March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a month that not only highlights disability awareness, but celebrates abilities and inclusion.
Teaching children inclusion and acceptance within every aspect of life is critical to building communities comprised of overall well-being and respect. By increasing public awareness of varying abilities, the public will begin to normalize their perception of others and see beyond differences of others.
Just because we’re different, doesn’t mean we’re not also the same. That’s the sentiment that Harmony and her mom Tasha know in their hearts, live by and spread through their actions each and every day.
When Harmony was born, she was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic disease that affects the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. SMA hinders her physical strength by impacting the nerve cells in her spinal cord, taking away the ability for her to walk, eat or breathe on her own.
Though Harmony faces challenges that are different than most children, she attends an Early Head Start classroom with children who do not have disabilities.
“Harmony being in school and interacting with people at different events has dramatically boosted her confidence,” said Tasha. “She is an example to others that even though there are different people with different abilities, we all also have so many things in common.”
Since starting school, Tasha says that Harmony has significantly grown socially, emotionally and cognitively. She participates in daily activities just as any other student.
Despite having the most severe extensive medical needs in her school, Harmony has a 100 percent attendance rate and is at the top of her class. At just 3 years old, she has the cognitive ability of a 4-year-old.
“Sometimes people can be scared that they don’t want to offend anyone or make anything awkward, but having Harmony around school helps everybody,” said Tasha. “Everyone in Harmony’s life is getting comfortable and normalized with the different challenges that Harmony has.”
Adaptive technology has further encouraged Harmony’s ability to thrive socially and connect with others. Southwest Human Development’s ADAPT Shop lended her knee mobilizers from its loan closet. The loaned technology allows Harmony to take her ability to new heights as she is now able to stand for short durations of time.
“The fact that she is able to stand with her peers is just incredible,” said Tasha. “Her teachers and whole class share her excitement. It’s the little things that count the most and just make everyone so happy.”
In addition to her knee mobilizers, Harmony also gained powerful voice aid technology from Arizona’s Division of Developmental Disabilities that allows her to better communicate with her peers. She has all of the other children’s names in her voice communications tool. Tasha says that Harmony uses her voice to express her personality and be more spunky than ever.
“She definitely knows she’s different,” said Tasha. “She’s in a wheelchair and can’t move as much as the others, but the other kids are gentle and helpful. The more they’re around someone different like Harmony, the more normalized her disabilities become to them.”
Tasha has an important mantra that she hopes others will adopt in their daily lives.
“One disability should not affect the way you treat someone else,” Tasha says. “Remember that not all disabilities are visual. Treat others how you want to be treated, because no matter what they’re still a person.”