We had just finished our last presentation to fourth grade students at Penryn Elementary School. The ATOU team was beginning to pack up and load the van. Steven (named changed), a fourth grade boy, came up to me to talk to me privately. He said, “You know how you talked about your aunt? (referring to my family member with developmental disabilities). Well, I have a cousin like that. She’s seven, but she can’t talk yet. I don’t usually like to hang around my younger cousins, but she’s different.”
I asked if he liked spending time with her. With a smile that was a cross between pride and self-consciousness, he replied, “Yes.” I told him she was lucky to have him for a cousin and he was lucky to have her. I also told him I hoped he had as wonderful a friendship with her as I do with my aunt. He thanked me, smiled and walked away, following his classmates.
A Touch of Understanding offers a time for students with disabled family members to share their experiences, their concerns and their appreciation of their loved ones. It is a rare time to talk with pride about their knowledge and understanding of disabilities rather than being embarrassed or hiding the fact that their family has a disabled member. The program takes away the stigma and lets the students see that individuals with disabilities are people first, just regular people, who happen to have disabilities.
A Touch of Understanding, through its hands-on activities and opportunities to meet and talk with individuals with disabilities, breaks down barriers and strengthens relationships.