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Special School District of St. Louis County
Focus on abilities, not disabilities
Parenting does not automatically come with an instruction manual. Being a parent to a child (or children) with disabilities doubly so. Once my boys, who have autism, were out of the early childhood years, I kept hearing about "Ability Awareness." At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. Thank goodness for the Internet and wonderful programs like the Fred Saigh Parent Leadership Institute and Partners in Policymaking. Through my own research and these programs, I discovered two very powerful ideas about ability awareness:

  • Life is not self-contained.
  • Empower people — especially children — with information and knowledge, and they will rise to the challenge.
Ability awareness is the concept that when you educate, initiate discussions, and clarify myths and facts about people with differing abilities, true inclusion and understanding can follow. Many schools embed this throughout their curriculum. Others devote a half day, full day or monthly discussions to exposing children to programs that provide invaluable information on differing abilities.

When my boys entered kindergarten, my school did not have a specific awareness program in place. I set out to change that. I had meetings with my school administration, and joined the school parent-teacher organization, to introduce the concept of ability awareness and the need for programing in our school. I was very fortunate that both the administration and the other parents were very open to this idea. We started out with setting aside a morning for the fourth graders to rotate through three separate programs about ability awareness. Today, this has evolved into a program that is building wide (K-5). Each grade keeps the same topics so that as the students matriculate to the next grade, they are provided with new information and tools.

For my children, this has meant a more compassionate view of their challenges, as well as exposure for my children to other students’ unique abilities. Awareness and understanding have led to a wonderfully inclusive and successful elementary school experience. Awareness is not limited to elementary school, and can be an integral part of middle school and high school success as well. If your school is not currently offering ability awareness programs, here are some resources you can bring to the table if you are interested in starting a program in your district.

Article written by Michelle Levi Perez. Michelle is an administrator with the SSD Parent Education and Diversity Awareness Program. Michelle is returning to the program after spending the last several years providing and coordinating parent training and Information for MPACT. Michelle is the proud parent of three children (a 3-year-old girl and 12-year-old twin boys). Her unique parent perspective comes from her amazing twin boys - both diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Michelle Levi Perez

Michelle Levi Perez
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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