A new program is helping to break down stereotypes.
‘To Be Like Me’ immerses kids in a two-hour interactive experience with people with special needs. The free program is already booked up through the end of the school year.
It's an important lesson in compassion and understanding.
Fourth graders from University Park Elementary School are learning how to interact with people who are different from them.
To Be Like Me is a non-profit program started by moms working in the healthcare field. They say the goal is to generate awareness at a young age to help break down barriers to the special needs community.
“Kind of 10 to 12-year-old age range is when kids can really internalize empathy and can appreciate another person's life circumstance,” said Andrea King, the director of development. “So we decided to start there and watch the ripple effect through their whole life.”
Kids are rotated through five different scenarios called "experiences." One setting mimics a cafe where students practice interacting with folks with a wide range of disabilities. In another setting, kids are on board a crowded airplane filled with distractions.
Taylor Shultz suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck five years ago. He has trouble focusing and says strangers sometimes get frustrated with him because they don’t know his condition.
Blake Lindsay with Dallas Lighthouse For The Blind has been blind since he was 9 months old. He says most people want to help a person with special needs but don't know how to best approach them.
Lindsay says this program will help change that by helping kids understand people's differences.
“They're inspired by me and I'm also inspired by them that they cared enough to walk up to me and see what my needs were,” he said.
The program is taught at the Tolleson Family Activity Center in Dallas. There's a free community event in February.
For more information on To Be Like Me, visit www.tobelikeme.org