Although she’s only 9 years old, Enya is continually battling a life of adversity. To watch this young girl, at ease while having fun with her sister, you witness two perfectly ordinary playmates.
Enya has an ace up her sleeve. She is very fortunate to have parents who understand and can cope with her problems. Her father Steve is a Paramedic, and her mother, as a horticulturist, can let those Latin names roll off her tongue, and understands the diagnosis, prognosis, symptoms and side effects of each ailment, medication, and treatment. Both Steve and Diane have learned along the way – as have several of the doctors.
But Enya is not the only child in the Upper Grand District School system facing adversity. These students, in addition to trying to learn, must rise above difficulties to keep at the same level as their peers. They don’t like to stand out, they want to blend in and be treated just like everyone else.
With that in mind, Diane and Steve Kelly came up with a simple idea, which when expanded upon, resulted in a major breakthrough for classroom understanding.
In early September 2012 the Kelly’s requested a meeting with Principal Shelley Grose, Vice Principal Laura Cozzarin, and teacher Jennifer Edwards. It was an information sharing session for the upcoming school year. One of their daughters is enrolled in Grade 4 at Minto-Clifford Public School at Harriston. Enya is a functioning deafblind student. She was born with a condition called Septo Optic Dysplasia. Along with vision and hearing loss, her pituitary gland does not function which requires her to receive daily hormone treatments.
Ms. Grose asked how Enya’s white cane training was progressing. The good news is that she is becoming quite proficient with cane travel, but she is still resistant to taking it to school. When Enya started training on the white cane in May she became frustrated with the questions directed to her from the other students. The kids were naturally curious about the cane but she felt uncomfortable with so many questions.
It was suggested to Principal Grose that it would be a great idea to have an assembly and show the students what some of the mobility aids look like and explain what they are for. An even better idea would be to discuss different issues facing the students at Minto-Clifford like deaf/blindness, autism or physical disabilities.
Several weeks later Grose contacted the Kelly’s to explain about the week that had been designed for November. During Safe-School Awareness Week each day was to be focused on topics like Autism, Intellectual Disabilities, ADHD, and Deaf/Blindness.
On Monday November 19th a kick-start assembly was held. The students and staff watched a video “I AM” (a short clip about developmentally delayed adults who talk about likes, dislikes and wishes). The discussion that followed focused on “Different is Different”. Not good/bad – just different, and how we need to accept everyone and recognize and encourage the difference in each of us. That’s what makes us who we are. Also, we are human and all have the same likes, dislikes and wishes. Some of the Intermediate students sang a version of “True Colours”. The assembly then ended with a music video clip of “True Colours”. It is a song about being true to yourself, recognizing your differences, and accepting them as your strengths.
Tuesday and Wednesday were dedicated to the theme of “Acceptance of Others” focusing on bullying and bystanders. Two books were shared throughout the school each day “All Cats have Asperger Syndrome” and “All Dogs have ADHD” by author Kathy Hoopmann. The books describe what life feels and looks like if you have Asperger or ADHD. It is related in a story of dogs and cats.
Thursday hosted all day workshops focusing on Low Vision, Hard of Hearing and Deaf/blind awareness.
The low vision component was lead by Sharon Philpott (Itinerant Vision Teacher with the Upper Grand District School Board) and Kelly Henderson (Orientation and Mobility Specialist from an outside resource). The first part explained blind and low vision along with a model of the eye explaining how the eye works and how damage inside can cause vision problems. Various pieces of low vision assistive devices were demonstrated and then the children tried some of the equipment. This included CCTV (which enlarges print and pictures on a monitor), magnifiers, large print books, monoculars, talking calculators and dictionaries, and Braille. The students were fascinated by the brailler and amazed at how much bigger it was than print books. The kids then had the opportunity to don goggles to simulate low vision and pass a ball back and forth. Some found this very difficult.
Henderson explained the white cane to the students. She informed them about its purpose, how to use it, and why it is so important. The students worked in pairs with one wearing a blindfold and using the cane while their partner called to them giving directions. Many of the students felt nervous trying to move when they could not see and just had the cane to tell them what was in front of them. It gave them an opportunity to experience first-hand what life without vision is like. Henderson said the most important things to remember from the session are: “A cane is a tool used by blind and visually impaired people to locate objects and drop offs (i.e. steps, curbs) for safe travel”, and “People who use a cane are courageous and we need to respect them for that.”
Like everything else the “white cane” has been improved and updated. Enya’s device is a bright pink glow-in-the-dark cane which can be folded up and carried in her back-pack.
Beth Fraser (Itinerant Deaf/Hard of Hearing Teacher with the U.G.D.S.B) and Gael Hannan from the Canadian Hearing Foundation, presented a workshop together. The students learned about hearing aids and FM systems and were able to ask questions about both. The questions were answered by a student who uses both.
Hannan presented the Sound Sense Program which is to educate junior and intermediate students on how to prevent “preventable” hearing loss. All students received ear plugs and literature related to hearing loss.
The final workshop was presented by Sue Bendall and Grace Soledat from the Ministry of Education, W. Ross Macdonald School at Brantford. These women are Deafblind Resource Consultants and Bendall has been Enya’s Deafblind Resource consultant since Grade 2.
The students used ear plugs to reduce their own hearing, and then donned goggles simulating different visual impairments. While under the deaf/blind simulation the students participated in a variety of relay races with balls, and then an obstacle course. This was to provide the students with a better understanding of what it’s like to have these two challenges at the same time. Some of the feedback was: “frustrating”, “harder than I thought”, “background noise made it hard to concentrate”, “missed the instructions”, and “I wasn’t sure what I was doing or where I was going exactly”.
What a week! It was such a positive step forward in the understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities. The principals, teachers and consultants put together such a constructive and informative four days for the students at Minto-Clifford.
From the Kelly’s perspective “As parents with a child who has disabilities, this type of dedication shown from the staff at Minto-Clifford and the presenters from other agencies is really appreciated.” “Our Enya is a regular child who faces many challenges. Fortunately the regular child part is forefront in her life. We have mentioned several times since she enrolled at Minto-Clifford that the parents of children in this area are doing a fantastic job in raising their children with acceptance towards others.”