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News Roundup: Top Stories In The Special-Needs Community This Month

a roundup of all the latest trends and news when it comes to different abilities. updated Jan. 3, 2020.

MARCH

Yahoo – Kids’ shows Fancy Nancy and Sesame Street both announced that they will air autism-themed episodes in April. Sesame Street’s character with autism Julia will have an entire episode dedicated to her. An episode of Fancy Nancy will feature a character named Sean (who has autism) and show how Nancy learns about differences and neurodiversity. You can find Fancy Nancy on Disney Channel and Sesame Street on HBO.

The Guardian – A disability rights film called Crip Camp premiered on Netflix. The film is a documentary that shows how a “hippy” summer camp for disabled kids “launched a generation of activists.” Produced by the Obamas, the film focuses on the camp during the ‘70s and how it helped shape the disability rights movement for that decade and the years that followed. Pro Tip: The film is rated R and is not suitable for kids.

Disability Scoop – The shoe brand Vans is introducing “sensory inclusive” shoes for those with ASD. The brand describes the shoes as ultra-comfortable, with sensory elements including a “calming color palette” and design features that “focus on the senses.” The shoes are available in toddler, kids and adult sizes online and in stores.

WIVB – A dance studio in Depew, New York—geared specifically toward those with special needs—has been holding online dance classes during the coronavirus pandemic. Danceability has been closed since mid-March, but Facebook Live has allowed the studio to still reach 173 students. Each class is free and teaches a different genre of dance. If you’re interested in checking out the classes, click here. The classes are offered Monday–Thursday at 5pm.

FEBRUARY

Check out these great stories from this past month.

CBS– Isaiah, a student with special needs from Alabama, was recently named an honorary officer at his school. Isaiah became close friends with his campus resource officer, who checked up on him every day. When the officer learned Isaiah wants to be in law enforcement one day, his department organized a special ceremony. Officers from all over the state traveled to see Isaiah receive his honorary sheriff’s star. As a new officer, he was able to patrol his school and even take a ride in a helicopter. Check out the full video interview here.

Hollywood Reporter– The Peanut Butter Falcon star, Zack Gottsagen, made history at the 2020 Oscars as the first presenter with Down syndrome. Co-star Shia LeBeouf joined Zack onstage to present the award for best live-action short. Zack received a standing ovation as he graced the stage and waved to the audience before introducing the nominees.

Disability Scoop– A few moms in New Jersey started a Girl Scout troop for kids with special needs. Hillsborough Troop #60651 currently has three members, but leaders Kathy Kafka and Karen Briegs hopes the troop will continue to grow. As the girls each have different needs, Kafka and Briegs are still in the process of creating a program that will work for everyone. The troop participates in traditional scouting activities, such as learning the Girl Scout promise, making s’mores, creating arts and crafts and, of course, selling Girl Scout cookies. Recently, the girls also made beds for a local animal shelter. Kafka and Briegs hope this troop will provide an example to girls that are neurotypical that they can learn from each other.

Fort Worth Star Telegram– A couple from Fort Worth recently welcomed home a 2-year-old girl with Angelman syndrome after a lengthy adoption process. The couple always had a soft spot in their heart for those with Down syndrome and ultimately wanted to adopt a child with that specific condition. When they saw 2-year-old Lola though, things changed and they decided to pursue adopting her. The couple has three other children as well—a 15-year-old, 11-year-old, and 6-year-old—who all bonded with Lola immediately. The family hopes to show others the importance of adoption through their experience.

JANUARY

See what happened in the special needs community at the start of 2020.

US News– An elementary school in Alaska has a new employee—a 3-year-old cream golden retriever serving as a therapy dog for those with autism and sensory issues. The pup, Casper, was trained in California and now helps the kids handle meltdowns and provides deep pressure therapy. The kids also earn time with him through good behavior or getting their schoolwork done. Casper’s trainer says the dog’s regular presence is helping the kids get more social interaction and has been a game-changer for students with special needs.

Disability Scoop–Erin Feeney, a woman from Illinois who has cerebral palsy, recently wrote a script for Disney. Her script for the show Doc McStuffins premiered in January on the Disney Channel and Disney Junior. This is extremely exciting for Feeney, who is nonverbal and primarily communicates with a communication board attached to her wheelchair. Her dream going forward is to write fairy tales and work more with Disney.

FOX 6– A facility serving those with special needs in Lubbock had a real reason to cheer on Super Bowl Sunday. High Point Village, a faith-based nonprofit, and its “Villagers” consider Kansas City Chief’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes a friend. Two years ago, Mahomes met the Villagers at a fundraiser. After he helped them, they rooted for him as he vied for the ultimate football trophy.

FOX 4– A Dallas ISD basketball league now features players with special needs. While preparing for the Special Olympics, district officials came up with the idea to create a league for those with learning disabilities. The program is partnering with Special Olympics and is part of Dallas ISD’s work to provide opportunities for all students. Participating schools include South Oak Cliff and Wilmer Hutchins high schools.

