williams syndrome

4. Freshman Orientation

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Wow. I’ve simply never seen so many activities in my life. And guess what? They were ALL requirements for #vandysnewestfreshman.

And while it’s overwhelming we’ll chalk it up to LIFE on an inclusive campus. Let’s start with Vanderbilt Visions. So each freshman in Chloe’s class was assigned to a Visions group. They meet once a week during fall semester and their goal is to help students assimilate to campus. Think of them as seasoned students that want to help clueless (or otherwise anxious) freshman figure out what’s what! Chloe loved her group! They met up at campus events, ate together and had meetings where freshman could ask ALL KINDS of things like how to use their meal plan and where certain buildings were. 

Chloe following the arrows to the first of MANY activities designed for new Vanderbilt students and parents!

Chloe following the arrows to the first of MANY activities designed for new Vanderbilt students and parents!

So, why’s this important? It just goes to show the commitment to inclusion that Vanderbilt as an entity has made to embedding students from the Next Steps program in daily campus life even though many of them are commuters. It also speak volumes to the very core of inclusion in and of itself. We’ve always wanted Chloe to be as independent as possible while being including in everyday society and reality because let’s face it — creating an artificial bubble isn’t going to help her, now is it? But if we layer in support and help guide decision making with options, friends and natural support - well, then we’re accomplishing something.  

For those of you following along at home and wanting to work on these skills to prepare for independence later (which I highly suggest by the way), look to your student’s greatest loves and biggest passions for ideas then reach out and see what’s available but also think about what you may be able to create. None - I repeat NONE - of the opportunities existed until we really took a peek inward and began to learn the skills Chloe would need to cultivate to function well as part of a group. And guess what? These also became IEP goals. 

Want some examples? Here you go:

  • We learned that some of Chloe’s pull-outs were actually taking place in groups. We also learned that some of those groups incorporated neurotypical students in them. So we asked for conversational goals in speech therapy where Chloe would seek out and initiate conversations with typical peers. This normally took place during lunch and was supervised by the speech therapist THROUGH OBSERVATION. Once the interaction ended they’d have a session about what was good and identify opportunities for improvement.

So, what was the takeaway: a group CAN include typical peers (least restrictive environment), learning soft skills in a natural environment (I don’t know about you but I meet new people all the time), taking criticism (this is huge - we ALL have to do it).  

And... how did we lay a foundation for sports inclusion at school? This one fell in our lap - we were lucky BUT the same type of thing can be introduced at any school.

  • Chloe joined her girls on the run team in the 5th grade and guess what? Her passion for sports and being included in sports took off from there. The sparkle effect has a wonderful program to help with including cheerleaders in school programming. Admittedly, sports inclusion CAN be challenging but seriously if you need help - again - IMAG’s inbox is ALWAYS open and we’re happy to strategize! 

You and you student CAN do anything in this world - sometimes you just have to think outside of the box to make it happen!  

P.S. It’s TOTALLY worth it.

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Chloe and Glitterdad enjoying the ambiance of the commons! Anchor Down!