Meet Jamea and her family.
Jamea has a delightfully curious personality and an incredible gift for cutting through small talk. She is 15, in high school, is an animal advocate, a horseback rider and music lover. She also has autism.
For any parent with a child who has a disability, safety is key. So, in an effort to protect Jamea, it was decided that specialized programming was the best option to keep her safe.
Community Living Ontario’s Family Engagement Leadership Series helped Jamea and her family think differently. It provided them with strategies to address some of the hurdles they faced. The series is a retreat-style workshop that engages the family in exploring what’s possible for their loved ones who have an intellectual disability. It provides a unique opportunity to share and learn with other families that have similar lived experiences, where the focus is on developing tactics to overcome societal barriers.
“The work done through the family engagement series is actually very radical. It challenges what our society understands to be a meaningful, happy life,” Jamea’s dad Mark Davidson said. “The other families at the retreat had similar challenges and the weekends made us look long and hard at our thoughts and frankly, how limiting our beliefs were,” Jamea’s step-mom Naila Lalani added.
Jamea who also attended the series with her father, stepmother and sister Tashy, developed a new appreciation for people’s uniqueness and what natural inclusion means. Her family understood that providing opportunities to develop reciprocal relationships that are based on common interests was best for Jamea, and she agreed.
“The autism has moved from being a front-and-centre ‘disability’ to being an awareness of her unique needs and how those are part of a much bigger picture of who this beautiful girl is and how she will continue to evolve in ways that will make the world a better place.” -Mark Davidson, Jamea's dad
When it came time for Jamea to transition to high school, a daunting task for any teenager, she confidently advocated that she was ready for a more integrated and inclusive environment, where she would have more independence and autonomy. “I found that I didn’t really need to be in an autism classroom anymore.”
Jamea’s mom Melissa Melnitzer and stepdad, Ari Kaplan, are proud of Jamea and her recent accomplishments at school. Working with her principal and teachers, she started an animal advocacy group, which quickly grew in popularity. “She showed me how independent, determined, and courageous she had become, which instilled in me strong feelings of hope, joy, and inspiration.”
Armed with this new way of thinking, Jamea and her extended family have a better understanding of the importance of authentic inclusion. While having Jamea’s best interest at heart, they now see that the specialized educational program limited the rest of the world from getting to know her. “I don’t think we really understood inclusion until we experienced how important it was to help Jamea thrive,” said Melissa.
Families are often met with barriers and resistance when it comes to naturally including their loved one who has an intellectual disability in everyday life. Frequently, the focus is on the person’s limitations. Through hard work and support from Community Living Ontario’s family engagement initiatives, Jamea and her family now think beyond the disability and focus on the possibilities.
Your donation will help the Community Living Ontario Foundation support even more families.
You have an opportunity to help support more families like Jamea’s. A donation of $250 will help one family begin thinking beyond the disability and focusing on the possibilities.
Let’s think differently, together.