Activities stress disability awareness, compassion

Photos by Tegan Johnston/The Herald
Cedar Crest Intermediate School sixth-grader Jaron Wiseman tried to figure out what words classmate Leo Alvis signed to him during an activity for the school's Disability Awareness Week on Wednesday. Special needs teacher Alicia Kunkler planned a variety of lessons and activities throughout the week to help the students learn about different types of disabilities.


BRETZVILLE — Autism spectrum disorder — a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause sensory sensitivity — can make you feel like someone is scratching a note card on the back of your neck while another person reads loudly from a book and someone else continuously pats your head. Would you be able to pay attention in class?

Every day this week, students at Cedar Crest Intermediate School have been participating in brief activities like the one described above to help them better understand their peers and family members who live with disabilities.

Shelby Altman practiced signing letters of the alphabet during the school's Disability Awareness Week on Wednesday.

“I think it’s neat to kind of have them doing these activities and looking through rose-colored glasses,” said Alicia Kunkler, Cedar Crest special education teacher and the school’s Disability Awareness Week coordinator. March is Disability Awareness Month in Indiana, and Cedar Crest hosts its own Disabilities Awareness Week biannually in March.

In addition to autism, the kids also discussed and engaged in lessons related to intellectual and learning disabilities as well as communication disorders, among other disabilities. One activity helped the students sympathize with people who have mental disabilities by tasking the students with taking response tests written in German and being told to “try harder” when they complained that they couldn’t do it. Another had them read sentences with letters that were printed backwards to simulate dyslexia. Students also learned the basics of sign language, which as of Wednesday, had been sixth-grader Gabrielle Englert’s favorite part of the week so far.

Cedar Crest science teacher Jamie Giesler signed the answers to riddles for her class to figure out during the school's Disability Awareness Week on Wednesday.

“My teacher (Jamie Giesler) would do different words in sign language, and it was fun to kind of figure out what she was trying to say,” Englert said, also saying that figuring out what her teacher was signing was like solving a puzzle.

Friday, the kids will discuss the “Ten Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with People with Disabilities.” The list includes making eye contact and communicating directly to the person, listening attentively and waiting for acceptance when offering help.

“I think it’s cool that they teach us about (disabilities) and that we get to learn about it,” said sixth-grader Danielle Eckert.

Kunkler said the week’s programming takes place biannually at the school so all of its students will get to experience it once before they move onto eighth grade and leave the facility. She picked this year’s discussion points based on the disabilities that certain students attending the school have.

She estimated that about 30 of the school’s 200 students have special needs, while more students have other learning disabilities and social challenges. She said that going into this week, Cedar Crest students were very aware and understanding of different disabilities and how they affect those who have them, but the activities helped them broaden their comprehension even more.

“It just brings awareness to kids because I think sometimes at this age they forget that everybody has something they’re dealing with,” Kunkler said. “Everybody is dealing with something, and we may not all be able to see it. We just need to be compassionate to other people.”

Sixth-graders Shelby Altman, left, and Grace Schuetter practiced signing letters of the alphabet together during the school's Disability Awareness Week on Wednesday.

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