I first heard about the Kennedy Krieger Institute when I was doing some research on autism, not long after David was diagnosed. Located in Baltimore, MD, Kennedy Krieger is an internationally recognized institution dedicated to research, special education and professional training focused in the areas of developmental disabilities and disorders of the brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal system.
I was fascinated by their research studies, in particular one dealing with the "fever effect" in children with autism. It's a stone cold fact that if David runs a fever over 102, he starts talking in full sentences, his echolalia stops, and he's calm and very much behaving like a neuro-typical child. It was interesting and enlightening to see that many other autism parents see the same thing with their children during a fever.
That bit of research led me to reading more about them, and our whole family signing up for their annual ROAR (Ride On for Autism Research) fundraiser, something we've been a part of every year. They do wonderful work with teachers and other professionals, as well, but their work directly with disabled and injured children is a source of inspiration and education worldwide.
The Kennedy Krieger High School offers many key programs that teach valuable life and workplace skills along with academic curricula presented in a host of alternative learning styles tailored to each individual child. One of the programs they take a lot of pride in is Cafe James, a breakfast and lunch hotspot for students and faculty at the school. At Cafe James, students are assigned jobs based on their strengths (and sometimes based on areas they need to improve) and everyone plays a valuable part.
Recently, the students have taken on the challenge of learning to bake from scratch, choosing a Martha Stewart recipe: Pumpkin Cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. They were a hit with their customers, and the popularity of the item led to feedback and valuable interaction from their customers - all great practice for kids who need to expand their socialization skills.
“I feel so lucky that I get to figure out how each student’s talents can play a role in our cafe,” says Lindsay Balladarsch, special education teacher at Kennedy Krieger High School. “It’s not always easy to carry out the tasks involved in running a café for an individual with a disability, but I’m especially proud of their progress in the face of the obstacles their diagnoses present. This wonderful group makes it look effortless. They keep our customers coming back for more.”
Cafe James is only one example of the many ways our disabled children can shine, when someone's willing to work with them patiently, and encourage them as they bloom. I look at those cupcakes and I don't just see delicious (and they do look delicious!). I see accomplishment. I see independence. I see hope.
My son told me yesterday that when he grows up, he wants to be a skateboard riding waiter. I don't know if that'll flesh out the way he wants it to, but I do know that just like the kids in Mrs. Balladarsch's program, he surprises me all the time.
And with programs like Cafe James and others like it springing up all over the country, I wouldn't rule it out as a possibility.