Back to School Reading

Over the past four years I wrote many articles for various platforms relevant to the current back to school season. Today let’s revisit some as kids, parents, and teachers continue to gear up for the 2013-2014 academic year.

“Country Songs for High School Students” (Yahoo! Voices)

Most students seem to rush to get through high school. “I can’t wait until I get out of this hell hole” I heard from my classmates back when. Yet high school also contains much to appreciate, something I hope others come to recognize from this Yahoo! Voices article.

“Bullying: A Personal Issue for Musician Chris Hendricks” (The Mobility Resource)

Last winter I interviewed musician Chris Hendricks about his anti-bullying program Breaking Down Barriers. Born with cerebral palsy, Hendricks became an easy target for bullies. Compared to other bullying related articles I’ve written, my talk with Hendricks stands out due to his approach to the topic. He sees bullying as a self-confidence issue first and foremost.

 

i-Pad

Special education? There is an app for that… well apps. Photo: Wikimedia Commons user Gyfjonas

“7 Apps to Use as Assistive Technology” (Special Education Guide)

In general Special Education Guide (www.specialeducationguide.com) offers an incredible resource for teachers and special needs parents.  From the articles I wrote for the site “7 Apps to Use as Assistive Technology” remains my favorite. By mentioning specific apps the piece becomes very practical, or so I think.

Interviews with Intervention Specialists Anshawn Ivery and Kelsey Kimmel (The Mobility Resource)

On separate occasions I interviewed intervention specialists Anshawn Ivery and Kelsey Kimmel for The Mobility Resource. Ivery works at Entrepreneurship Preparatory School while Kimmel spent the 2012-2013 academic year at Southington Local Schools. Both Ivery and Kimmel provide helpful insights worth reading.

Off Balanced (Available on the Kindle and Nook)

Alright, time to plug my book! I really feel Off Balanced provides potential to teenagers with disabilities, their classmates, and teachers too. Teens with disabilities can take comfort in knowing they are not alone in their battle for self-confidence. Classmates can realize despite the differences handicaps cause, teens with disabilities share common adolescent interests and desires. Off Balanced could trigger teachers to think about new possible ways to connect with special needs pupils.

Spotlighted!

Every month the Yahoo! Contributor Network (Y! CN) hands out Spotlight Awards, one to a writer and then five honoring “five exceptional pieces of content.” I’m excited to share my Yahoo! Health piece “Living with It: Student Life with Cerebral Palsy in Mainstream Classrooms” received a Spotlight Award for March 2013. In the monthly Spotlight Award winners blog announcement Y! Jelena writes the following about my chosen article.

“Often, the stories of students with disabilities are told by their parents and teachers. Zachary sheds a first-person light on his experiences in school as a young man with CP, including his fight for an identity beyond his visible disability and his mother’s struggle to keep therapy from interrupting his academic education. This Yahoo! Health piece is a matter of fact, frank look at life as a ‘special education’ student who is integrated with able-bodied students while straddling the line between mainstream classes and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Parents, teachers, therapists, school administrators, and fellow young people with CP could benefit by reading Zachary’s take.”

Spotlights

Y! CN spotlights five exceptional pieces of content every month. Photo: Andrew Hurley/Wikimedia Commons

Now I feel privileged the Yahoo! Contributor Network spotlighted “Living with It: Student Life with Cerebral Palsy in Mainstream Classrooms.” Y! CN produces much content monthly so to stand out as exceptional proves no easy task. Personally I believe the fact my article accomplished this challenging act emphasizes the importance held by Off Balanced, my blog here, and ultimately firsthand accounts documenting lives with disabilities.

Bottom line people with disabilities possess insights which can help everyone better understand handicaps. Certainly the takes from parents, teachers, therapists, and other appropriate professionals deserve consideration. However a comprehensive dialogue will not emerge until people with disabilities offer their perspectives.

Ability Starts with Attitude

Yes, I know I’m a little tardy writing this week’s post but sometimes inspiration’s schedule clashes with deadlines. Saturday afternoon I enjoyed a pleasant change in pace from my usual routine, tagging along to watch friends play paintball. Their chosen battlefield ended  up a rough terrain woods. While a rough terrain the average person can navigate the landscape rather easily. As you know though, I’m not average. I have cerebral palsy and my balance issues turn a hike through the woods into a team effort.

