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What do you do when you are out and about and you encounter someone with special needs? I’ve seen them ignored. I’ve seen people cross to the other side of the street. I’ve seen people look as if they were disgusted by them. I’ve seen people act as if they thought it was contagious. And there are those who will even voice their feelings that “such people” should not be out in public. I’m sure you’ve seen it too.

Is it fear of the unknown? Are people so ignorant of those with special needs that they would not treat them as humans with rights and feelings? How do you change that? Can you teach compassion? Is the capacity for compassion something you are either born with or without?

I have a nephew with severe autism. His name is Richie and he is chronologically 16 years old but has the mental capacity of a 2 year old. He does not talk. He wears diapers. He does not feed himself. He goes to school on the school bus every day and when he comes home he sits at the computer watching the same Wiggles video over and over again, for hours. He rarely leaves the house other than to go to school. However, sometimes he has to go out when my sister has appointments that cannot be made during Richie’s school hours or to his own medical appointments. They have to ride the bus because they have no car. That’s when we see how people react to him. I’ve been there when people look at him with hatred in their eyes. I’ve been there when people loudly speak about him, as if we can’t hear them. I’ve heard them say “someone like that shouldn’t be out in public”. I’ve heard them say very cruel things about what they assume is the cause of his condition. It is heart breaking to have him treated like that and I know it hurts my sister deeply.

A couple of years ago, my sister texted me a picture of Richie out on the football field (he is in high school). She said he was running a touchdown. Later, she explained that each year they have a super bowl for the kids in the severe special needs class. She has mentioned it several times and has sent me pictures. When I looked it up online, I found out that it is called Super Kids Bowl and it was started by a principal at one of the local schools (this is in Hemet, California). He later expanded it to include other schools and more grade levels. This is how it works: The students are taken out to the football field (some are bussed in from the other schools) with parents and other family members as spectators. The football team is out on the field along with the cheerleaders, the school band, and photographers. Each special needs student takes their turn on the 20 yard line where they are given the ball to run for a touch down. The loud speaker announces the student’s name and calls the play as it happens. The football players help the student get through the field of other football players who are fake blocking them as the cheerleaders cheer for the runner. When the student crosses the goal line, there is cheering and the band plays and the photographer snaps pictures. Some of the students even know to spike the ball when they make the touch down. Every single special needs student gets the opportunity to run for a touch down. The program began with 36 kids in 2008. In 2013 there were 220 special needs participants.

Why do they do this? First, to provide the special needs students with a goal and an accomplishment that they can hear and feel and have a photo of. And equally important, to give the general ed students the opportunity to positively interact with the special needs kids. This interaction leads to the general ed kids feeling that it’s okay to accept students with varying abilities and needs. It’s okay to say hi to them in the hallways. It’s okay to admit that you know students with special needs and to know them by name and even call them a friend. Over the years, they’ve found that the general ed kids that participate in this Super Kids Bowl do become friends with the special needs kids. It is not uncommon to have a special needs student greeted by name when they are out on campus with general ed kids.

I think this is one way that kids today will learn to be accepting and to feel comfortable around special needs kids. This is one way to foster compassion. It’s not the only way. But it’s a start. To have it begin with school kids is wonderful, too. They’ll grow to be more accepting and compassionate in later life and that enriches the lives of everyone, special needs and not; kids and adults.

This is just one program that tries to bridge that gap between the special needs population and the general population and it was started by one man who saw the need and the opportunity for him to do something compassionate for all students. Afterall, doesn’t it show compassion for general ed students as well? Compassion in helping them to learn compassion.

Now ask yourself what YOU can do to foster compassion in others.

Video of elementary student participating in the Hemet Super Kids Bowl
Press Page about Super Kids Bowl
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1000 Voices Speak For Compassion is a blogging initiative started in response to violence and alienation in our world. The original plan was to gather 1000 bloggers to write about compassion on 20th February 2015. However, we now plan to keep going, and flood the internet with compassion many more times. If you would to be part of a movement for loving change, join our Facebook Group, like our Facebook Page, or look for our posts on Twitter with the hashtag #1000Speak.

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