DECEMBER

Check out these great stories from December.

Fox 4 News– A new program called “To Be Like Me” is teaching elementary students how to interact with people who are different from them. The program is a two-hour, interactive experience with the goal of creating awareness in young kids on how to break barriers with the special needs community. Moms in the healthcare industry started the program.

Disability Scoop– Google is partnering with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society to collect voice samples from adults with Down syndrome to improve Google’s algorithm that deciphers unique speech patterns. The voice recognition technology usually misses every third word spoken by a person with Down syndrome, due to variations in facial muscular and skeletal systems. Google says with every speech sample provided, the more likely it will be able to improve speech recognition for everyone.

AP News– Amy Bockerstette, a golfer with Down syndrome and Special Olympian, joined other elite women athletes as a grand marshal for the Dec. 28 Fiesta Bowl parade.

US News– After JoAnn McNamee, special needs advocate and mom of a daughter with Down syndrome, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2018, her daughter became her hero. Kate helped her with everything—including household chores, dishes and laundry—to support her mother. During treatment, JoAnn was adamant about keeping the doors open to Kate’s Place, her nonprofit program for young adults with special needs. The organization also ended up helping with JoAnn’s cancer battle too.

NOVEMBER

Here’s what happened in the special needs community this past month.

USA Today– American Girl featured Ivy, a 4-year-old girl with Down syndrome, in its holiday catalog this season. Kristin Kimble, Ivy’s mom, took Ivy and her other three daughters to a casting call after learning through a Facebook group that the company was looking for models. The shoot took place this past spring, but Kimble didn’t know until October that Ivy’s images were used. American Girl said it looks forward to continuing its work in “celebrating all girls.”

DFWChild Scoop– Several local malls are offering sensory-friendly Santa experiences this holiday season. Some of the locations include The Shops at Willow Bend, Stonebriar Centre, Firewheel Town Center, North East Mall and Grapevine Mills.

Disability Scoop– Walmart recently updated its disability employment policy. In cases where employees need to be reassigned, the company will now be able to offer them positions at nearby stores rather than just at the location where they currently work. The new policy will take effect in all stores by February.

CBS DFW– Ballet North Texas held a sensory-friendly performance of The Nutcracker this year. The shortened performance offered dimmed stage lights, permission to talk freely and lowered music. The associate director Anna Sessions has two siblings with special needs, so this held personal meaning for her. The company hopes to make this an annual event.

NBC– Professional photographer Angela Forker recently started the Precious Baby Project to celebrate babies with special needs. In her images, the babies are turned into mermaids, knights, adventurers and more. She started this project to show the children and their families that their future is wide open.

Dallas Morning News Coleman Jones, a 23-year-old man with Down syndrome, was recently chosen by Chase Bank to be in its newspaper and social media advertisements. Jones is a Dallas native and is vice president of Howdy Homemade Ice Cream, a Dallas ice cream shop that specifically hires individuals with special needs.

OCTOBER

Here are the top stories in the special needs community from October.

Facebook, @DallasBlindHockey—A new program for athletes who are visually impaired just launched in Dallas—Dallas Blind Hockey. With support from the Dallas Stars as well as the Texas Amateur Hockey Association, the organization held a Try Blind Hockey event where young blind athletes could come check out what the program will be like. Practices are held every Saturday at 12:15pm at the Children’s Health Starcenter in Farmers Branch. Email dallasblindhockey@gmail.com for questions or if you’re interested in joining.

Dallas Zoo—The Dallas Zoo has officially become a certified sensory inclusive facility for children and adults with autism and sensory sensitivities. The zoo is partnering with an organization called KultureCity to make sure its programs, events and campus all are sensory inclusive. In order for the zoo to be certified, members were trained by medical professionals on how to recognize guests with sensory needs as well as how to handle a sensory overload situation. In addition to having access to dedicated sensory rooms, sensory bags will also be available and will include noise-cancelling headphones, weighted lap pads and more for those that feel overwhelmed.

Dallas Academy—Two students with learning disabilities were recently recognized with a summer scholarship from Southern Methodist University and an AI job after they built an award-winning eco-friendly model home. Hypergiant Technologies hired Thomas Eades, a student diagnosed with ADHD and autism, after he learned Computer Assisted Design (CAD) and developed a carbon positive model home design. Evan Bailey, another student, served as one of the lead engineers for the carbon positive model and as a result received a scholarship for high school students at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering.

Centria Autism—Invisible Disabilities Week took place Oct. 13–19, and Centria Autism used this time to have clinical experts help raise awareness for those who have “invisible” disabilities. Whereas a wheelchair is a clear indicator of a physical disability, those with autism are not always seen. Centria expressed that having to always explain that autism doesn’t exactly have a “look” can be tiring for parents and make them feel like people don’t believe their child has autism. During the week, Centria’s experts spoke about typical challenges of those living with autism, the “he doesn’t look autistic” phenomenon, how ABA therapy applies to these issues, and the importance of awareness, social acceptance and judgment.

