Peer Lunch Club
By Elizabeth Medina
Growing up, Kayla L. Spohr had the opportunity to meet one of her best friend’s nephew who has autism. Kayla developed so much affection towards him that in the end, she thought of him as a nephew of her own. Looking back at her childhood in elementary school, Kayla has wondered why she was not able to engage with people who have a disability, like autism.
“I was never able to learn proper communication skills with [special education students] them in school and it created an uncomfortable feeling.”
This has motivated her to get out of her comfort zone and change the way disabled students get acknowledged in a school setting. Kayla is a senior who studies elementary education at Washington State University in Richland. In the fall of 2016, Kayla enrolled in a required course taught by special educationinstructor, Dr. Yun-Ju Hsiao. Dr. Hsiao’s class provided Kayla with a guide to help her socialize and communicate with disabled community without alienating them.
“I want my students to be able to gain a different perspective as teacher in the classroom by being able to create a personal connection with disabled people,” Dr. Hsiao said.
Kayla’s determination to break away from the uncomfortable feeling was challenged as Dr. Hsiao integrated a volunteer program that had Kayla and her classmates put their skills to the test. Once a month for a few hours, Kayla had the opportunity to bond with some of the members from the ARC of tri-cities at the WSU campus. During that time, Kayla had a great time socializing and getting to do fun activities with the ARC members.
“I learned that it’s really important to listen to them,” Kayla said. “They are just like everybody else.”
But this special assignment morphed into something beyond achieving a passing grade. Meeting with the ARC members become something Kayla looked forward. She loved the fact that everyone accepted each other’s differences. As she reflected on her volunteer experiences, Kayla realized how much the members impacted her life.
“One of the members, she was a very high functioning adult, she would smile every time she came in, and she would be so happy to have food to eat and would be happy to be where she is.” Kayla said. “And I said to myself ‘what a great way to see the world, and it’s motivated me to have a mentality like hers.”
Through Kayla’s experiences, she has learned that having exposure to a diverse group of people sets individuals up to better communication skills and interpersonal relationships as well as starts them off with an open view of the world.