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For Children And Families Of All Abilities

inspiring play FALL 2013


Sensory PLAY issue n n n

Visit the STAR Center Benefits of Sensory Play 5 Tips For Autism At The Playground

Big Bang Theory’s

KALEY CUOCO Talks Play Champions In The Outfield:


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Sensory PLAY issue

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Engaging The Senses PLAY SPACES

“Come On, Let’s Go” PLAY! Pacoima, California, gets a musical inclusive playground that is designed and named for the late Mexican-American singer, Ritchie Valens. BY JERRI HEMSWORTH


Hoop Dreams Learning to play and interact with kids who have disabilities changed one young man’s life INCLUSIVE PLAY SPOTLIGHT

Talking Charades, Hopscotch and Tennis with Television Star Kaley Cuoco Actress Kaley Cuoco from CBS’ The Big Bang Theory sits down for a four-on-one chat with the McLaughlin sisters about play and inspiration. SENSORY PLAY

Sensing Joy One special center uses an inclusive playground to help families and children affected with Sensory Processing Disorder. | BY MICHELLE MASSIE SENSORY PLAY

Why Sensory Play? Sensory play benefits at-a-glance. SENSORY PLAY

Sensory Solutions For Autism At The Playground Here are 5 common sensory triggers and tips that can help make your play experience more enjoyable. | BY MARNIE NORRIS FEATURE

Dancing With Delight This nonprofit professional dance company’s mission is to make the arts and dance accessible for all. | BY ABBY VENTZKE FEATURE

Champions At Play How one local 11-year-old baseball player had the vision to include champions of all abilities. | BY JACQUIE BISQUERA FALL 2013 |


From The Editor

Engaging The Senses


ight. Sound. Touch. Taste. Smell. All of these senses can be so amazing. How we experience and engage in our individual worlds rely on these. Smell and Taste were big ones for me. Then I abruptly lost both nearly 18 months ago due to an illness. I now have had to switch and pay far greater attention to the other three in order to bring me comfort. It’s not been easy. I’m 47 years old, and at least I know what sensations will bring me comfort and joy. I know what work I need to do in order to make my world happy again. While not the same, my “workarounds” have helped. A small child who has sensory challenges has not yet discovered their “workarounds.” Their brains have not yet developed or have the insight to know that they even need a workaround. And then tantrums, melt-downs and other behavior issues take the stage. My heart is with these little ones as well as their families and teachers who are guiding them on their journey. I am so excited to present the stories in this issue about Sensory Play and the impact it has on helping these children. The work that Dr. Lucy Jane Miller is doing at the STAR (Sensory Therapies and Research) Center in Denver is amazing (see page 14). Landscape Structures has worked with the STAR Center and Shane’s Inspiration to build inclusive playgrounds that are sensory-rich in order to help children of all abilities shine and play. Marnie Norris of Shane’s Inspiration has offered up 5 Common Triggers and Tips for helping a child with Autism on the playground (see page 20). We were touched by the stories of two young men, both aged 13, who took on bar mitzvah projects that involved helping children play no matter what their ability was. Both chose a sport: one basketball, one baseball. Both inspiring! Their stories can be read on pages 8 and 28. Witnessing and experiencing the healing power of dance for kids with special needs is another story we couldn’t pass up. Lineage Dance in Pasadena, Calif., is making dance accessible for all and their story can be read on page 22. There are so many stories, great stories, to be told that inspire and impress. I hope you read them here. Let us know how they reach you. Engage your senses. Jerri Hemsworth Editor We want to hear from you. Please tell us of people, children or events in your community that are inspiring play for families of all abilities. Email me your thoughts, pictures or stories!


The first online/print-on-demand Dual Internet Platform™ publication dedicated to inspiring stories of children, parents, community leaders, teachers, educators, corporations and playground advocates who believe in inclusive play for children and families of all abilities. Editor Jerri Hemsworth Managing Editor Abby Ventzke Assistant Editor Taryn Gray Contributing Writers William Colinas Abby Ventzke Brian Hemsworth Michelle Massie Marnie Norris Editorial Consultants Marnie Norris Marci Moran Art Direction/Production Newman Grace Inc.

Editorial/Advertising Offices NGI Publishing 6133 Fallbrook Avenue Woodland Hills, CA 91367 P: 818.713.1678 Inspiring Play Magazine is published quarterly by NGI Publishing, 6133 Fallbrook Avenue, Woodland Hills, CA 91367 Volume 2.03. FALL 2013. Copyright ©2013 by NGI Publishing. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Advertising rates and information sent upon request. Acceptance of advertising in Inspiring Play Magazine in no way constitutes approval or endorsement by NGI Publishing or Shane’s Inspiration of products or services advertised. Inspiring Play Magazine and NGI Publishing reserve the right to reject any advertising. Opinions expressed by authors are their own and not necessarily those of Inspiring Play Magazine, NGI Publishing or Shane’s Inspiration. Inspiring Play Magazine reserves the right to edit all contributions for clarity and length, as well as to reject any material submitted. Not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts. This periodical’s name and logo along with the various titles and headings therein, are trademarks of NGI Publishing. PRODUCED IN U.S.A. | FALL 2013

the best inclusive playgrounds nourish the best in kids

Play Spaces

“Come On, Let’s Go” PLAY! By Jerri Hemsworth Pacoima, California, gets a musical inclusive playground that is designed and named for the late Mexican-American singer, Ritchie Valens.


