Rather than have kids in his kindergarten stare at her son, Vanessa Steinman – mother to 5-year old River Steinman who has cerebral palsy – decided to educate them. With this in mind, Vanessa made a picture book about her son and took it to Parkway Elementary in St. Joseph, Missouri to show his classmates. “I just wanted the kids to see that he’s just like them.”
River uses bright blue crutches and a walker to get around. This is because the type of cerebral palsy he has – spastic diplegia – affects his ability to walk. He also uses a special chair that has arm rests in class. When everyone else is sitting in a circle on the floor, River sits on a blue chair with his feet on a small container.
The picture book explained parts of the condition to River’s class. Teacher May Boehner read from the book “his brain sends the wrong message to his body.” Also in the book are pictures about River’s hobbies, his favorite colors, and his first surgery. It was actually exciting for kids in River’s class to hear about the tap dance lessons, horse riding, daily struggles as well as week-long trips River takes to St. Louis for appointments with the doctor. The book also tells how he wasn’t diagnosed until aged 2 and then a year later he had surgery that enabled him to walk, with help. Today, he is often seen walking around the school.
His mother is very proud of him. “River has no limitations, according to River,” she said. And she’s not the only one. Parkway’s paraprofessional, Colynn Chesney, says “He’s fantastic. He brightens my day. Every day I walk in and he just smiles.” She believes the book will help “with diversity. Different kids face different challenges, and these kids are very understanding.”