Mention age 16 and many people envision a teenager involved in school activities, playing sports, calling friends on the phone or even attending those notorious sleepovers.
Meghan Sacarello is 16, but these rite of passage teenage experiences have often eclipsed her.
Meghan has cerebral palsy, one of many disorders that make it difficult for a person to participate in social activities in the traditional way. And Meghan is not alone.
Meghan’s mother, Daralyn Sacarello, has created a program to meet the social needs of her daughter and many other special needs individuals. Participants gather each Thursday from 3:45 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. at the Rolesville Town Hall.
“My daughter is not accepted in a lot of social activities due to other girls (who) don’t know how to look past her disabilities to see who she really is,” Sacarello said. “I wish to provide a place for these kids to connect and have those bonds we all desire to have with other people.”
The program incorporates music, art, dance, cooking, crafts and games. The weekly social joins a range of activities that cater to the special needs community and are offered by the towns of Rolesville and Wake Forest.
Wake Forest hosts a special needs Valentine’s party, an egg hunt, movie night, bingo night and a resource fair, said Recreation Programs Superintendent Monica Lileton, who first became motivated to establish these programs after attending a Special Olympics event.
“I went to a volleyball tournament, and I saw this grandma. This was the first time her kid had ever won any medal, and that just makes you feel good,” Lileton said. “So, I was like, we don’t have anything like that around here so we need to bring something like that to Wake Forest.”
Dawn Hannum, a parent of a special needs son, said that typically she and her family avoid situations involving standing in line, turn-taking and staying seated.
“The town’s special programs give us opportunities to practice these skills while having fun in a judgement-free environment,” Hannum said. “It’s also become a great way for us to meet and socialize with other families and make friends.”
Special Needs Ministry Director at Richland Creek Community Church Eleanor Waterman is also a parent of a special needs child. She, too, has benefited from the relationships fostered by these events, which are organized by both Wake Forest and Richland Creek.
“We have faced challenges that I never imagined we would, but with that comes such joy and strength. I have been fortunate enough to meet so many wonderful people along the way,” Waterman said. “Seeing my daughter’s zest and love for life can turn a horrible day into a perfect one in a matter of seconds. Her outlook on life is so different than ours because she sees mostly nothing but beauty in a fallen world.”
The outlook many of these parents gain is crucial to their understanding of their children as well as the misconceptions others hold about them.
One misunderstanding many have is that all disabilities are noticeable. In reality, many children who are perceived to be throwing temper tantrums are in fact experiencing sensory overload due to their autism, Waterman said.
Another important misconception Waterman wants to correct is that a disability defines a person.
“A lot of it is fear of the unknown and lack of awareness when it comes to disabilities,” she said. “These beautiful individuals love and hurt the same just as we do. They want to be included, invited and actively participate just like we do.”
— Suzanne M. Blake | August 2016