he new inclusive playground that has been built in the north end of Los Angeles would make its namesake proud. Shane’s Inspiration along with the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks opened this playground (number 42 in Shane’s Inspiration’s list of opened inclusive playgrounds) in June 2013. With the generous help of Best Start LA (First5 LA) and Exceptional Children’s Foundation, children from all over the northern edge of Los Angeles are enjoying the legacy of the musician who was raised in the neighborhood. Valens, who’s life was tragically cut short in a plane crash at the tender age of 17, is considered the first Latino Rock & Roll star. Singers Buddy Holly and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were also killed in the crash. The year was 1959 and Valens had racked up such hits as “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Donna,” and “La Bamba.” Valens could play a number of different instruments, but eventually settled on the guitar. Even though his professional career lasted only eight months, his legacy has made an impact. He was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall INSPIRING PLAY | 6

of Fame in 2001. This playground has many musical elements that are sure to make everyone smile. Children love the four-sided “On Stage/Jukebox/ Recording Studio” feature as well as a piece that children can enter and pretend to be tending a radio station. Turntables, levers, switches and the like keep a child’s attention for quite some time. Sidewinder slides, an OmniSpin Spinner and a beloved Oodle Swing draw hours of play from eager kids of all abilities.


Kid Play

Where young folks can express themselves and inspire others with what they like and how they like to play.

Hoop Dreams Learning to play and interact with kids who have disabilities changed one young man’s life. So for his bar mitzvah project, he decided to pay-it-forward… literally!

1 What am I good at? 2 What do I like to do? 3 What bothers me so much about what is wrong in the world that I get very angry and want to do whatever I can to change it?

4 Whom do I know? According to, these are four questions that young teens should ask themselves when choosing a “social action” project as part of their bar or bat mitzvah preparations. One Los Angeles teen, Andrew Friedman, answered these questions and created a successful fundraiser. His answers: • Basketball • Basketball • Kids getting bullied and picked on just because they have a disability. They get left out of a lot of things. • Shane’s Inspiration At school, Andrew, along with his classmates, participated in the Shane’s Inspiration Together We Are Able program. This is a social inclusion program that Shane’s Inspiration developed that helps teachers and their students utilize INSPIRING PLAY | 8

TOP, LEFT: Andrew Friedman chose Shane’s Inspiration as the beneficiary of his bar mitzvah project. TOP, RIGHT: A referee and friend keeps him honest in his quest. ABOVE: Andrew’s family and friends who all helped him see it all through. Congratulations, Andrew!

the power of play to build social bridges between children with and without disabilities. It helps children play together and learn about each other regardless of their abilities. As part of the program, Andrew and his class took a field trip to one of Shane’s inclusive playgrounds where he and his classmates were buddies to a separate class of children with disabilities. Andrew’s buddy taught him so much in a few short hours. As a result, Andrew decided that he wanted to make a difference beyond just that one day.

When it was time for this 13-year old to choose his bar mitzvah project, he came up with an idea to do a Basketball Fundraiser for Shane’s Inspiration. Andrew’s plan was this: He would attempt 100 three-point baskets and ten half-court baskets. Supporters pledged anywhere from $1 to $10 for every shot Andrew made. In the end, he successfully sank 72 three-pointers and two half-court shots. In total, Andrew raised more than $2,500 for Shane’s Inspiration. | FALL 2013














Actress Kaley Cuoco from CBS’ The Big Bang Theory sits down for a fouron-one chat with the McLaughlin sisters about play and inspiration.
















arissa, Mallory, Mahrynn and Madison McLaughlin are four sisters who are no strangers to folks in the entertainment industry. And one of their good friends happens to be Kaley Cuoco, star of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory. The sisters were able to sit down with Kaley at the recent Shane’s Inspiration Walk & Roll 5K of which Kaley was the grand marshall and ask her some key questions about play:

Marissa: What games did you like to play when you were a kid?

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Kaley: Oh, wow! We loved games when I was a kid. Our favorite thing was to take chalk and draw hopscotch courses outside. We would even draw like 50 boxes to jump through at a time. That was my favorite game as a kid, for sure. Mahrynn: What games do you like now and how do you play them as a grown-up? Kaley: What’s really cool is that I think you can play hopscotch forever. Talking with you about it now makes me want to go home and play. It makes me want to draw a hopscotch next to my car in the driveway. That’s what I love about games, no matter




