How I Advocate Locally for the Disability Community as a Mom
“Mommy and Daddy asked for a perfect baby boy… And we got you! You are perfect. We love you.”
I tell my son Gabriel this every night. Gabriel is 7 years old, nonverbal with autism, and a perfect little boy. His father Michael and I just want everyone else to see this, too.
Gabriel was diagnosed at around 18 months as on the autistic spectrum due to developmental delays, speech-wise and motor developmental issues, as well as regression. As soon as we discovered this, I immersed myself in literature on the subject, reading about all the activities that could possibly help my son progress and thrive.
One was dance and music. I registered Gabriel for a toddler boys’, non-recital hip hop class. I was so happy until I spoke to the dance school’s director, who promptly informed me that my son was not permitted to attend because 1) parents are not allowed in the classroom and 2) the dance school had no teachers with special needs qualifications. I argued… I was turned down, hurt and saddened by the ignorance. Then I bounced back.
Unfortunately, as I searched for “special needs” or “autism” specific activities in my community, I found none. Zero. Not even anything extracurricular at the schools! So I decided I would be the one to resolve this in my community.
Three opportune chances came into play. The first was I was able to reach the local movie theater’s headquarters and get consent to speak to the local general manager about showing sensory movies. He was warm and willing to try one. Sensory movies don’t have trailers, the sound is lowered and the lights stay on in the theater and are dimmed, Attendees can make noises and stim. They can also bring their own snacks. Now the local theater opens specifically for my sensory showings — another plus! Three years later and I still arrange monthly sensory movies.
The second opportunity was in signing Gabriel up for swimming lessons. I was able to meet my town’s director of recreation. Since I had to request a one-kid-to-one-instructor ratio lesson for my son, as opposed to four-kids-to-one-instructor, I asked the director of recreation and he was extremely willing to listen and make it work. He also established Special Needs Swim during the summer due to the necessity in the community for it. Our town is a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water.
I am friends to this day with the director of recreation and have been able to create many programs with him. Voluntarily, I run a Special Needs Lego Club (all Lego toys were donated!) and Special Needs Play-Doh Club, as well as Sensory Readings with crafts. Also, together, we formed the first Buddy Baseball league in my town, beginning its third year May 2017. The first year, 2015, the mayor and I threw out the first ball, and my husband caught it!
Lastly, I jumped on the chance to speak with a new, incoming mayor of our town. He granted me his very first constituent meeting. The mayor was extremely open to hearing about the needs of the special needs community. He asked me to establish an online page for information. I requested an all-ability playground for the community. The mayor found a grant, and within a year, the playground was built. He has told me to let him know what the community might need, and he’s come through every time.
Informally, I advocate constantly for my community. I fundraise and have even won bikes and equipment for my son’s school. I have a parent/sibling/child with disabilities group called “Gabriel’s Friends” and include everyone in activities such as bowling, playground get-togethers, holiday celebrations and anything we can all do together.
Gabriel, my son, is still perfect, and now he has many of the opportunities his peers also do. Local businesses are always welcoming. I took an obstacle and made a path straight through it for my son and his friends.
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