Coldfall Wood picture via Ewan Munro (Wikimedia)

With the right attitude, cerebral palsy and the woods equal a surprising good combination. 🙂 Photo: Ewan Munro (Wikimedia Commons)

One person walked ahead to discover exactly how much mud laid on the horizon. At times another person cleared large twigs and other obstructions from the path. Hand holding remained a constant. Throughout the adventure my one friend remarked on multiple occasions,

“Zach is going through the woods. He’s a trooper!”      

Honestly I found the comment a little silly yet amusing. I mean the thought to stay back didn’t occur to me. Why should I sit out on the day’s events? I’m just another member of our group. If my friends maintain a willingness to step up and lend assistance where needed, no reason exists to why I shouldn’t join them.

Upon deeper reflection however, I can appreciate the whole “He’s a trooper” mentality. After all I take my “just another member of the group” attitude for granted. Other people with disabilities may not exhibit such a demeanor. They might quickly play the handicap card or complain their friends pick activities too hard on them. Sure my legs felt like rubber by the time we left the woods, but a little soreness proves a worthwhile sacrifice in exchange for excellent bonding opportunities

Bottom line, ability starts with attitude. Keep an open mind. Try before you quit or complain. True friends will help you out. Reconsider that friendship label for anyone who gives you a legitimate hard time. Forget them losers. You deserve better. 😀

Film Review: Certain Proof A Question of Worth

Thought provoking, revealing, and emotional all accurately describe Footpath Pictures Inc.’s documentary Certain Proof: A Question of Worth. The film explores Kay (12 years old), Colin (nine years old), and Josh’s (five years old) lives in the American education system as students with severe cerebral palsy. All three children move around in wheelchairs and face incredible communication challenges, causing some ill-conceived assumptions regarding intelligence level.

Josh receiving speech therapy.

Teachers at Josh’s school hold doubts about his cognitive ability.

Now I’m honestly struggling to pick specific details to begin addressing because Certain Proof: A Question of Worth offers so much to discuss. Kay, Colin, and Josh’s age differences works well to capture a comprehensive look at educating students with cerebral palsy. Comparing Colin and Josh’s experiences illustrates exactly why society needs to avoid assumptions. An unaware person may carry the same expectations for Colin and Josh due to both being young boys in wheelchairs with next to no verbal communication skills. Yet Certain Proof: A Question of Worth displays a sizable contrast within their abilities.

Meanwhile Kay can speak but only in a slow, drawn out manner. Don’t mistake her speech though as a sign of lower intelligence. Selected classmates interviewed for the film admitted making such a mistake until the teacher posted the students”with straight A’s and they saw Kay’s name listed. Personally I connected to this since I carried straight A’s through high school freshman year. I believe in my book Off Balanced I partly credit my academic success to my social isolation, an isolation Kay also appeared to encounter.

The fact somebody with mild cerebral palsy like me can relate to the much more intensive cerebral palsy cases featured demonstrates two points. First, filmmakers Ray and Susan Ellis deserve props for their film making talents. Secondly, Kay, Colin, and Josh possess powerful personal stories which could touch many lives. Ultimately I consider Certain Proof: A Question of Worth a must watch for students with cerebral palsy, their family members, teachers, and classmates. If your television package includes STARZ, I encourage you to find the next television air times here. Or, order the DVD online at www.certainproof.com.

*Disclaimer- I received Certain Proof: A Question of Worth at no cost after interviewing filmmaker Ray Ellis for The Mobility Resource. Read that interview.     

Introducing Special Education Guide

If you need answers to special education related questions, consider visiting www.specialeducationguide.com. Special Education Guide launched this week and features content written by talented scribes knowledgeable in the special ed realm, me included. The site comprehensively covers the topic at hand, containing sections on everything from the disability categories defined under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to the parent-teacher partnership and individual education plans (IEPs).

Now I hope the above doesn’t come across as too much self-promotion. I always try to respect the line between sharing projects I’m involved in and obnoxiously touting such works. After all, do you really like someone who blabs on about his or her self-declared greatness? I think not. 😉

Special Education Guide

PrtSc capturing Special Education Guide’s homepage.

However, I am incredibly excited to see Special Education Guide up and running. As I previously mentioned the site maintains a comprehensive look at special education. Tailored to parents and mainstream educators, Special Education Guide possesses the potential to positively impact lives.