Kaley Cuoco

what age you are, you can always play and have fun whether you are a kid or an adult. Now as an adult, my friends and family love to have big massive game nights which are epic. We actually had one last night with our friends which turned into a full night of charades. It is our favorite game as adults. It gets a little crazy but it is definitely our alltime favorite game. Madison: Who were your heroes growing up? Kaley: I get asked this question a lot and I always come back to my parents. I know it may sound like the easiest answer, but they are who I know the best and who I’ve been with my whole life. They help set me on this path to who I am today. They are still together after 35 years of marriage. I look at them and their relationship as well as the choices they have made in their lives and they are a huge reason why I am where I am today. So I have to say my heroes are my mom and dad, I really do. Mallory: Who inspired you to become who you are today? Kaley: I have to narrow it down and go back to my mom and dad. Because when I was really little, probably younger than you are now, they sat me down and asked, “What do you want to do?” There were so many things I wanted to do but they said, “You can do whatever you want, but no matter what, you have to put 100% of your effort behind it no matter what your choice is.” So if I was playing sports or acting, I had to go 100% and that’s what I’ve always believed in doing and that’s why life is so good today. Where did you grow up? Kaley: Camarillo, California. I’m a total local girl. My parents still live in the area after all these years, and I really love the area. What sports did you play when you were growing up? Kaley: I played tennis my whole childhood and I loved it. I loved all of it. I practiced hard and got good. Then I decided I was done with that life and I went into the whole acting thing, and it worked out. PHOTO COURTESY SHANE’S INSPIRATION / HARVEY BRANMAN

ABOVE: Shane’s Inspiration co-founder, Scott Williams, and Kaley were able to talk about the importance of inclusive play. BELOW: The McLaughlin family’s Team MacPac at the Shane’s Inspiration Walk & Roll included Kaley Cuoco and her fiancé, Ryan Sweeting.



Because helping them helps the whole community

Improving a community takes time, vision, conviction, and tremendous effort. When we help those in need, especially children, we can inspire others to do the same. We are proud to support Shane’s Inspiration and applaud their efforts to create universally accessible playgrounds where all children — able and disabled — can play together safely.

Wells Fargo & Company © 2013 Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. WCS-1134808 (10/13)



One special center uses an inclusive playground to help families and children affected with Sensory Processing Disorder. By Michelle Massie


n a sunny day just outside of Denver, Colorado, two kids laugh and chatter as the seesaw they’re riding chimes sweet tones into the air. Nearby, two more children slide down tandem slides; reveling in freedom and camaraderie. Still others dig and splash at the sand and water table, share secrets in the Whisper Dish or


dervish around on the Omni Spinner. It looks, for all the world, like typical kids having the time of their lives on a typical playground. The difference here is that this playground was designed by Lucy Jane Miller Ph.D., OTR, founder of the STAR (Sensory Therapies and Research) Center ( near Denver. With help from | FALL 2013

designers at Landscape Structures, Inc. Miller has made it her life’s work to unravel the mysteries of children challenged with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). When she decided to add sensory equipment to the center’s new playground, she approached Landscape Structures’ John McConkey. The relationship quickly became symbiotic:

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McConkey was so impressed with Miller’s work that the company decided to build her a full sensory-rich playground. In turn, Landscape Structures, known for building custom inclusive playgrounds, will be able to integrate the results of Dr. Miller’s ongoing research into future designs.




WHAT DOES SPD LOOK LIKE? SPD is a stealthy disorder because it can masquerade as other conditions like autism and ADD/ADHD, making diagnosis elusive. Subtypes can include over- or under-responsive-

ness to stimuli such as loud noises or touch. It can also present as a heightened sensory craving; for instance, a child who keeps getting in trouble at school because he or she needs to make noise or constantly touch things. So it can be tough to ferret out SPD, especially since schools and clinics now tend to view everything through the filter of autism. But according to Dr. Miller, there are significant differences. While those with autism struggle to make basic interpersonal connections, children with SPD can usually still relate to others with typical behaviors such as eye contact. However, the constant need for space or the craving for touch can inhibit social skills. So, where to start? The three most important

things experts identify are a child’s social participation, self-regulation and self-esteem.

THE JOY OF LEARNING THROUGH PLAY Creating a playground that serves the needs of kids who are challenged by SPD is a natural outgrowth of Dr. Miller’s overall vision for treating this condition: it is her firm belief that every life should be lived with joy. Her overarching concept is to create everyday situations so that both parents and children have the opportunity to face their challenges through games and play. Dr. Miller’s passion for helping those who are misunderstood by the medical community evolved following her own experience with a devastating eye disorder that left her blind at the age of 16. Initially, a doctor told her parents that her problem was “all in her head.”

“Dr. Miller says her greatest gift comes when parents see true transformation.”

Reveling in freedom and camaraderie, new relationships unfold organically.


The big red Whisper Dishes capture and amplify soft sounds—perfect for children who are sensitive to noisy environments.

At the opening of the center, parents delighted at the possibilities that are now available for their children.

The “Time Inn” Club House.

