Friday, June 7, 2013

Show Time!

“I didn’t think I could do the presentation, and now I realize I can do most anything I want to.” 
Shelly admitted after the campaign was over that while she wanted to participate, she wasn’t so sure of her ability to do it.  During the course of our working on our presentation, Shelly often would criticize herself when she flubbed up, and later she confided that she was hard on herself because in life, others had been hard on her, and she felt like she needed to prove something.  I coached her to be okay with making mistakes, to be okay if she reworded a presentation line differently than what was on paper.  I also reassured her that if she jumped ahead in our presentation that I had her back and would get us back on track.  With this encouragement, Shelly relaxed more, but continued studying her presentation part until she had it cold.  The once self-critical Shelly began patting herself more on the back as she recognized progress in her knowing her part of the presentation.  And when I screwed up, that made her feel even better!
Together, Shelly and I decided she’d read a book about a little girl with Down syndrome which would help students understand an intellectual disability (which we briefly discuss in the presentation) while nicely complimenting the very issues of fear and uncertainty we address in our talk to the children.  It also highlighted the importance of focusing on what we have in common rather than focusing on differences, a subject important to Shelly to be addressed in the presentation.  Once done with the book, Shelly would then share her story, and immediately engage the children in asking who liked things she liked, such as hanging out with their friends, and macaroni and cheese, and how they have these things in common.  Then, she asked the students how they are different from her, receiving expected answers, such as she’s in a wheelchair, and they are not, she’s older and they are younger, etc.  Shelly would then tell them there are other differences, asking the kids who could brush their teeth, dress and feed themselves, to all of which the students would raise their hands.  At this point, Shelly would inform them that she cannot do those things and why, thus introducing the subject of cerebral palsy.

From here, together, we continue the conversation to explain what cerebral palsy (CP) is, how people get it, and how it affects the body.  Shelly demonstrated her limitations, while explaining how others with CP have different limitations than her.  She then explained that while she may look different, she is unique, just like they are unique and how despite differences between each other (i.e. better at sports than at drawing), we are all unique, yet have things in common.  We also help students understand it’s okay to be curious, and that it's okay, not rude, to ask people with disabilities questions.  We also briefly explain the difference between intellectual and physical disabilities; and, how to approach individuals with disabilities.  Finally, Shelly shared that people aren’t always nice to her, discussing the R word and how it’s used to be mean, and even jokingly to mean that someone is “stupid.”  Shelly gets "real" about her feelings with the children, helping them understand that it hurts when she’s called the R Word, and how she feels about people who use it, pointing out that people who call her that don’t think she can do anything when she can, and that they are not nice people.  She then helps the children understand how to treat people with disabilities:  be nice; be respectful, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, because she’d rather people take the time to get to know her than misjudge her because of her cerebral palsy.
Our first “test” presentation took place in February at Burns Elementary School before a group of older elementary students, 4th & 5th graders (right).  Shelly admitted to being nervous because she was unsure about the school environment, how the kids would take to her, and how they’d respond to her message.  Well, let me say that nervous or not, Shelly hit the presentation out of the ballpark!

How do I know?  During the Q&A portion of the presentation, one little girl raised her hand to ask the question, “Shelly, will you be my friend?”
Uh, Kleenex please!  Shelly said she felt an emotional feeling of happiness deep inside because “I touched them deeper than I realized I could touch them, and that gave me chills.”

A Superstar is born!

In the Next Blog Entry:  Fist Bumps, Hugs & Tears - "At one school, a little girl asked Shelly if anyone had called her the R word.  When Shelly answered, 'yes,' the little girl’s empathy overwhelmed as she responded through welling tears . . . ."

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