SEPTEMBER

A lot happened in September; check it out.

DFWChild Scoop – A new chapter of The Miracle League was formed this month in Dallas. Heather Gregg, along with two of her friends Paula Willard and Caroline Demers, decided to form the organization after seeing a need for adaptive sports in their area. The league will start its first season Oct. 12 with basketball where the kids can participate in weekly practices and games. 

Runway of DreamsNew York Fashion Week featured a show that highlighted adaptive clothing using models with special needs on Sept. 5. The Runway of Dreams Foundation coordinated the fashion show to promote those with disabilities within the fashion industry. Some notable retailers that have participated in their shows include Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Target and Kohl’s.

Disability Scoop – ABC debuted their new show that has a Down syndrome storyline. Stumptown will follow the life of a former Marine (turned private investigator) with gambling debt, her complicated love life, and her brother with Down syndrome. Cole Sibus, who has Down syndrome himself, stars as the main character’s brother. The show premiered Sept. 25. 

Disability Scoop – Dental school students will soon be required to learn how to care for patients with disabilities. The Commission on Dental Accreditation approved new standards requiring all US dental schools to train students in the assessment and management of patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities, among other special needs groups. 

Chuck E. CheeseChuck E. Cheese will now be open two hours early on the first Sunday of every month, specifically for kids with autism and other special needs. This will include reduced lighting and noise, food and games as well as trained staff. 

PR Newswire– A new playground designed to be accessible for children of all abilities opened in West Plano at the end of the month. Windhaven Meadows Park, near Windhaven Parkway and West Spring Creek Parkway, includes Liberty Playground—a 20,000-square-foot playground that allows children with and without disabilities to play together. The park also includes walking trails, a pond, a dog park, restrooms, a pavilion and a spray ground. 

AUGUST

In case you missed it, here’s what made the news this month.

Disability Scoop highlighted Zack Gottsagen, the actor with Down syndrome starring in a movie with actors Shia LaBouef and Dakota Johnson, and his opportunity to create some change in Hollywood with his new role. “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” a bittersweet buddy comedy about a man with Down syndrome who runs away from a residential nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro-wrestler, hit the screens in over 500 theaters in August.

Fox 4 News shared a video that a Kentucky mom posted about a line of adaptive clothing at Target for children with special needs. In the video, she demonstrates some of the clothes she bought her young son, who has 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, a missing section of the 22nd chromosome. The clothes shown have an extra sleeve on the shirt for a feeding tube, as well as jeans with side zippers and buttons for easier put on, take off. The video has gone viral on Facebook leading many to thank this mom for letting them know about the clothing line.

CBS News reported on a 30-year-old Texas man with special needs that was found wandering alone around town for two days. When approached by law enforcement officers about where they could take him, the Texas man told the officers the name of his junior high school teacher, as there were no family members who could take care of him. Ms. Girard, the junior high teacher, has now taken him in, where he has now had his very first birthday party, along with many other “firsts.”

Denton Record Chronicle discussed how the North Texas State Fair hosted a livestock show for youths and adults with special needs this month. The No Limits Stock Show took place August 19, where participants were able to choose from a sheep, goat, pig or others to groom, care for and show with the help of an assigned volunteer.

Late August, Plano’s Life Skills Autism Academy hosted the public to celebrate their grand opening with a special all-inclusive sensory-friendly adventure day, featuring popular superheroes too. The event let families see the Life Skill’s facility while the kids let loose and had a good time.

JULY

July was full of victories for the special-needs community. Here’s what you missed in the news this month.

CNN published an article about Target’s newest Halloween costume line made specially for kids with disabilities. Now, Mom and Dad don’t have to worry about getting creative to make a costume for their little one in a wheelchair. Target announced two examples of wheelchair-accessible costumes, such as a pirate and princess. There are costumes designed for kids with sensory sensitivities too.

Disability Scoop reported that Apple will be releasing 59 emojis with disabilities this fall. The emojis will range from service dogs to people with hearing disabilities and mobility differences.

Fast Company discussed the new autism campaign starring Sesame Street’s Julia, a 4-year-old muppet with autism. The campaign, an initiative with the Ad Council, Autism Speaks and Sesame Workshop, shows Julia using an AAC device to talk. It hopes to bring awareness to parents about autism and the importance of early screening.

The Guardian talked about how subtitles aren’t just for people that are hard of hearing. In fact, a tweet went viral to show support of how many people use subtitles, which has over 70,000 retweets. The article includes multiple statistics that show just how many people use subtitles, so here’s to hoping we can normalize subtitles in movie theaters and more!

UNILAD shared a video, which has now gone viral, of a 14-year-old Illinois boy born without arms doing a 20-inch box jump. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and go watch it right now.

Photo courtesy of iStock. This post was originally published in February 2019.