Eventually, however, the correct diagnosis was found and Dr. Miller was one of the first people in the country to receive a corneal transplant. Thankfully, she regained her sight after six months of both eyes being patched. Because transplant procedures were new at the time, she was treated as a case, not a person. When an occupational therapist came in to show her how to manage basic skills with an emphasis on having fun again, Miller’s joy in life was rekindled. Inspired by this very special therapist, Miller made a life-changing decision: two days after her stitches were removed, Dr. Miller began occupational therapy school. And now, even after a formidable 40 years of experience, she’s never lost sight of what it feels like to be misdiagnosed...and to live without joy. That’s why games and play are the FALL 2013 |

cornerstones of Dr. Miller’s treatment model. It’s also why having a playground specially designed to promote inclusive play with kids who have SPD was a natural fit; it brought home the message that learning through joy and play equals learning that lasts.

SMART PLAY So why not just play in a regular playground? According to Dr. Miller, sensory rich, therapeutic play provides fuel for the SPD brain. But besides the obvious therapeutic benefits, having structures geared toward those with SPD helps bridge the gap with typical kids. For instance, in a 21st century version of

two cans and a string, kids can stand 100 feet apart and chat through the Talk Tube. This can give space to children who might not be comfortable with direct contact but still crave companionship. Or they can enjoy the feeling of twirling in the Omni Spinner, which has a solid back and sides to keep them feeling snug and safe. The bumpy-surfaced tandem slides provide much-needed proprioceptive input while allowing new friends to slip to the sand side by side. Whisper Dishes stand 50 yards apart, capturing and amplifying the softest sounds and giving refuge to those who find it hard to communicate in noisy environments. And since it all happens during play, new relationships unfold organically. Those experiences then become generalized to 17 | INSPIRING PLAY



the natural situations found in everyday life.

HEARING PARENTS While involved as a consultant for The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a law which ensures services to children with disabilities throughout the nation, Dr. Miller spent much time talking to parents... and listening. Their message was loud and clear: While clinical situations were all well and good, it was the management of behavior in natural settings that stressed parents out the most. After all, notes Dr. Miller, it doesn’t make sense to have a child do well in an occupational therapy room and then fall apart at the grocery store.

A quest begins to dig all the way to China at the specially-designed sand and water table. Then, others join the expedition...

THE RESULT Dr. Miller and her team set about designing a play space where everything is accessible and inclusive play happens naturally. It had to include equipment that would promote success in a real life setting. The end result is The STAR Center’s new inclusive playground which integrates music and sound, texture and color, friendship and play. There’s even the “Time Inn” Club House: a small, quiet space that encourages kids to self-regulate by giving them safe harbor when the need arises. In the end, says Dr. Miller, it all comes back to joy. She tells the story of one young boy who visited her center and went onto the playground his first day. He immediately gravitated toward the specially designed sand and water table where he played alone. Working furiously, he declared to no one in particular that he was going to dig his way to China. The following day, others began to join him in his quest. Soon, an entire group of kids INSPIRING PLAY | 18

Lucy Jane Miller, Ph.D., OTR, founder of the STAR (Sensory Therapies and Research) Center near Denver.

lost themselves in the expedition. Having found their common ground, they chattered effortlessly while they focused on the task at hand. Without stress, without repetitive exercise, without frustration and tears, this boy created a community of his own; skills that will seamlessly transfer into other life experiences. But Dr. Miller says her greatest gift comes when parents see true transformation. After watching their child finally find the key to accessing the world around them through the

joy of play, she hears them say the words that fill her heart: “I forgot who he was; finally I have my child back again.” The great American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once exclaimed, “Scatter joy!” What better way to achieve this than to craft a place where all can play joyously? Michelle Massie is a freelance writer and special needs mom who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, 16-year-old son and his service dog. | FALL 2013


Sensory Play Benefits At-A-Glance Everyone seems to be moving at a million-miles-an-hour these days. Everyone processes information in different ways, and we don’t always have time to stop down and read a ton of stuff. Here at the magazine, we strive to give as much information in as simple and inspiring a manner as possible. Here is a great quick graphic that was developed by our friends at Landscape Structures to help show the 5 Key Benefits of Sensory Play. •


Sensory Solutions



hile playgrounds benefit all children, these high-impact environments can be a true challenge for children on the Autism Spectrum who have sensory processing issues or difficulties. The mix of sensory input can quickly cause a child to deregulate and result in challenging behaviors. But every behavior is a communication! Shane’s Inspiration wants to help families and teachers be able to enjoy their playtime at the playground with their children or students. So, in collaboration with its professional advisory board (click here to view), and based on hours of observation and interaction on the playground, here are some common triggers, what they might communicate, and suggestions to help support re-regulation when playing with your child at the playground.

Sound Sensitivity What: You may see children with their fingers pressed into their ears, staying on the periphery of the playground, or engaging in verbal outbreaks (yelling, tantrums). INSPIRING PLAY | 20

Taking a child with Autism to a playground for a family or school outing can be stressful. So, here are 5 common sensory triggers and tips that can help make your play experience more enjoyable. By Marnie Norris Why: Deregulation in children with sensory processing disorders can be triggered by specific sounds like a squeaky swing or lawn mower or general ambient noise on the playground. Try: Identify sounds or songs that are calming for the child; direct the child to a sound-protected zone (underneath the upper deck of a play structure, inside a crawl tube/tunnel, trees/grassy areas); provide sound protection (headphones, pitch a kid’s tent as a sound buffer); identify a friend or family member who is interested in quieter play (books, coloring, board games); allow the child and friend or family member to play while others engage in an organized activity elsewhere in order to reduce sound input. Tip: Bring music to your play

space! Instruments with low-easy tones (drums, shakers, rain sticks) can be very soothing.

