Apollo-Ridge students encouraged to include kids with disabilities
A simple act of kindness — that's all it could take for a student with a disability to feel like he or she fits in at school.
Sixth- and eighth-grade students at Apollo-Ridge Middle School got a chance Wednesday to learn how to be more inclusive and understanding when interacting with students who may have a disability that impacts their social skills, speech, sight or mobility.
The Amazing Kids workshops and assemblies, offered through the Children's Institute of Pittsburgh, began about 20 years ago in an effort to educate kids about disabilities. The program is funded through the state Department of Education and free for schools that want to participate.
"If you practice a little kindness, you are speaking their language," said Bruce Adamson, outreach specialist with the Children's Institute of Pittsburgh, who led the workshop.
Adamson said research shows the more kids understand disabilities and are educated about them, the more likely they are to treat those students the same as anyone else.
"There's a lot of misconceptions about people with disabilities," Adamson said. "Those misconceptions result in exclusion, kids making fun of them — a lot of negative behavior."
Students got to watch video clips from Pittsburgh-area students who have autism and other disabilities.
They got to hear firsthand how hurtful it can be when their peers exclude them or bully them.
"We use videos of students who have those disabilities to explain their situations to the kids," he said, "because the kids will listen when they see someone their own age talking about their disability."
"There's a few people at our school with autism, so now I feel like I can understand them better," said Julian Barr, 14.
History teacher August Manifest said it's moving to see how compassionate his students are every year. The school has participated for around three years.
"Every year, I watch how our students react to this presentation — they are always engaged and eager to learn," Manifest said. "I am always very impressed."
Student Matthew Clark, 13, said he learned about the right and wrong ways to communicate with students with disabilities.
"I learned that it's not OK to make fun of people with disabilities," said Matthew Clark, 13. "You can really hurt their feelings if you use the wrong words."
Student Kenneth Baustert, 14, said learning from this program can help students educate others on how to treat people with disabilities.
"I thought it really gives you as lot of information," Baustert said.
Adamson said often times students will be left out of activities such as eating lunch with other students or being invited to a birthday party.
"Exclusion is the biggest problem with kids who have disabilities," Adamson said.
Adamson has seen a positive response from students across the region and hopes the information he presents makes a difference in how students are treated.
"I see a lot of kids who seem to get it," he said. "The more they hear it, the better."
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, email@example.com or on Twitter @emilybalser.