Children with communication disorders and other disabilities are often misunderstood by others who come in contact with them. For many children, these misunderstandings can result in undesirable encounters with law enforcement officers, some even resulting in arrest and imprisonment. Very little training is provided for law enforcement officers in how to appropriately communicate with individuals who have communication disorders and/or disabilities. Those who have communication disorders or disabilities often struggle with responding appropriately in stressful situations, understanding and following directions, and complying with direct orders. Children with these kinds of disabilities are not regularly exposed to law enforcement officers and taught how to respond correctly. Minimal training for officers, as well as limited interactions between the two groups, can create a perfect storm of confusion, distrust, and misunderstanding.
What is being done about this issue? I’m glad you asked! The Red Barn has partnered with the JAYC Foundation on an initiative to close the gap between children with disabilities and law enforcement officers. The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation has awarded a grant that will provide the resources to create an educational video for officers, as well as a social story for children. The instructional video will be made available online. The social story will also be available to download, which will explain to children what they should do if approached by a police officer. Additional resources for parents will be provided free of charge on the JAYC website.
Everyone involved in this project hopes that schools (many of which now have a full-time police presence) and police precincts will incorporate these free resources to better prepare for interactions between these two wonderful groups of people.
The Red Barn and other similar agencies around the country will extend opportunities to local law enforcement agencies to have opportunities to interact with horses. What do horses have to do with this? Well, horses cannot speak and tell you what they are thinking. They use non-verbal indicators to communicate with others. While most of their communication is very different from humans, there are similarities. Teaching adults how to read the body language of horses and how to approach them safely helps prepare them for working with individuals with communication disorders.
Our very own founder, Joy O’Neal, has been working diligently on this project with Jaycee Dugard, Rebecca Bailey, Laura Vogtle, Jan Rowe, and Shelley Jones, as well as numerous parents of children with communication disorders. We want to thank all of these organizations and individuals for continually working toward the goal of making our world a more inclusive and understanding place!
We are so excited about this amazing opportunity to further serve children with disabilities, improving their lives, and teaching others how to communicate effectively with them. The potential exists for amazing progress to be made in this area, so please pray with us for the success of this program!