Physical Space Is Too Open What: Children experiencing this often run in loops around the play space, typically on the periphery or along ramping systems. This is how they gain control over the physical environment and experience. Why: A large, open-ended space such as playground or school yard can lack boundaries for some children and feel overwhelming. Some kids can get “lost in space.” Try: Consider setting up play zones on the playground that differentiate space (sand zone, bubble zone, ball zone); identify a friend or family member who can engage in a specific familiar activity that is calming ( | FALL 2013

ing drums, throwing a tactile ball); create small spaces that feel contained within the playground or yard. Tip: Encourage the children and their friends or siblings to play under the playground or in the tunnels/tubes.

Hyper-Sensitive To Touch What: Children typically pull away when touched and can sometimes respond aggressively to touch (hitting or scratching), need to cover their bodies, and have difficulty standing too close to others. Why: Even light touches can feel unbearable due to over-sensitivity. Children can also react negatively to specific textures (sand, types of clothing). Try: Help friends or family members understand why the child responds to touch that way so they understand the physical cues; teach them to use verbal cues or objects to get the child’s attention vs. touch; identify what tactile responses are favorable (bumpy balls, smooth surfaces, textured cloth); create sensory variety on the playground through toys (balls, bubbles). Tip: Bring touch to your playground! Bean bags, dancing scarves, shiny wind toys. Engaging visuals also stimulate imaginative play. FALL 2013 |

Hypo-Sensitive To Touch What: Children make big movements (swinging, jumping, clapping, stomping) or loud noises. They may continually touch people and objects to register physical stimulation and squeeze down on objects to get pressure. Why: Physical touch doesn't register easily for children who are hypo-sensitive. Their bodies seek physical stimulation due to the lack of sensitivity to input. Try: Find out what sensations sooth the child (deep hugs, firm hand squeezes, weighted backpacks/heavy sweatshirts for pressure); keep the student directed toward big play activities (swings, jumpers, body peddlers, playing ball and running); create a small peer group (2-3) of active friends or family members and engage in higher impact games. Tip: Have a supply of squeezable objects (small tactile balls, grippers) that children can squeeze down on during interaction.

Communication Differences What: Children will naturally communicate frustration physically (hitting/scratching themselves or others/throwing sand) or in verbal

tantrums (yelling/repeated phrases). Why: Children who are emerging verbal communicators (speech delay, echolalia, reliance on verbal scripts) can become frustrated with highlyverbal friends or family members as they are not able to keep up with the communication. Try: Remind friends or family members that there are many ways to communicate and encourage non-verbal interaction through toys (balls, musical instruments, etc.); utilize ability awareness activities that encourage understanding of communication differences; identify a mature friend or family member to engage one-on-one; avoid openended questions that are a struggle to answer and encourage friends or family members to do the same. Tip: Don't forget to use talk tubes on your playground! They are a great way to encourage verbal expression. Marnie Norris is Director of Programs for Shane’s Inspiration. For more information on the Together, We Are Able Inclusion Lunch Box Education Program, contact her at (818) 988-5676 ext.112;; 21 | INSPIRING PLAY


have seen miracles. Miracles.” Hilary Thomas, founder and director of Pasadena-based nonprofit Lineage Dance (, sits back in her chair and lets her words sink in. I scribble “Miracles” in my notebook. But as Thomas begins to explain her story, I’m riveted. My INSPIRING PLAY | 22

pencil drops and I let the voice recorder take over. I’ll be the first to admit, I love dance. I get weak-kneed at the thought of tutus and toe shoes, and practice relevées in line at the grocery store. However, with two left feet, there are many things I do better than dance, and writing is one of

them. So when my dance teacher, Leigh Purtill (, suggested a story about Lineage, I immediately jetéed on over. The healing power of dance— movement through music—is so well documented that I find it amazing the medical community hasn’t more fully embraced it. But for those with | FALL 2013

Dancingt h g i l e d h wit This nonprofit professional dance company’s mission is to make the arts and dance accessible for all. Its impact has a healing power for students, parents and teachers alike. By Abby Ventzke

As the upbeat strains of “Stayin’ Alive” fill the air, Wilson-Beach guides her class through a series of coordinated steps and movements.

