The Sun Will Come out – Tomorrow!

January 10, 2008 Kyron No Comments

I ran across this article last night and just had to take the opportunity to share it with you. Gave me lots of ideas about things we can all do (and me in particular) to make it so that our kids can participate more fully in the community.

The Seattle Times did an article on a special Boy Scout Troop 419 based in King County, Washington. This scout troop is comprised of 17 members with a range of developmental disabilities. The usual scout troop age cut off of 21 is not applied to this special troop. Merit badges are specially tailored to the groups abilities and they work as a group to earn them.

While I’d love to see these boys and young men as a part of a mainstream group I applaud these parents for making a “typical” experience something that could be tailored to them. Honestly there are plenty of times I don’t think Katherine would manage as effectively in a mainstream setting and maybe that’s what these parents see…..other times, Katherine outright blows my mind away with her ability to cope when adequately motivated. And don’t ask me what motivates her because I swear it changes on a dime. Except for one thing – MUSIC.

This springboarded me into remembering another article that spoke to me in Exceptional Parent Magazine December 2007 (free registration required) It spoke to something I had experienced first hand which was the benefit of our special kids participating in community based theater. Katherine LOVES Annie. Knows the show inside and out. Anyone within a five mile radius of Katherine knows how the sun will come out – Tomorrow! When I saw our local theater group was going to be putting on the stage performance of Annie I contacted the director and let her know I was interested in having Katherine try out. I spoke with her about Katherine’s special needs. I told her I wasn’t looking for preferential treatment but rather an opportunity to know that she’d be given a fair chance. I was assured she would.

Katherine practiced and practiced for her audition – she had to sing for them, a song of her choosing – she wanted to sing Tomorrow – I chose something from the Sound of Music. I didn’t need her thinking that when she wasn’t picked for Annie it was because of how she sang the song. We turned out the day of auditions and the line was out the door. Apparently it wasn’t just Katherine who dreamed of being the sappy sweet orphan or one of her perky cohorts. Katherine waited patiently. Honestly she did better than a number of the mothers there that night.

They told all the girls that they needed to be prepared that not everyone would be chosen – there were just too many auditioning. In total well over 100 kids tried out and Katherine was eventually chosen as one of 16 orphans. It was a proud moment for all of us. The teamwork of a theater group is something I had fond memories of and wanted for my daughter. I think she got many of the same things I had years ago from her experience.

Theater is someplace that pretty much everyone can fit in. It’s a totally different atmosphere unlike anything I’ve found elsewhere in the “real” world. There is camaraderie in a theater group that’s especially wonderful for a special needs child. As Barbara Roy wrote in The Exceptional Parent article noted above:

Inevitably, due to the extremely collaborative nature of theater, people who are involved in plays, whether in a school or a community, develop a sense of “the group.” Usually, this is a very deep and committed group, almost like a family. Becoming a part of this network of friends extends into other parts of the school and community such as classrooms, cafeteria, sporting events, or walking down the street. You are my friend; we were in the play together. The other side of this is the audience member who recognizes you from the play. Hey, you were in that play; you did a great job! Ask anyone who has ever done any amateur theatrical activities, and they will tell you this is true.

Also, rehearsing a play is a chance for laughter and fun. (Even serious plays!) At first, nobody quite knows what is going on or what they are doing, and in order to find out, everyone has to take chances. Here is where the individual with special needs excels. They are accustomed to taking chances and putting themselves out there. They do it every day. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they fail. But they keep trying. This is the best way for an actor to think. The rehearsal environment should be nonjudgmental so that everyone feels free to fail. The best directors make sure of this. In addition, the rehearsal atmosphere should be full of humor. By the time the play has been rehearsed and is in production, the cast and crew will have laughed thousands of times. The little jokes known only to cast and crew add to the spirit of camaraderie. And the best part is, they will have laughed WITH each other, not AT each other.

My biggest recommendations for us stage moms is be involved in the process – but not too involved. These people are all volunteers. They are doing it for a love of the art. They don’t need you harping over little Susie’s lighting. Make sure if your child needs to learn lines or lyrics you are working on them often outside of the rehearsal setting. If they need specific props or costumes and you have a lead on a prop or know how to sew – volunteer! The director for Annie assigned a specific “orphan” to be Katherine’s shadow so she could be as “normal” as the rest of the girls and I didn’t have to be backstage with her (probably best for both of us)

While the article in Exceptional Parent says to bug out and leave your kid be, I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think that’s really dependent on the situation. We always had someone present – just outside of wherever they were rehearsing so if there was a problem someone was close by. We gave her the freedom to be on her own with a big safety net icon smile The Sun Will Come out   Tomorrow! Many times Katherine wasn’t even aware someone was there.

Overall, its probably one of the most exceptional experiences Katherine has had. In the past couple of years we’ve also delved into other experiences in the community, some of which were better than others in my experience but each gave her the opportunity to bond with people who have become a support network that surrounds her when I can’t. We are always running into someone who knows her from Henry Players, from Softball, from Horseback Riding in the Special Olympics, from the school talent show (yup she sang!) It brings Katherine into the community like you and me. To belong – Isn’t that what we all want for our kids? Tell us about experiences you have been able to involve your special child in. Maybe it can give us all another idea for involving our kids into the community.

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