FAR Therapeutic Arts and Recreation: Seeing Beyond the Diagnosis

  1. I believe that every person with a special needs diagnosis has the potential and ability to live a fulfilled life.

2. I believe that every person with a special needs diagnosis deserves love and friendship.

3. I believe that every person with a special needs diagnosis is an important part of our society and can contribute in ways that are beyond anyone’s imagination.

4.I believe that with the right individualized support, communication and guidance, every person with a special needs diagnosis can overcome whatever barriers stand in his or her way.

I believe that we have a lot to learn from people with special needs.

Thankfully, there are organizations like FAR Therapeutic Arts and Recreation who believe this, too.

FAR Therapeutic Arts and Recreation is a metro-Detroit non-profit, based out of Oakland County. The organization services 1,200 individuals with special needs every year. These clients or Friends, as Pamela affectionately calls them, range from 18-month-old twins to an 82 year old woman with dementia. With a presence in both Oakland and Macomb County,  FAR’s therapists use music, art and recreation to help their Friends improve important life skills and abilities.

A FAR Friend performing on stage

A FAR Friend performing on stage

Pamela: So many times these kids are in multiple therapies. They’re in Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy. It’s very important, but that stuff is not fun.  Our kids come here, and they’re getting therapy and they don’t even know it. Our therapists work with people to develop their strengths. Things like music can help our friends with their speech and communication. Music can also help you with your motor skills.

We’re pretty uniquely effective in the sense that we can provide these amazing creative arts therapies and recreational therapies to people with special needs. Some of the outcomes are just unbelievable because our therapists are really working with the whole person.

Just recently we had a client’s mother, Helen, come and talk at our staff retreat. Helen was talking about her daughter, Sarah, and all the struggles she had in school. Sarah has a beautiful singing voice and a beautiful stage presence, and she goes to a public high school. She really wanted to compete in choir. They kept telling her, “No, you can’t read music.” So Helen found FAR, and we actually were able to help Sarah learn how to read music. Come to find out, Sarah went to finals last year and competed nationally. That’s pretty amazing. She totally showed them!

One of our other clients, Leo, has been coming to FAR for over 7 years. The first time he went on stage, the audience was asked not to clap, because loud, quick sounds made him uncomfortable. So after he performed, the audience gave him a big thumbs up, instead. Now, Leo is Mr. Ham. You can scream. You can give him a standing ovation. It took time to build up to that, but the sound is not an issue for him. His parents really believe that has a lot to do with him getting the confidence and the comfort here, and little by little exposing him to those quick, loud sounds.

We have a thousand other great success stories of kids. Just recently, one of our young girls performed in Canton Idol. She wrote me a letter basically saying, “Dear Ms. Pam, Thanks for getting me all these gigs.” *laughs* At the end of the letter she actually said, “Thanks for seeing beyond my diagnosis.”

Pamela acknowledges that despite being around for 65 years, there are still a lot of people who don’t know that FAR exists. That’s why when she stepped into the Executive Director position 4 years ago, she along with the Board of Directors decided that it was time for a serious change.

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Pamela: We have a wonderful Board of Directors and we took a hard look at the programming and said, “What do some of our clients need?” One

thing that I felt really passionate about was making sure that we had a lot more social opportunities. So many times our friends are left out of social opportunities. It’s easier not to bring them to a family party or to the grocery store. That made me really sad.

The good thing is our friends are in the public schools. I always say, “Make sure we expose our children and our families to people with special needs, because they’re pretty fabulous people! Just because they have a special need, they can accomplish what anybody else can accomplish. They just do it in different ways. We as an organization need to make sure that we get our friends into the community. Let’s take them to baseball games. Let’s go bowling at the Emagine Theatre. Let’s go to movies, and if something happens and someone screams while you’re at the library, who cares?! Deal with it! *laughs*

One of our programs here is Social Connections. It’s run by Ms. Sara and Jeannie, who are recreational therapists. They take our clients out into the community. We just recently had an ice skating show for our figure skating team.

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There are people who skate during open skate, before our figure skating team gets on the ice every week. I invited them to stay for the show, and a group of people did. The more that we do that, the more people will see how awesome our clients are. Because these are really inspirational people. It’s important. They’re part of our society.

We’ve also made a huge commitment to grow. We’re gifted a space by the First Presbyterian Church [in Oakland County], and we serve a large portion of our clients here. We also have a small footprint in Macomb County at St. Thomas More Community Presbyterian Church. Just because you can’t get to us, it’s not fair not to be able to provide these services. So, how are we going change that? Well, the only way is to go to people. We’re hoping in the next 2 years to expand our footprint into Wayne County.

Something that’s really unique is we work directly with the school systems. We’re in 8 school systems providing therapy in the public schools to their special needs students. It’s a really nice thing, because most of our clients can’t come here until after 3 or 4 o’clock. My therapists would sit here all day. By being in the schools, it gives them some daytime hours.

Of course, there is also the issue of raising the funds necessary to keep the organization moving forward. Pamela believes that part of that is continuing to raise awareness that FAR does indeed exist. The other part goes back to the idea of helping FAR’s Friends become more involved in the community. The more people who become aware of the fact that individuals with a diagnosis have talent and potential, deserve the opportunity to grow and can contribute to the world in a truly meaningful way, the greater the number of funding opportunities there will be.

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So…again

I believe that every person with a special needs diagnosis has the potential and ability to live a fulfilled life.

I believe that every person with a special needs diagnosis deserves love and friendship.

I believe that every person with a special needs diagnosis is an important part of our society and can contribute in ways that are beyond anyone’s imagination.

I believe that with the right individualized support, communication and guidance, every person with a special needs diagnosis can overcome whatever barriers stand in his or her way.

I believe that we have a lot to learn from people with special needs.

What do you believe?

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To learn more about FAR and how you can donate to this awesome organization, visit their website www.far-therapy.org. Also, stay up to date on all the events and happenings at FAR on their Facebook.

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