special needs, and their caregivers, dance is a godsend. Hilary Thomas graciously opened her doors for Inspiring Play and allowed us access to her studio and students. Dance instructor Elisha WilsonBeach teaches both typically-abled students and those with Down’s. She has a B.A. in Child Development and FALL 2013 |

has danced professionally with Dance Theater of Harlem. At Lineage, where she has taught for the past year, she puts every aspect of her training and experience to work. “Dance with kids is my thing, I love to do it. I really have a special bond working with special needs kids. When you see that light go off in

their heads, and they connect…. I feel the biggest payoff comes from kids with special needs.” WilsonBeach had been teaching dance at schools and was a teaching artist at the Music Center when she came to Lineage through a mutual friend. She explains her attraction to the studio, “You know, at any dance studio you 23 | INSPIRING PLAY


t h g i l e d with can find modern dance, or African, or hip hop or ballet class, but it’s not usually a place that welcomes people with physical disabilities.” Her face lights up as she talks about her class, “The kids are amazing. To see the pure joy, and the acceptance of these kids, it’s just fun.” Wilson-Beach sees a broad range of reactions, based on where in the disability spectrum a child falls— and it’s not just physical. “I had one [non-verbal] child who had a verbal reaction. He doesn’t speak, but he makes sounds. Reactions are always individual to the child.” There are many aspects to dance class that draw in her students, she explains. Some are attracted to the movement and some to the music; some simply feel a connection to their peers. Each is individual. “We had an older child who came in, who just wanted to move to the music. She didn’t want to be touched, and didn’t want to interact with me when I asked her to take her position, but as soon as the music started she was moving.” I had a chance to witness a class and saw firsthand how easily the regulars settled in as Wilson-Beach took them through their paces. A new student hung back shyly as she watched the others enjoying themselves. Hesitant at first, she took a few steps and soon found her rhythm with the rest of the class. The parents have taken note of the strides their kids have made. “It has helped his motor skills so much,” explains Carole Psaute, whose 8-year-old son Josh has been participating in the class for the past 6 months. “His P.E. teachers have noted his improvement. And he looks forward to class.” Timothy Rutt, father of Rosie, 9, and Jacob, 11, agrees. “Rosie, who has Down’s, INSPIRING PLAY | 24

One critical component of class involves focusing on the task and paying attention.

Elisha Wilson-Beach shares a moment with her star student Rosie. | FALL 2013

Class begins by making pizza: beating out the dough, spreading the sauce, putting it in the oven, and finally pulling it out and eating it. .

just needs to move.” I can see his point. Rosie has a wide smile and boundless energy, and fairly sails from one end of the studio to the next. She eagerly tackles any challenge her teacher puts forth. Her big brother doesn’t have Down’s, however. Jacob suffers from Duchenne

Dystrophy, a rare degenerative disease marked by rapid progression. One symptom of Duchenne is overwhelming fatigue, and Rutt tells me that by age 12 most of those stricken by this disease are in a wheelchair. I can see nothing in Jacob’s movement that hints of disability, which

speaks volumes—both Rosie and Jacob have been regulars of WilsonBeach’s class since it started. Class ends and the kids reluctantly head back to their parents at the sidelines. Rutt smiles as he watched Jacob pull on his shoes after class. “He is motivated to dance.”

How Lineage Found Its Mission he story of Lineage Dance is nothing less than, well, inspiring. So we spent some time with its founder, Hilary Thomas, to get the scoop. Hilary Thomas: I started in ’99, actually. The whole idea of the company is to raise support and awareness for other nonprofits, and to help to make the arts accessible to all. Inspiring Play: So you didn’t actually start Lineage as a dance company? Thomas: Well I started it as a dance company, but I certainly had no intention of teaching classes or anything like that…we certainly didn’t have a space for many, many years. We spent most of the first decade of the company touring the country doing benefit concerts for other nonprofits. And as a part of this partnering with other nonprofits I started to create shows inspired by other nonprofits—for example, breast cancer. I would interview women from all over the country and create dances inspired by their stories. And that led to doing


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shows about the brain—since I’m a science teacher, I’m always fascinated by the human body and the brain— and doing fundraisers for organizations that helped with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and things like that. Michelle, one of the dancers, saw a video that the Mark Morris Dance Group ( was doing classes with Parkinson’s, and she said, “That’s so cool, can we do it?” and I said, “Sure, why not.” So we called the Mark Morris folks and asked, “How can we start doing this?” And they were really lovely. Long story short, they came out here and did a few professional development seminars with us, and we brought in teachers from all over to help with it. And that was three years ago. Two and a half years ago we opened this performance space. And then as we started teaching these [Parkinson’s] classes. They were so much fun that we were approached by the nonprofit, Elizabeth’s Canvas (, and they wanted to set up classes for people 25 | INSPIRING PLAY

