Valuing Difference

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Photo: Joshua Huston

“By the time Jackie Moffitt was 16, he had transferred schools four times and was longing for a community where he could be accepted as his authentic self — an autistic person. “Autistic people are very dehumanized in our society,” says Moffitt. “They are perceived as being incapable of emotions. People are surprised that people with autism can understand humor or love. They assume that having autism means a lack of desire to connect with other human beings.”

Seeking this connection, Moffitt discovered Theater of Possibility (TOP), a theater arts program based in Seattle and Bellevue serving kids who are “quirky, spirited, or shy or who may have Asperger’s, autism, ADHD, or other learning or ability differences,” as the demographic is described on the TOP website.

Through theater games, improvisation, and role-playing led by TOP Director Lauren Goldman Marshall, Moffitt learned to embrace many of his personal attributes like extreme extroversion and abstract thinking that he’d previously felt pressure to repress.

“A lot of times for kids with disabilities their whole life is about people telling them what they’re deficient in,” says Marshall, who co-founded TOP in the years after her own daughter was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. “With TOP, they are here first and foremost to have fun and create theater together. I’m definitely highlighting relationship skills, but it’s brought in more through the back door. It’s about making kids feel successful.”

Now 21, Moffitt works as a teacher’s assistant at TOP, supporting the next generation of autistic children as they learn and grow while they also reach a level of self-acceptance.

“It’s not just about autistic people needing to learn neurotypical social skills so they can pass in a world that is majority non-autistic people,” says Moffitt. “I think that neurotypical people should also learn how to empathize with autistic people’s perspective and communicate with them on their own terms.”

READ THE FULL STORY IN SEATTLE’S CHILD MAGAZINE

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Where to celebrate Purim around Seattle

 

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“On this Purim weekend (March 10-12) Jewish families all over the Seattle area will dress up in costumes, make traditional treats, read from the Megillah (the story of Esther) and watch a funny and interactive shpiel (play) that tells the holiday’s origin story. The lively events are open to anyone and provide a fun opportunity for kids to celebrate and learn about Jewish history and culture.

Although there are many variations on the Purim story, the basics are as follows: Esther was a Jewish woman in ancient Persia raised by her Uncle Mordecai. The villain of the story is Haman, an adviser to King Ahasuerus who has a wicked plan to kill all of the Jews. Esther conceals her Jewish identity and is chosen by the King to be his new Queen. With Mordecai’s encouragement, Esther bravely reveals to the King that she is Jewish and asks him to save her people from Haman’s evil plot. The King respects Esther’s wishes and the Jews are saved.” 

READ THE ARTICLE IN SEATTLE’S CHILD 

Daniel Pak’s Mission to Share Music

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Photo: Joshua Huston

“Growing up on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Daniel Pak knew that music was in his blood. His father was a jazz pianist and taught him to play scales around age 6. In a few years, he had advanced to performing pieces by Mozart and Beethoven. But it wasn’t until he taught himself acoustic guitar at 13 that his passion was truly ignited. “That’s when I really found that music was more than just lessons. Music was something that would be with me every day,” says Pak.

Pak has fond memories of kanikapila, impromptu music jam sessions with friends. “We’d all go to the beach. Someone would bring ukuleles and guitars, someone would bring bongos. We’d play music and listen to the waves coming in and the palm trees rustling,” says Pak.  Today — minus the beach, palm trees and crashing waves — Pak tries to “perpetuate that tradition here in Seattle.” 

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Christmas Otter delivers mischievous cheer

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“While Rudolph guides the sleigh and Santa slides down the chimney in other households, an unusual visitor makes mischief at the Finks’ house. 

But that wasn’t always so. 

In the past, Marian and her wife, Shane, along with their daughter, Asa, traveled to the East Coast to celebrate Christmas with extended family. Because of work obligations, they were flying into New Jersey on Christmas Eve just in time for a seven-course dinner. 

“It’s a massive feast that goes on till midnight,” says Marian. “The menu changes, but there’s always lobster, clams, shrimp and lasagna.”

Two years ago, the couple had a second daughter, Maeve. Shortly after, they decided to opt out of the hectic holiday travel that year and celebrate at home in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood. Without all the magic and hullabaloo of the caravan back East, the Finks wanted to create a special tradition just for their family of four to share at home. 

Shane had an idea. Growing up, she’d always had a special relationship with stuffed animals and — for better or worse — continued to amass a substantial collection of them into adulthood.”

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A season (and lifetime) of giving

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The Thurman Family. Photo: Joshua Huston

“Joy Thurman might just be the busiest woman in Seattle this holiday season. 

Joy is a fourth-year medical student at University of Washington, a mother of a 3½-year-old daughter and expecting a new baby any second (if she or he hasn’t already arrived). When she’s not hitting the books or working at Harborview, she volunteers at the White Center food bank with her father, her husband, and daughter Andersyn. 

“I always get the most out of the work I don’t get paid for,” says Joy. When Andersyn was old enough to stand and hold things on her own, she joined her mom at the food bank, standing up on milk crates to give out cans. 

“She loves going to the food bank, and everyone always really enjoys having her there,” says Joy. The family volunteers year-round, including the holiday season. 

Born and raised in South Seattle, she met her husband, Nic, a neonatal intensive-care unit nurse, while attending Western Washington University in Bellingham. The couple celebrates Christmas in the culinary traditions of their blended family. Thurman is half African American, half Filipino, and her husband is Vietnamese American.”

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How to Talk to Your Kids About Bullying

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Adam Wenzel. Photo: Joshua Huston

We can all conjure an image of a bully, drawing from TV shows and movies like Back to the Future, Mean Girls and A Christmas Story (poor Ralphie!). But the truth is, bullying is not a normal, inevitable part of childhood. It’s a serious deviation. Gone are the days of dismissing repeated, aggressive behavior among school-aged children as merely kids being kids. 

Decades of research have taught us that children who are bullied — as well as those who inflict the bullying — often suffer anxiety, depression, poor academic performance and physical ailments, and are at a higher risk for substance abuse and a wide range of other health problems in adulthood.

Committee for Children, a Seattle nonprofit, is working to prevent bullying through a social-emotional learning program being taught to 80,000 Puget Sound-area students at 130 schools. 

‘It’s not just about making kids better, it’s about working with adults and an entire community to create a climate where bullying is not the norm, not tolerated, not OK,’ says Mia Doces, director of the New Mission Ventures program at the committee. 

No parent wants to discover that their child is getting pelted in the head every day on their morning bus ride or eating lunch in the bathroom to avoid taunting in the cafeteria. But if you don’t ask, you may never know. Many kids either don’t recognize that it’s a problem they should report, or they feel too ashamed to tell someone they trust.” 

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Gabriel Rapier Champions Futsal for All

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Gabriel Rapier. Photo: Joshua Huston

“Gabriel Rapier could really use a roof. Nothing fancy, just a simple shelter so the kids he coaches in Seattle’s Central District can come play at Judkins Park, rain or shine. He swears they only need it for the rain, but watching the kids guzzle water on a sweltering summer day, it was clear they could use it for the shine, too.

But Rapier won’t let a little inclement weather stop him from making positive change in his community. He’s resourceful. Recognizing a need for an affordable alternative to expensive youth premier soccer leagues, he co-founded Puget Sound Futsal 10 years ago. Futsal is a sport similar to street soccer, but with a heavier ball on an enclosed hardtop. It can be played indoors or outdoors, and has short, narrow goals and five players per side.”

READ THE REST IN SEATTLE’S CHILD MAGAZINE