updated 9:04pm 3/23/17
A great concern of parents with children who have special needs is the social integration of their children into the community. Most times, those with Downs Syndrome and on the autism spectrum experience social isolation. With autism, the more severe the condition is the greater obstacles exist for social developmental experiences to occur. Social isolationism becomes even sharper as time elapses and the children become adolescents and finally reach adulthood.
How can the community and special needs parents bridge the social divide of typical children and those with special needs? Is it needful to let things be and accept that the task is too monumental to overcome? I put forth the ‘MindCraft strategy’ as a guiding light that may get community to come together empathically for the good of all.
Send Them on Missions
It does not have to be a big orchestration, rather a continuous set of experiences that teach real-world life skills to both, the typical child and the one with special needs. The idea is that we pair a child with a special need with one who is more typical and send these both on missions big and small. Instead of trying to have these two types of kids play together with ‘play and socialization’ being the focus, have them instead go on missions, just as if it was a MineCraft game. One example can be sending both children on an errand into the grocery store to get a short list of products relevant to them. Sure, this sounds elemental and borderline boring, I admit, but listen to the formula.. their focus is not on each other, but in working with each other as they focus on completing a mission across different ‘realms,’ just as if it were a MineCraft game.
With the advent of augmented reality technology, their exists now a nascent industry of app’s that take an image of one’s surroundings and overlay it with computerized visuals that can turn it into a storyfied experience. This adds a new layer to the ‘mission’ and places the children’s perspective closer to feeling as if they are in an actual MineCraft realm, albeit with the use of their willing imagination. Play missions beyond the seven minute grocery errand can turn into a multi-destination errand that includes dropping off letters they have written to friends or loved ones at the post office, entering the pharmacy to pick up special ‘relics,’ like an inexpensive toy, stopping into the fire station to inspect the trustworthiness of the vehicles, refueling with a snack at the local pizza spot and finally, ending their adventure at the playground where both sets of parents may have a small, token reward for them.
Understandably, adults can picture how boring this may all sound, but kids have a knack for storyfying daily life and if prodded, can make an adventure story out of a mission. I do this all the time with the brother of one of the students I coach, whom I call #theCowboy. The boy makes up a story line and before I know it, I am following him along doing combat training, fighting witches and trolls with my diamond sword (which is really a tree branch). From far away it seems like we are just walking around the property of the house, but in our minds we are on a bonafide mission replete with obstacles we have to surmount, treasure boxes we have to find and evil we must defeat. Through it all we do purposeful dance/ fight training to make sure our warrior skills are at their peak. We may have a piece of paper that maps out our plan.

Another example which introduces the strenuous junction of mental (executive function) and physical exercise is through skateboarding. With the snow finally melting away up here in the NorthEastern United States, I am on the cusp of restarting the Scalzi Originals Skateboarding School and am in the final stages of talks with the town of Westport, Ct. to start a skateboard school and summer camp their as well. Both schools bring together typical youth and those with special needs with a focus not on socializing, but on skateboarding. My goal is not to just teach technical skateboarding skills, but to bring families together from different ethnicities, socio-economic stratas and yes, typical youth and those with special needs together. A third example is surfing. The top special needs organization at the moment is Surfers Healing and it traverses the globe and just about all the American coast available bringing ‘one perfect day’ of free surfing to youth, adolescents and adults with valid special needs. The ‘typical’ community has gone a step further here by forming a social enterprise whose sole function is to provide a day of fun through a mental-physical adventure that raises the quality of life for all surfers and volunteer helpers. It is a definite ‘feel good’ event that happens year round thanks to the vision and energy of people who truly care about those who seem to be somewhat forgotten. Skateboarding at a

concrete bowl ‘flow park’ can replicate and prime typical individuals and those with special needs to take their mission adventure a step further and meet the surfers Healing organization out on the beach. The life skills and emotional-mental-physical benefit of reaching out in such ways as these examples I have put forth serve both the helper and the helped, deepening inner richness, purpose and the ancient commandment to love one another not just in word, but in action.
The Importance of Community and Reaching Out
As a father of three and a Special Educator who has worked across the breath of America from Boston to Hawai’i to Florida and back to Connecticut and within Brooklyn and Westchester County, New York, I have had the privilege of entering all kinds of homes and being within the personal domain of families. In relation to this essay topic, I see how easy it is for all of us to go about our lives with our daily schedules. Their are sports and after school activities for the children to deal with, Dad’s work takes them close buy or far away, and Mom’s work and or manage the households. All this is time-consuming and requires all of our energies. The same applies for both typical and special needs homes, only that in children who have special needs, everything is magnified in many ways. The child with severe special needs, if they are fortunate, receive all kinds of time-consuming and costly services aimed at helping their overall development, while the parents and siblings make their life around this reality. Everyone tried to do the best they can, but something begins to show up in the life of the child with the special need…. they have no friends. None. They become lonely and do not know that they are lonely because they are not use to having friends, only seeing how others do converse, socialize and seem integrated into the ‘life of the community’ more or less.
One time events that raise ‘awareness,’ such as ‘community walks and runs’ may raise temporary awareness and raise money for some special needs charity, but through and through, the life of the child with Downs Syndrome and the life of the child with severe forms of autism is a quiet one, a solitary one, if it not be for their circle of family and caretakers around them. The idea of sending the children on community missions is one way forward that can unite community through the young ones. The augmented reality apps are icing on the cake that can bring in novelty and fun into the adventure of two kids doing a multi-obstacle errand mission. As an independent Special Educator I must stay innovative with my client families in ways that are practically and realistic. I plan to practice this very experiment with one of my students and my eldest son who is sensitive to my work and intuitively understands that an empathic state of being is needful in working with children who are verbally and socially-challenged.


In a sense, my eldest son is ‘trained’ to do this work given his wherewithal of my work and why I do my work. He gets it, and is open to befriending in a patient and caring manner. I suggest to families across the America and the world to consider these unifying ideas based in an empathy for one another that leaves no child behind in their overall development. Just like I tell another one of my students on the autism spectrum, #theFieldGeneral, when we are playing the Viking Boat Strategy game, “we cannot win the level if only one boat makes it to harbor, and the rest are left out at sea. All boats must be brought in safely or else we do not win the level.”

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