undergoing cancer treatment. So we started that steps. No one in the class has ever danced before, about a year ago. and now they all perform in our galas. It’s amazing We started the classes for kids with Down’s Synhow far they’ve come in the three years that I’ve been drome about two years ago, and that came about working with them. through one of my students. As a teacher, every year IP: Do you work with any other support groups? we do a Community Impact project with my eighth Thomas: We do for the cancer classes—we work graders, and they have to go out into the community with the Cancer Center. We moved some of the and create a project fueled by their own passion that classes there, since it’s a bit intimidating for people to will somehow impact the community. One of my stuwalk into a dance studio. We’ve found our numbers dents, who was also a dancer, are much higher when we hold the said she wanted to teach kids classes there. But we’re hoping to with Down’s Syndrome. So she build up enough of a following to contacted Club 21 [a nonprofit move the classes back here. based in Pasadena that works When we moved the Parkinson’s with kids who have Down’s classes here they just loved it. Syndrome;]. Compared to dancing in a rec And they arranged for the classes. room, this is just so much better— So I got a teacher and offered the a much better experience. space. And it’s still going. Since IP: What benefits have you then we’ve also started classes seen in the people who have been for the parents of kids who are attending the Parkinson’s classes undergoing cancer treatment. from the beginning? And the programs just kind of Thomas: Movement definitely; keep growing. self-confidence certainly. The conIP: Do you work with any medfidence that I have seen people ical facilities? develop is unbelievable—to see Thomas: Not as much as we’d people put themselves out there in like. Huntington Hospital helped front of an audience and dance. launch the program and helped us Part of it is that we choreograph out with space before we moved together. It’s so cool to see what here. And we’ve talked to the they come up with and why they neurologists there who work with come up with it. It’s just a very Parkinson’s patients, and they’ve expressive opportunity. We’re not referred people to us. Part of the trying to do physical therapy, we’re problem is that we’re a nonprofit art—we’re just offering them the trying to survive without a lot of opportunity to dance and express money or people and we’re just themselves through movement, not able to get the word out as and all that goes along with it. It’s much as we’d like to. We did get a physically healing and soul-fulfillwonderful grant which allows us ing and all those wonderful things. to offer the classes for free, which IP: Has the program had any is huge. But we’re working on it. impact on you? We would like to build the classes. Thomas: I’ve been teaching IP: How has your program been modern dance class since the received in the community? beginning, and it’s great, but there Thomas: They love it! When is not the sense of healing that I Dancer Jacob enjoys a lift from Austin Roy who they come they don’t leave. But get from teaching the Parkinson’s teaches Parkinson’s classes at Lineage. we still have the problem of getclass. It’s just an amazing and ting the word out to the commuvery moving experience—espenity—especially with Parkinson’s. cially now with the live music. It’s If you’ve been diagnosed with a movement disorder, had a huge impact on me artistically and emotionally, the last thing you want to do is go out and dance— realizing the power of dance to heal. Our only gripe especially if you’ve never danced before. People are now, is that people aren’t taking advantage of the very self-conscious. But what they don’t realize is that classes. They’re free, but we just haven’t been able to it’s just incredibly freeing and not at all about learning get the word out. —A.V.

“The confidence that I have seen people develop is



ht g i l e d h t i w




he sounds of baseball fill the air: the crack of the bat as it meets the ball, the shout of a player claiming a fly ball, the cheer of the team as a player rounds third and heads for home plate. It is a tangible energy that permeates the skin and energizes the onlookers in the stands as they shout out encouragement to players. The variety of team colors and logos on the fields in the baseball INSPIRING PLAY | 28

compound provide a vivid landscape of children of all ages, all sizes, and most recently, all abilities as Westhills Baseball, in West Hills, California welcomed a new division known as “Champions� to their PONY League.

FIELD OF DREAMS Sitting in the bleachers and watching a Champions game unfold is a venture into the human experience. It is the very best of the ideology that

every person has unique gifts and that by embracing them we build a better world. It is what we hope our children and generations to come will understand as a fundamental principle. It is a lesson in diversity, empathy and acceptance. Champions was the brainchild of an 11-year-old Westhills Baseball player, Kole Kodimer, who wanted to do a community project for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah and was | FALL 2013

At Play

inspired by his mom’s work heading up a similar program 20 years ago. He wanted to share his love of baseball with kids who typically wouldn’t have the opportunity to be on a baseball field, much less actually play in a game. The entire Kodimer family (Kory, Lisa, Kole and Kamden) has embraced the concept of adapted baseball. They developed and presented the concept of an inclusive baseball program to the board of FALL 2013 |

How one local 11-year-old baseball player had the vision to include champions of all abilities. By Jacquie Bisquera

Westhills Baseball who wholeheartedly approved the new division. The Champions program recruits volunteers from local high schools and the Westhills Baseball league to sign on to be “buddies” to the Champions players. The interest and response from the youth in the community has been overwhelming. The struggle is not in finding enough volunteers, but to find a spot for every young

person who wants to be part of the program so that no one is left out. The volunteers are given an overview of the program and training in how to help their Champions player in possible scenarios that may happen on the field, including what to do in the event of a seizure or other medical situation. At each game, Champions player and buddy play through two batting line-ups of baseball, roughly an hour 29 | INSPIRING PLAY

Champions At Play

long game. Together they bat, run the bases, and field balls to the degree that the Champions player can manage. Champions has already grown to four teams in just their second season and the Kodimers continue to organize and oversee the division while coaches head up the individual teams. Lisa’s enthusiastic and energetic “Let’s go Cham-pi-ons!” and “Baseball ready!” exclamations can be heard alongside Kory’s encouraging “Great job!” and “Way to go!” at home plate. Brothers Kole and Kamden are buddies to Champions players and are role models for just how impactful inclusive play can be for kids with special needs and also for the typical kids who buddy up with them.

