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Blind boy makes friends

Joyce Hollister

Six months in a Carson Valley elementary school has made an incredible difference to 11-year-old, totally blind and developmentally disabled Rudy Perez.

Rudy moved to Gardnerville with his grandparents Robert and Norma Dameros from California and started Pinon Hills Elementary School. In that time, his speech has improved tremendously and he is happier.

After years of spending his time in a separate classroom, Rudy was placed in a regular class and rides to school on a regular bus. In addition, students in the PHES Circle of Friends have taken on the task of providing Rudy with new friends.

The 6th grade children in the Circle of Friends group at PHES make sure that Rudy is included in special school activities. It’s all part of the Circle of Friends mission to help disabled students make friendships as well as teach other students about individuals who are disabled.

Recently, the Circle of Friends invited Rudy to a dance.

“A little girl came and picked him up to take him to the dance,” his grandmother Norma Dameros said. “That’s all he talked about for days. He loves to dance. He loves music.”

The Circle of Friends at PHES meets once a quarter, according to special education teacher Angie Coleman. The students’ friendship with Rudy has blossomed along with Rudy’s own improvement.

According to the Circle of Friends philosophy, students with disabilities frequently have fewer friends and fewer interactions with their peers than do individuals without disabilities, and to help disabled students make friends, parents and teachers must step in.

The Circle of Friends is a way for adults to provide students a way to help others. And, according to Coleman, they love it.

“These kids have taken Rudy in,” Coleman said. “They spend a lot of time with him. They take him out to recess.

“They’re called peer buddies. They eat lunch with him.”

In their meetings, the students brainstorm ways to interact with the kids they are trying to help and plan ways carry out their ideas.

Rudy is in Kim Robinson’s class at PHES and goes to the special education classroom with Coleman for a part of the day. He has an aide to help him as well in the regular classroom.

“The kids are all so good to him,” Dameros said. “He’s not treated differently. He’s treated like he’s one of them.”

Rudy was born premature, and when he was 6 months old, he weighed only 4 pounds. Dameros was told by the boy’s doctors that he would spend the rest of his life in an institution. She said that an institution could give Rudy what he needed physically, but who would give him love?

Dameros decided to raise him at home. In California, she had to take him to a special school where he was with disabled children, many of whom were worse off than he was.

At PHES, he is with regular students for most of his day, and the improvement in his speech is dramatic.

“There is a big improvement,” she said, “because he is around kids. If he had had this years ago, he would have a lot more speech now. He’s really doing great here.

“He’s really happy, and that’s what’s important.”