similarly different

“Say goodbye to Gandalf, he’s about to fall into a pit!”
These are words that will live with me forever, because they mark the first time Danny spoke to me from his world, without being prompted or forced to. It marked a turning point in our work together and gave me hope for the remainder of our time at camp together.

Danny has severe Autism, ADHD and Tourettes. He lives in a world that is nearly impossible for most of us to even comprehend and his daily life is fraught with challenges that simply don’t exist outside his mind. Over the four weeks I worked with Danny I made only a very little bit of progress – possibly not even observable to onlookers – but for him and for his family, it was an enormous victory. Learning to speak with Danny was like learning a new language (when I first started communicating through the characters in the films he loved, I felt like I was speaking Greek. But like all immersion language situations, fluency comes quickly) and once I’d figured out how to effectively communicate with him, life became worlds easier for both of us. Having worked for seven years with people with disabilities in a number of different capacities ranging from care-giver to teacher to friend, I can personally attest to the importance of adaptability and finding the right tools for the right situation.

Part of the reason we have this blog is to keep you updated on what we think the coolest, most interesting, most worthwhile toys are. Sometimes this means we talk about the trends and what we think are going to be hot sellers, sometimes it means focusing on the perfect thing for the changing seasons, sometimes it means highlighting something that can be an amazing tool for helping your child navigate the veritable mine-fields of early life (learning how to socialize and make friends, the importance of sharing, dealing with new responsibilities like school work and after-school activities).

Yesterday I was on our Twitter account and I came across a Tweet from @urbanmomsdiy that was asking for support for her part in the Autism Walk taking place in Toronto on Sunday, June 20th and it inspired me to write today’s post. For the last couple of years of high school and throughout my University career, I worked very closely with people with disabilities and even ended up as the campus co-ordinator for McGill’s chapter of Best Buddies Canada . Not only did I make a life-long friend out of my match (even though we are no longer living in the same city, Alan and I still talk on the phone regularly) but I learned a lot about the ways we understand and work with developmental disabilities of all types. Autism is a broad and far-reaching diagnosis that is poorly understood and as a result, difficult for many to work with (not to mention to live with). Supporting organizations like Best Buddies and Walk Now for Autism Speaks is a great way to increase public understanding for widely misunderstood disabilities.

I’ll leave you with one final note today. When we first unpacked the boxes way back in December, I noticed a couple of toys by Melissa and Doug that would’ve have been a dream to have during my summers as a support worker and that I know would be an incredibly useful tool for many teachers, parents and care-givers. One of them in particular – the magnetic responsibility chart – struck me as ideally suited for someone living with a disability since it helps to clearly outline and structure the daily tasks that must be done. It’s clear, easy to use and covers a wide range of responsibilities. And the best part is, it wasn’t designed with people with disabilities in mind. It’s a useful tool for all kids. In the end, our differences are what make us alike.

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