Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Our Greatest Teacher

Several months ago, I was contacted by Brennen's Special Education Teacher, saying that her daughter had an assignment for school, and wondered if she could ask me a few questions. 

Actually, the email went like this:

"Hi Julie! My daughter is doing a recreation course at MUN and has to do an assignment that involves working with an individual with a disability so that they can learn about modifying activities and using specialized equipment. She came home all excited saying that she immediately thought of you and Brennen, and has been begging me to ask you. I think it involves actually participating in activities as well as a few questions for the caregiver. I know you are super busy so if you'd rather not, I completely understand. If it's ok, I'll pass along your email address and let her get in touch with you. Thanks!"

Alyssa is a student of the MUN School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, and this assignment was part of her Adapted Physical Activity course. 

As the course description states, "Adapted Physical Activity presents an overview of current practices, philosophies, and issues related to physical activity and recreation for persons with disabilities. Knowledge and understanding of various disabling conditions and consequent needs of persons with disabilities, including health, safety and fitness, and how these needs may be met in terms of physical activity will be emphasized.

When I spoke with Alyssa, she explained that her assignment required her to work with a 'mentor' - someone she could spend time with and learn from. 

The typical definition of 'mentorship' is "a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. A mentor must have a certain area of expertise. It is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wants to learn."

In this case, I was not going to be her mentor. Brennen was.

Here is what Alyssa wrote about her assignment:


At first, when I was faced with a term project in my Adapted Physical Activity course, I was worried. The project required that I find a mentor with a disability, someone who I could spend time with and get to know. I was worried I was going to be uncomfortable, I was worried about saying the wrong thing, and ultimately, I was worried about not finding a mentor- until I thought of Brennen and his family.

Over the course of the semester I hung out with Brennen, Julie and Andrew at their home and occasionally went to school with Brennen himself.

At school, we went to music class, we had 'buddy reading' and we went on a skating field-trip. It was extremely heart-warming to see Brennen interact with other kids his age. Whether it was reading to him in class or pushing his sledge around the ice, the other children and teachers were eager to make Brennen feel welcome, accepted and loved. We often worry about disabilities getting in the way of interactions and friendships, but Brennen may very well be the most sociable ten year old I know!

When I visited Brennen at home, I was welcomed with open arms and the brightest smile you’ll ever see! Brennen’s goofy giggle is enough to light up a room! During my visits, Brennen would chill out and watch his favourite t.v. shows while I had the chance to talk with Andrew and Julie. We talked about a lot. We talked about many organizations that are dedicated to offering opportunities to people who are living with disabilities - organizations such as Easter Seals. They introduced me to so many different types of sporting equipment that is available, most of which I had never heard of. 

Julie gave me a tour of their accessible home and their beautiful child care centre for children with disabilities - Little Tulips Family Child Care. She talked me through a typical day at Little Tulips and described how she and Andrew spend their time with these amazing little kiddos. During my visits with Brennen at home, I was also able to see their Snoezelen Room (a larger version of the sensory room at Brennen’s school). I was amazed at how dedicated Julie and Andrew are to Brennen’s well-being. It was incredibly inspiring. We talked a lot about Brennen. We talked about his likes and dislikes, and for the record, Brennen LOVES cheesecake and carrot cake! (Then again, who doesn’t?!)

I was able to learn so much from Julie, Andrew and especially from Brennen. I learned that I was worried about this project for nothing. I was never uncomfortable, I never felt like I was saying the wrong thing, and I absolutely knew that I had found the perfect mentor! 

I learned that a person with a disability is just the same as a person without. Brennen is a happy child, a child who thinks, feels emotions, makes friends, plays sports and enjoys life! He is just like anyone else, and I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to sit down and discuss so many things that I was unsure about in the past. I am so thankful to Brennen and his family for teaching me, inspiring me and for being my mentors! It was an unforgettable experience and I can’t wait to come visit again soon- thank you!

Much love,

Thank you, Alyssa! It was a pleasure spending time with you, and I know that Brennen greatly enjoyed your company!

Just as you learned a lot from this assignment, we are in a constant state of learning. Brennen is our mentor. He is teaching us every day about love, about life, and about how to really live. I am glad that we were able to share that with you, and to have a positive impact on your life.

There is so much that we can learn from people with disabilities. They teach us to slow down and appreciate the little things. They teach us about compassion, joy, and unconditional love. They teach us that sometimes life doesn't go exactly as planned, but that it sometimes ends up even greater than we could have imagined!

The world is rich with so many different kinds of people. The more of these people we meet, the more differences we encounter, the more we take the time to truly listen and learn, the more we will discover about ourselves and find our own place in the world.

Alyssa, thank you for spending time with us. I wish you every success in the future. I know you will do great things!


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