LIFE LESSONS LEARNED ON THE FIELD All Champions players are unique in the challenges they face. Many are non-verbal, and physical disabilities are at the forefront for some. Still others struggle with cognitive challenges or stereotypical behaviors that challenge them with concentration and focus. How are these challenges overcome? Parents of the Champions players would say that the interaction between their child and their buddy is magical. INSPIRING PLAY | 30

In truth, the interplay between Champions player and buddy has benefits for everyone, even those who are just observing. In the reality of a world that is often limited by the parameters of a child’s disability, siblings and family members have the opportunity to see others interact with their loved one in a way that is respectful and uplifting. The focus is not on the child’s disability but on growing what abilities they have. Key to this is that all interactions begin from a place of belief: belief in the human capacity to overcome, to grow from challenge, and to build self-esteem and confidence from success. Underneath the mechanics of baseball, the Champions player and buddy are learning important lessons that will serve them well in life. For the volunteer buddies, they learn acceptance of diversity, inclusion of those with differing abilities, and compassion for the struggles of oth-

ers. They grow their own interpersonal skills and self-confidence. They learn that in giving of themselves, they are enhancing the lives of others and they come away with appreciation of the purity of a friendship that is based solely on the joy of spending time together. For Champions players, they know they are in a place where they are not judged, where they are not expected to conform to what others say is proper behavior, nor will they be | FALL 2013

bypassed because they are thought incapable of participating. The magnificence of the Champions program is that it allows all players to be themselves and to function within the challenges of their particular disability: the game is adapted to them, not the other way around. This builds self-esteem in every Champions player and challenges them to reach a little more in each attempt. Kids who struggled to hold a bat at the beginning of the season are suddenly swinging independently and making contact with the ball (and beaming from ear to ear as they do so). A Champions player who at first only had the stamina to walk from home plate to first base is now walking all bases because of the encouragement and desire to do “more”. Amazing what opportunity and sup-

port can do! Kids who were hesitant to even set foot on the field now ask their parents “How soon until the next game?”

AN “ALL STARS” PROGRAM When the Champion players don their uniforms as Angels, Dodgers, Giants and Athletics, the playing field is leveled to a degree that they no longer stand out as kids with special needs. On the field there are no kids of exceptional ability or those challenged by disability, they’re just kids being kids, enjoying time with each other, sharing the fun of the game that brought them together for an extraordinary experience. A parent of a Champions player summed it up this way, “Only good can come from a child feeling encouragement and support, this is

no less true for kids with special needs. Opportunity is everything. Our kids may not be able to access the world on their own, but given a helping hand, a level of support, and unbiased encouragement, people— sometimes even parents—are astounded at what can be achieved.” “The Champions program is practice for life off the field; for both the Champions player and their buddy. No MVP player ever started out hitting those homeruns. They developed the skill in small steps and small steps are just the modification that kids with special needs require. Of course, it may take quite a bit more practice, but they are all fully capable of hitting that homerun—here in the ball park and out in the world.” For more information, visit

Buddies In The Outfield Across the world, The Miracle League is busy bringing baseball to children of all abilities. n 1997, a youth baseball coach in Georgia named Eddie Bagwell invited a child with a disability to play baseball on his team. Michael, who was 7 years old, was confined to a wheelchair. He had attended every game while cheering on his 5-yearold brother. Within a year, more kids with disabilities were invited to play, and a league was born. The players dressed in uniforms, made plays in the field, and rounded the bases just like their typical peers. Four teams with 35 players made up the league that first year. However, there was a major concern that the surface of the field presented potential safety hazards for players in wheelchairs or walkers. That’s when the league transformed into The Miracle League and a non-profit called the Rotary Miracle League Fund, Inc., was formed by Dean Alford, the Rotary Clubs of Rockdale County and Conyers, Georgia. FALL 2013 |



One main objective of the organization is to raise funds in order to design and construct more custom baseball fields that have a rubberized surface to prevent injuries. Making sure the dugouts are wheelchair-accessible and the fields have completely flat surfaces to eliminate barriers to wheelchair-bound or visually-impaired children is paramount. The other objective is to assist in outreach efforts for Miracle Leagues across the world.

Just like the Westhills Champions, buddies assist The Miracle League players on the field making it a truly inclusive play experience. To date, The Miracle League has more than 240 organizations across the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Australia. The Miracle League gives more than 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy America's favorite pastime. For more information, visit • 31 | INSPIRING PLAY

Profile for Jerri Hemsworth

Inspiring Play Magazine Fall 2013  

Sensory Play issue: Interview with Kaley Cuoco; Visit the STAR Center, Discover the Benefits of Sensory Play and Get 5 Tips For Children Wit...

Inspiring Play Magazine Fall 2013  

Sensory Play issue: Interview with Kaley Cuoco; Visit the STAR Center, Discover the Benefits of Sensory Play and Get 5 Tips For Children Wit...