Happy World Down Syndrome Day and Happy Birthday…

To one of the very special and unique individuals who continues to teach, motivate and inspire me on a continuous basis.

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Jeremy is a natural teacher.  After several years of being a participant of our FITBuddies program at FIT, Jeremy became a volunteer and a leader to other participants.  Watching him in action with other participants has probably taught me more than I have taught him.  He is gentle yet firm when needed, fun and goofy at the appropriate times and most importantly respectful of all participants needs and behaviors.  We see and experience a lot at FITBuddies and Jeremy takes everything in stride.  And when things get out of hand or he senses that one of the younger participants is causing me to pull my hair out, he provides a gentle reminder such as, “Jen, they are just kids and at one point I was a kid like them too that needed a little direction.”

I can’t help but smile with each reminder.

A few weeks ago, Jeremy provided me with another gentle reminder that I feel is important to share. We had some 1/1 time as we were going for a short walk at the beginning of the session and I was talking to Jeremy about the possibility of moving on to to another group at FIT, a “typical” group. We discussed the various opportunities and I told him it was 100% his decision and he quickly responded,

“I am a very special person and I would like to stay with very special people.”

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Once again, Jeremy stopped me in my tracks.

My goal has always been to continuously challenge each participant and provide endless opportunities for them to grow.  I deliberately developed group training for teens and adults with intellectual disabilities so that they have access to the exact same health & wellness services as the rest of us in a fun, safe environment that caters to their individual needs:  we do not change WHAT is taught, we simply change HOW we teach.  And while I firmly believe in inclusive services, I also firmly believe in the importance of exclusive services – services that are 100% focused on one population or group.  Jeremy’s comment was a gentle reminder of why such services are so important.

Here is the reality:  At FITBuddies, Jeremy is a leader, a teacher, and a motivator.  If Jeremy moved into another group, he would need constant modifications made on things being taught and most likely have an aide or 1/1 support.  If Jeremy remains in FITBuddies, he can continue to be challenged but can do so independently and at his own pace.  Jeremy is 29 with Down Syndrome and his independence is very important to him.

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On World Down Syndrome Day my message is for parents and instructors of those with special needs providing the same gentle reminder that Jeremy provided me:  special people deserve special programs.

I am not a parent of a child with Down Syndrome or Autism.  I am simply a professional who has been an ABA therapist, an aide, a teacher and an instructor to your children for over 12 years now.  I have had the privilege of working with teens and adults, such as Jeremy, who have molded and shaped our programs as the leaders.

In the past couple years, I have watched parents fight long and hard for inclusive services and I fully support you and your efforts but I also strongly encourage you to continue fighting both fights. Fight for more services and programs that include and challenge your child but fight just as hard for the services that specifically cater to your child’s needs and make your child the challenger (ie. the leader) because both are equally important.

When I teach the ACTION philosophy, I make it very clear to all instructors to never change WHAT they teach but instead change HOW you teach it.  The average special needs services DO need to change WHAT they are teaching as many are not providing your child with access to the same content and curriculum as every other child.  Yes, these services need to be updated but they do not all need to be eliminated.

My goal, as a provider, is not that every child participates in inclusive services; my goal is that your child has the opportunity to CHOOSE between inclusive OR exclusive services.

Jeremy provided us all with the that it is not about inclusion vs. exclusion but about being provided with the opportunity to choose:  the opportunity to choose which services and programs best fit his wants and needs.

Thank you and Happy Birthday to Jeremy!

To learn more about our programs, visit us at http://www.buddiesinaction.com

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Mr. Independent

I would say there are two things that every parent hopes for their child:  good health and independence.  Of course, many parents have many other “plans” and hopes as well but I think it is safe to say these two are fairly consistent across the parenting board.  For a parent of an individual with special needs, it can be overwhelming and daunting to know what this may mean for not only your child but your own future.

Sometimes as a parent or caregiver, you have to take a step back.  Instead of always looking at the BIG picture or for BIG opportunities, look at how the small stuff can make BIG changes or a BIG impact.  That is exactly what the Teter family has done for Jeremy and the changes he has made are anything but SMALL.

Jeremy is 25 years old and is now working at Starbucks, cooking his own breakfast and other meals, working out with FITBuddies 2X/week (he has lost 25 pounds since he started due to both diet and exercise), going to the College of Adaptive Arts, and in the last year, learned how to ride a bike.  You can tell by the way Jeremy walks that his confidence is soaring and he truly has a feeling of independence. As he says, “I’m a grown man, doing man things!”

Of course there are still other things on his list, but overall, Jeremy feels as though he is “living the life.” HUGE opportunities did not come pounding on the Teter family’s door and these changes did not happen over night.  It was a process,  a process of small steps that led to a few more doors opening followed by huge progress and change.

This is part of what the monthly happy hours I am currently organizing are all about.  Sure, it’s a fundraiser but it’s much more than that.  There’s not a person who meets any of my FITBuddies’ participants who doesn’t enjoy getting to know them or love hanging out with them (or at least they all tell me that:); yet, there are far and few between (if any) who are calling these special individuals to hang out on a weekend (or weekday) night.  Yes, there are more and more ‘social’ programs for individuals with special needs but trust me, they can tell the difference between being treated as ‘special’ individuals and being treated just like everyone else.

It is simply a happy hour.  It is not a huge opportunity, but it is something small that can create a big feeling: a feeling of increased independence and inclusion.  Thank you to all who came to the first one and we hope many of you will join us in the future!

A few words from Jeremy, Mr. Independent, the Monday after he came up to the city for Happy Hour:

“Jen, that was the best city night ever.  I really think I could get use to nights out like that.  Do you think we could do that again?”

A few words from Jeremy’s parents (Bill and Mary Lynn Teter) regarding Jeremy’s night out:

Jen, the ‘attitude’ that ‘the’ Jeremy came home with that evening was priceless!
“I’m accepted”, “I have friends”, “They like me”, “I’m just a regular guy.”
Jeremy showed enough self-esteem for any six guys.  We can’t thank you
enough!  You provide a lot of ‘somethings’ for these young people that the
parents just can’t give.

Buddies In ACTION is not just about exercise and health; it’s about creating OPPORTUNITIES that increase INDEPENDENCE and INCLUSION.