Kids on the Block puppets teach children about disabilities. (Submitted photo)
Kids on the Block puppets teach children about disabilities. (Submitted photo)
LIMA — The Allen County Board of Developmental Disabilities (ACBDD) offers a free disability awareness program called A.P.P.L.E. (Abilities Plus Potential Leads to Excellence), where members of the organization visit schools, community and service groups, churches or businesses with custom-designed ability awareness presentations and shows for all age groups.

In recognition of National Play Therapy Week Feb. 1-7, licensed mental health professionals throughout the United States are reminding the public of the value of play, Play Therapy and Registered Play Therapists.

According to the Association for Play Therapy (APT), play is our (the human’s) first language and just as adults use words to communicate, children use play to express thoughts and feelings that might otherwise remain hidden.

A prime example of this concept is ACBDD’s fun, interactive and educational Kids on the Block puppet performance for elementary students.

Intake Support Services Coordinator Kristen Miller said the performances are highly engaging shows where 3-4 foot tall puppets — one with a disability and one without — have a candid conversation with each other about disabilities.

“The puppets then ask the students if they have any questions, which prompts a lively and open question/answer session with the puppets,” Miller explained. “Kids have asked questions like ‘Does he sleep in his wheelchair?’ and the puppets address the questions.”

During the show, myths and misconceptions about disabilities are replaced with facts and sensitivity. Each puppet performance lasts from 40-60 minutes and is best performed for groups of 50-60 or less students.

The Kids on the Block puppets were first developed in 1977 in direct response to U.S. Public Law 94-142, sometimes called “the mainstreaming law” and today they are used in more than 30 countries to educate children about disability awareness and other important social concerns.

The style of puppetry is based on Japanese Bunraku Puppet Theatre where audiences are able to see the large and colorful puppets “shadowed” by the puppeteers who are dressed in black. Each program is researched and field tested before it becomes available to school districts, community service organizations and special interest groups.

Kids on the Block performances are part of the organization’s A.P.P.L.E. program, an abilities awareness presentation where individuals share what it is like living with a disability while kids rotate through stations learning about the how alike all people really are.

“For example, individuals share facets of their life, the 10 Commandments of Communicating or how they play if they are blind,” Miller explained. “The interaction empowers kids with the knowledge and understanding that people are more alike than different and that the disability is only one small part of that individual.”

During the presentation, a variety of instructional materials including videos, dolls with disabilities, literature and hands-on activities are used to simulate disabilities.

The goal of the A.P.P.L.E program includes:

• Teaching the concept that people are more alike than they are different;

• Teaching the concept that each person is unique and special;

• Providing information about different types of disabilities;

• Encouraging people to ask questions about individual differences and disabilities;

• Encouraging people to view disabilities as one individual difference; and

• Encouraging people to accept people with disabilities as individuals and include them in a variety of community settings including school, work, businesses, recreation and neighborhoods.

For more information on Play Therapy visit a4pt.org. For more information on ACBDD services or to schedule a presentation or show, call Miller at 419-221-1262 ext. 2353 or visit acbdd.org.