For example, a general education teacher might experience uncertainty on how to handle a student with an emotional disturbance. Too embarrassed to express anxieties to a co-worker, he or she can alternatively seek  a few pointers by browsing Special Education Guide. This will relax the educator and create a better learning environment for the student.

Or, take parents overwhelmed by how their child’s learning disability will influence their son or daughter’s academic pursuits. Rather than surfing several websites to piece together information, Special Education Guide allows the mother and father to garner helpful knowledge all by visiting one cyber destination.

Overall a major motivation behind why I write so much about disabilities involves the chance to meaningfully guide a reader’s life. Let me assure you I know the amazing affects words can carry due to the feedback I continue to receive on my book Off Balanced. I sincerely believe Special Education Guide can collect similar reader responses.

Three Disability Related Stories Worth Checking Out

Over the past week a few stories really captured my attention, stuff you may enjoy too. Take a look and give your feedback with a comment below. Also feel free to make your own recommendations.

New Travel Show Armed & Ready
Sunday while watching an episode of Man Versus Food I saw the following TV promo.

Armed & Ready, which premiered this past Tuesday, follows the legless Kevin Michael Connolly as he embraces his thrill seeking desires. I believe Armed & Ready possesses great potential to get people to rethink rigid disability perceptions. Admittedly I missed the series debut this week but I do plan to hunt down the reruns.

Sportsmanship Reigns Supreme in High School Basketball Game
A friend shared this link on my Facebook timeline Tuesday. Aiming to honor student manager Mitchell Marcus’ dedication to the team, Coronado High School basketball coach Peter Morales decided to offer Marcus something probably previously unthinkable, action on the floor. You see Marcus’ mental disability kept him on the sidelines. However Coach Morales insisted on providing the student a moment to shine. Certainly what occurred next seemingly left everyone involved beaming with pride.

Marvel Comics Creates Hearing-Impaired Superhero
The final story I wish to mention in today’s post I actually came across Thursday by accident. Searching through Fox 8’s Facebook page for a news story I saw broadcasted Wednesday night, I became diverted. A piece titled “Hearing-Impaired Boy Inspires Superhero” intrigued me. After reading the article I felt incredibly moved. Honestly I can’t justifiably sum up the news story in a few sentences. I will say the coverage resonated with me because it reminded me why I wrote Off Balanced.

The Essence Behind Inclusion

When discussing cerebral palsy or other disabilities, you will almost certainly come across the term “inclusion.” However, the word gets thrown around so much the essence behind inclusion can get lost. John W. Quinn, fellow author (Somebody Like Me An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy) and familiar name to my long-time followers, explores inclusion’s meaning in a recent video blog.

Quinn hits on a point I feel well worth emphasizing. “I’m not asking for a lowering of standards in order to fit a certain need.”  His statement I believe addresses a misconception which provides a barrier to successful inclusion.

The misconception, inclusion involves lowering standards. I imagine this faulty thinking makes some people hesitant towards embracing inclusion. Ironically proper inclusion thrives off everyone pursuing/meeting the same expectations. Take as an example, The Bellingham Herald‘s news story “Olivier’s Drive, Determination Help Him Cope with Cerebral Palsy On, Off the Mat.”

Reporter Andrew Lang pens the piece sharing how high school freshman Dewald Olivier pinned his competition at a varsity level wrestling tournament last weekend. Olivier stood the ultimate underdog because he lives with cerebral palsy and uses a walker to walk. What makes his pin especially newsworthy; Dewald Olivier met the same standards as his teammates and earned the victory.

Olympic Symbol for Wrestling

The idea for Dewald Olivier to wrestle, an Olympic sport, began as a joke amongst friends.

In fact Dewald Olivier stands an ideal example because he declined lower standards offered to him. Certain routines done during wrestling practice Olivier can’t perform, or at least not in the traditional manner. His coaches suggested to Olivier he could use the time spent on these routines to either stretch or take a break. Lang documents the freshman’s thoughts regarding the latter option.

“I didn’t feel right. I didn’t think I deserved it, because everyone else is pushing themselves. No matter what, they don’t get breaks. So I thought to myself, ‘Why should I?'”

Now I’ll wager a guess and say Olivier’s work ethic led him to pinning an able-bodied opponent. His determination to reach the same standards as his teammates enabled him to get stronger physically. Overall that’s what inclusion presents, the opportunity to grow as a person. Bottom line, the essence behind inclusion entails providing equal opportunity and allowing one’s abilities to judge where one belongs.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts on inclusion by commenting below!