A first of its kind program in Central Texas is allowing students to experience what it's like to have a disability.
Imagine trying to listen to a story that you know you'll be tested on, but at the same time someone is talking in your ear, tapping your shoulder, and scratching your neck.
That’s the type of sensory overload students with Autism can face every day.
And that’s one of the exercises second-graders at Reagan Elementary in Leander ISD are going through to have a better understanding of their peers.
From walking with weights on their legs, to climbing into a chair with only their arms, they are going through challenges to learn what it’s like to have a disability. They went to stations that mimic the struggles those with Autism, ADHD, vision impairment, hearing impairment, dyslexia, or physical impairments may face each day.
"It makes me feel sad that they have to go through that every day because that was really hard," said second-grader Delise Kalter.
"It's really distracting to have people around you like being really noisy and asking you stuff and you're trying to work on a test or stuff like that,” said second-grader Cameron Pieterzak.
"I felt bad for them before but now I really do because I mean I just went through what they have to go through every day,” said second-grader Maia Bland.
Heather Martinez, a mother of three boys, helped bring the program to Reagan.
"People can become more empathetic, more understanding, more patient, probably even more helpful,” said Martinez.
It's something personal for her because her son has Autism.
"The children around him are very loving and helpful and partner with him,” said Martinez.
And she wants to keep it that way.
Ultimately, they hope this program will help prevent any bullying later on in life as the students get older.
"I think the more the young kids learn and know and grow with their peers and understand them more than by the time they get up to that age they can be more embracing all together,” said Martinez.
The students told KVUE the exercises were a little eye-opening.
"It was really disturbing because, I mean, you're trying to pay attention,” said Bland. "There's everyone tapping you, and someone reading something right in your ear really loud, and someone running your neck, so it’s like really, really hard."
"It was pretty difficult,” said Kalter. "The last round was really hard."
“I just feel bad for the other people because it’s hard for them to the things that other people can do,” said Pieterzak.
"I feel warm in my heart as a mom that they are getting it, and they're understanding,” said Martinez. "Oh it’s fantastic, I’m so impressed that they're willing to participate."
They've also learned how to help.
"I want to help them understand better,” said Kalter.
And that's where the communication is clear.
"Everybody's different, so it’s okay," said Pieterzak.
It’s a lesson these students will take with them far past second grade.
"The more you know, the more you can do for others,” said Martinez.
The school hopes to expand it to all grades next year.
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