Feature Article - October 2010
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A Welcome Inclusion

Invisible Disabilities Get Hands-On Attention

By Kelli Anderson

More Bang for Your Buck with TRS

But what if you don't have funding to create an entire department or for several inclusion staff members?

Hire a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (TRS).

"If you're working with the disabled, the wrong person for the job is one who has no disability experience. A TRS knows disabilities and recreational parks," McGovern said.

The good news is that when it comes to inclusion—especially for those who are high functioning with emotional/social needs—a TRS is a professional resource by which all staff can be trained to do their jobs more effectively.

The result? Park districts and recreational programs get a pretty amazing bang for their buck.

Contrary to some misconceptions about inclusion, many of those with invisible disabilities don't require specialized equipment, separate programs or extra staff. Often, just having someone evaluate their needs to pass along some key information to teachers and coaches is sufficient.

"Not every kid needs one-to-one staff support," McGovern explained. "Just because it may be needed at school doesn't mean it's necessarily needed in recreation. They're very different. The model I've seen is to have a TRS supervising. They oversee the other staff."

A TRS also is especially important for assessing the needs of each individual with a disability in recreational programs because if there is one rule of thumb about special needs it's that there is no rule of thumb.

If your program has seen one child with PDD-NOS, it simply means they've seen one child with PDD-NOS. From child to child and adult to adult, no disorder's symptoms will manifest themselves the same way. The hard truth is that there can be no cookie-cutter approach. Each person must be evaluated and their needs assessed one person at a time.

"Essential to success is that we do an assessment," Kazin said. "We have our CTRS take the assessment information and develop a plan so staff at the center can include that particular child. It requires training because every person learns differently. Some are more auditory, some more tactile and some more visual. It's really important to know what you're dealing with and know the issues."

Assessments make knowing the issues and their solutions for each child possible. A child might simply need directions provided in a different way. They might require a certain kind of motivation or it might just be a case of fitting them with the right personality of the coach or instructor who makes them feel supported.

In some cases, certain behaviors exist that staff members need to be made aware of in order to know how to cue the child to stop the behavior or redirect it. This helps preserve children's dignity so they can interact with their peers, be successful in their efforts and just have fun.