By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Shrewsbury mother Robbin Miller recalls the disconcert she felt from the reaction of other parents when she told them her toddler son E.J. was attending a structured playgroup open to community residents at an early intervention site. The other parents told her they will not send their child to “such a place.” Undaunted by their remarks, Robbin and E.J. continued to go and couldn’t be happier about the way the playgroup experience turned out.
Miller wanted other parents to become aware of the positive outcomes when kids with and without disabilities are given the chance to play together. She decided to write a book on the topic. In September, her first published picture book, “Playgroup Time!” was released, featuring EJ as a main character.
“The main message I want to convey,” Miller said, “is that inclusion and friendship can be developed between children from all abilities at an early age.”
Miller is a licensed mental health counselor and a longtime advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. She hosted a show on Shrewsbury public access television on disability advocacy for 15 years, which she initiated in 1999. Motherhood has taken her advocacy efforts to a new level.
Miller had several messages in mind she wanted to relay through her publication.
“I wanted to write a picture book that did not show the children with disabilities as being ‘heroes’ or ‘inspirational’ to other children without disabilities,” she said, adding that she wanted to depict children playing together where their different abilities – whether invisible or visible – did not matter to them.
She said she had wanted E.J. to join the playgroup in order to participate in the different activities that promoted his cognitive, social, fine and gross motor skills. She hopes her book will be a resource for new mothers who want to learn more the about early intervention playgroups that are open to all children in their communities and help them recognize that whether or not their child is a client, their child will have a great time.
“Children are children who want to have fun together,” she said.
Miller said the book is also geared to staff members at early intervention programs to market their playgroup as an important component of promoting inclusion and friendships for children 0-3 years old. She would like pediatric medical clinics and hospitals to provide the book to parents so they can learn more about playgroups in early intervention programs for their children.
E.J. is now 6 years old and in first grade at Floral Street Elementary School in Shrewsbury. Miller revealed that she’s been working on a second book geared to children ages 8-10 years old about inaccessible playgrounds for children with mobility impairments who can’t play with their friends.
A portion of the proceeds from “Playgroup Time!” is being donated to the Federation for Children with Special Needs. The book can be purchased online at www.amazon.com.