Kids Included TogetherInclusion Leads to Success for Kids with Special Needs

Recovering from the shock of her daughter’s cerebral palsy diagnosis 10 years ago, Cindy Spindler of San Diego, CA, was handed a copy of a well-known essay from 1987 titled “Welcome to Holland.” The essay, written by Emily Perl Kingsley and given to many new parents of kids with special needs, likens the news of a disability to an unexpected change in travel plans, where after months of planning and preparing to visit one country, you arrive in another ― a country for which you need an entirely different guide book.  The outcome is encouraging, and the essay struck a chord with Cindy and her family, who wondered if their “new” normal – raising a child with various chronic conditions -- was going to be filled with difficulty, disappointment, and isolation.

Fast forward 10 years, and Cindy’s daughter, Jillian, is thriving, thanks largely to her participation in programs of Kids Included Together (KIT), a nonprofit organization with a passion for inclusion. KIT specializes in providing best practices training for community–based organizations that are committed to including children with and without disabilities in their recreational, child development and youth development programs. This year, KIT created an alliance with the Rancho Family YMCA (Rancho Penasquitos, CA) and Challenged Athletes Foundation to give the Spindlers and 150 other local families a lifetime YMCA membership, including access to the state-of-the-art facilities and instruction offered there.

Since its inception in 1997, KIT has trained over 25,000 youth providers like the YMCA in the best practices of inclusion through both live and eLearning environments.More than 15,000 children with disabilities have been co–enrolled with over 265,000 children without disabilities at KIT affiliate sites. Thanks to KIT’s training, families who have kids with special needs can experience the joy and fun of camp, gymnastics, sports, swimming, and other programs at no cost.

With inclusion at its core, KIT is paving the way for kids like Jillian to be able to take part in regular physical activities with her friends and peers. From webinars to free community trainings on site to instructional videos, KIT is ensuring that every community organization receives high-quality inclusion training and support.

With the proper attention and care in place, Jillian takes weekly swim lessons with the YMCA’s aquatics director, Chris Larson, while her mom lifts weights, walks on the treadmill, and celebrates Jillian’s milestones both in and out of the pool. Chris says, “We’re about to start working on getting Jillian’s ‘self-support’ systems in place -- keeping her head up, recovering to a standing position from back floating, and turning over onto her back from her stomach. These are things that will not only prepare her to learn new swimming techniques, they will build both her strength and confidence tremendously.”

Is it working? Absolutely. “Jillian is glowing,” says her mom, Cindy. “She is making new friends. She is strengthening her core muscles. And I know she will enjoy a lifetime of many physical activities thanks to KIT. This community-based, collaborative model just down the street from my house gives me hope in a new tomorrow.”

Kids Included Together has offices in San Diego, CA, and Washington, DC, and they offer trainings around the country for organizations that want to offer inclusive programs. For more information about KIT, visit or call (858) 225-5680.

This story was produced by Festival of Children Foundation, whose mission is to improve the lives of children by strengthening the charities that serve them. To raise public awareness of the vital work our member organizations perform, Festival of Children Foundation documents the positive impact our member groups have on children and families across America.


All active news articles