By Brandi Homan
One population of youth where Maricopa falls short of opportunities for is our special-needs kids. This issue is at my heart because my oldest has autism.
We are Be Awesome for a reason. We don’t just identify problems and complain and hope somebody does something. We do something. We do it carefully and deliberately. We have a plan. We have short- and long-term solutions. Here are three areas Maricopa falls short for its special-needs youth and solutions we are going to implement.
- Recreation Opportunities. Too often our kids with special needs don’t participate in activities because they feel anxious, and current youth-centric activities aren’t set up to accommodate them. Other participants don’t understand. I can share some experiences, but my point is my son and others like him just want to be included, but they don’t make friends easily. My son could use a group with local kids who understand him, relate and can be his buddy. We are proposing meaningful recreation activities designed and carried out by a team of people who are trained and skilled to provide a fun experience where real connections can be made. Not a night off for parents but a night out for them.
- Information. Awareness is one thing; light your porch blue, that’s great. We are ready for the next step. Providing a real understanding of why my son and others are behaving as they do in public is a whole other discussion. We want to help inform business owners and community members of the reasons special needs kids behave the way they do so our community can react in an accommodating and caring manner. We are offering to use our Talk-O Tuesday platform as a way to educate the community and help foster an appreciation for our special needs kids.
- Authentic opportunities for life skills. People throw this term around all the time. But a real place for young men and women like my son to be employed and contribute does not exist. Our solution for this is long-term, but we want to acquire our own office space with a place for a retail snack bar or coffee shop that can help employ and provide our special needs teens opportunities for entry-level work in an environment that accepts and includes them. The model already exists. Let’s replicate it here.
If this mission resonates and you’re ready to make a difference, contact me. The well-meaning need not apply.
Brandi Homan is a Be Awesome Youth Coalition board member.
This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.