oblivious and proceeded to let the mom have it. It was a sad moment for him to see another child do that to our older son.”
This type of interaction between typical children and kids with special needs is, unfortunately, all too common. My son Xavier, a first grader who gets around in a wheelchair because of challenges due to cerebral palsy, epilepsy and dystonia, hasn’t been screamed at but is often stared at in stores, at the park or at birthday parties.
Sometimes, he even receives fearful glances or full-on eye aversions. Like other children with disabilities, he is often ignored or spoken over as if he can’t respond or understand, or as if he isn’t even there. While most kids’ curiosity is harmless and vastly more welcome than avoidance, it saddens me when people bluntly ask, “Why is he in a wheelchair?” or “Why is he drooling?” without even introducing themselves or saying hello first.
A Good Start
As parents, it’s up to us to facilitate kind, respectful, and friendship-building interactions between typical and special-needs children. We can begin by assuming that people with disabilities can, and want to, interact with us. “Never underestimate their capabilities. Look at them as a whole individual,” advises Keely Arevalo, a special-education teacher at CHIME Charter School in Woodland Hills. Speak to the person – with their parent or caretaker – not about the person, Arevalo adds.
Modeling good conversation, Arevalo offers, is another major way parents can help. “Maybe say ‘Hey, how are you? How’s your day? It looks like you have a Harry Potter book. Did you read it?’ And even if the individual didn’t respond, that’s OK. Let your child see a good way to interact in those situations.”
Amanda Hsu, a case supervisor at Working With Autism in Encino, suggests finding similarities to create positive exchanges. “Let your child know that, just like they have things they like or don’t like, kids with disabilities have those same things,” Hsu says. “Finding common ground is a good starting point to focus on instead of focusing on the differences.”
Teaching respectful curiosity is another important thing parents can do, according to Fred Johnson, whose 15-year-old son Ulysses has Down syndrome. He advises parents to let their children know that it is OK to ask questions – within limits. “Role play with your kids,” he says, suggesting that you ask a question your child finds embarrassing, then ask how that makes them feel. “You don’t ask anything of someone you wouldn’t be ready to answer yourself,” is his rule.
This kind of preparation helped Arevalo’s 5-year-old niece have a successful visit to CHIME. “I told her, ‘Every person is different, every person has different needs, different abilities, different strengths and weaknesses. Despite those things, we’re all human beings, we all deserve to be treated fairly,’” Arevalo says.
Arevalo also taught her niece how to ask questions in an appropriate way.
“She did have questions and she did pull me to the side at an appropriate time,” Arevalo says. “The rest of the afternoon, she actually was gravitating towards the individuals with disabilities and wanted to sit with them and play with them. My niece looked past the disability and saw an individual.”
If you notice that your child is uncomfortable around people with disabilities, reassure them and encourage them to talk with you about it so that you can help. “Let them know it’s OK to have fears,” advises Arevalo. “Guide that conversation and say, ‘I noticed you looked a little bit uncomfortable’ to find out exactly what they were afraid of. A lot of times those fears will go away once there isn’t that unknown.”
Make your explanations age-appropriate. “For a 5-year-old, you want to explain it as simply as you can,” Hsu offers. “For example, ‘Maybe the little boy is in the wheelchair because he’s not able to walk, so the wheelchair is a thing that helps him move around just like you and I move around with our legs.’”
Taking the Lead
If your child becomes frustrated in trying to make friends with, or be a friend to, a child with special needs, remind them that friendship isn’t always easy. “Interacting or playing with your friends, sometimes that’s a difficult thing for some kids,” says Hsu. “Have your child come up with some ideas as how to engage that child.” You can help lead the way with questions such as, “What is your friend like?” and, “What do you think you could do to make her more comfortable?”
Parents can help by reaching out, too. “Sometimes it starts with the moms becoming friends,” says Jones. “That’s how you open up the friendship with the kids.”
For typical children, extending themselves to peers with disabilities is well worth the effort. “There’s a sense of, ‘I did something good,’” says Hsu. “It’s a two-way thing that’s a good lesson for both [the typical and the special-needs child].”
“Bring special-needs children to your parties. Ask for play dates after school, even if they’re wheelchair-bound and tube-fed and can’t talk,” urges Jones. “I wish every parent reading this article who has only typically developing kids would assess if their child has a friend with special needs. If they don’t, tell them to make one, and incorporate that child into your lives. If every typically developing child had one friend with significant special needs, then what a beautiful world we’d live in.”
Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson) is a film and television writer/producer, editor of the award-winning website, goodblacknews.org, and mother to Xavier (@XavysWay), one of the coolest kids in the world, who also happens to have special needs.
Building Bridges Between Typical and Special-Needs Kids
Model appropriate behavior. Greet people and ask respectful questions, so your children see how to do it.
Find common ground. Focus on similarities instead of differences.
Be inclusive. Invite special-needs children to a party, to play or join a group.
Assume ability. Always assume the child with disabilities understands you. Speak directly to that child and include them in conversations with parents or caregivers.
Open communication. Let your child know it’s OK to have fears and ask questions.
Don’t ask “What’s wrong with you?” or any question in a way that might hurt feelings.
Don’t exclude. Don’t assume a child with disabilities can’t handle a situation or activity. Let the child and the child’s family decide.
Don’t look away or avoid individuals with disabilities. Smile!
Don’t patronize. Most kids with disabilities like the same things their peers do.
Don’t touch without permission. Ask first!
Don’t pull your child away if they say something embarrassing. Use the incident as a teachable moment.
Ideal School of Manhattan administrators (l-r) Angela Bergeson, Head of School; David Byrnes, director of institutional equity, and Michelle Smith, school co-founder watch second-graders at work on a Civil Rights Museum project
A Civil Rights museum like no other is going to pop up in Manhattan later this week. This one is meant to change the future. Students at the Ideal School of Manhattan were busy constructing exhibits for the museum, a yearly event at the seven-year-old, independent K-to-eighth grade school.
Head of School Angela Bergeson said the museum started out as a yearly school assembly on civil rights, but became so popular that “we decided to devote the whole morning to the museum so that families could go room to room and see all the curriculum pieces, the writing, readings and plays.”
Each grade in the school is assigned an iconic figure from the Civil Rights or non-violence movements, along with an associated word around which the students create exhibits.