The importance of peer modeling for kids with disabilities

A local mom is suing the YMCA because her 6-year-old son born with Down syndrome was asked to leave the Y’s summer camp. Y officials said her son could not be supervised adequately, and they feared for his safety. The mom enrolled him in another YMCA camp, for kids with disabilities. She says her son loves the new camp.

So, what’s the problem, you might ask. Why is there a lawsuit? Son’s happy. YMCA is happy.

Without overloading you with details, the mom wants her son interacting with “typical” kids his age. “He learns so much interacting with his (typical) peers,” his mother told me this week. “Now, he doesn’t get to be with them.”

The message here isn’t about whether the boy’s behavior isn’t acceptable for the “typical” kids camp. Mom says it is. The Y people disagree. I don’t want to get into a he said-she said debate, or deal with any of the possible underlying reasons the mother has filed a lawsuit.

My only point here:The mom is absolutely right in wanting her son to be with typical kids.

We fought to have Jillian fully included in regular-ed. classrooms, for the same reason. Modeling behavior is huge at that age.

JIllian had aides in class, to help with her schoolwork. Equally important, she had typical kids around her, to help with her socialization.

In Grades 5-8, school administrators wanted Jillian to be in a “unit classroom.” In high school, teachers wanted her taken from the regular-ed classroom for parts of the day. We fought against all of it, and won.

The most important part of Jillian’s education during her four undergrad years at Northern Kentucky University didnt always occur in the classroom. It was how she learned to cope on a big campus with no one to walk her around. If she got lost, she had to ask questions. As a result, she is very social and entirely self confident.

It’s a simple concept. If you want a hitter in baseball to raise his game, put him up against better pitching. In secondary school, Jillian had to behave the same as everyone else, if she wanted to fit in. The same in college, or in any public setting.

Here’s hoping that the mother settles her issues with the Y, and her son’s behavior is appropriate enough that he can rejoin the camp with typical kids. Peer modeling is vital for our kids with disabilities.

Expect. Don’t accept.

Thanks for reading.

Jillian managing the NKU men's basketball team.

Jillian managing the NKU men’s basketball team.

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