The following presentation is a very simple way to introduce the ectodermal dysplasia to your child’s classmates and teachers. We published this article years ago but it’s still a great idea for parents to use in their child’s classroom. Levi is now an adult who has his own family!
By Kim Howard
My son’s name is Levi Howard. He is 21 years old and the oldest of five children. He has more friends than anyone I know and happens to be the coolest person I know. When Levi was born, I was a very young mother at 17 years old. The day Levi was born, I fell in love with my beautiful baby boy. As with any mother, I knew I would do anything for him. I really had no idea what was in store for Levi and his life.
Sure, he was born with Hay-Wells syndrome (also known as ankylobepharon-ectodermal defects-clefting syndrome) but he was normal to me and everyone who knew him. However, it didn’t take long to realize that the outside world saw him as different. So, I decided to help others to see him as just another kid, and it needed to start with his peers. I developed the M&M presentation which I would deliver to his classmates each year, always with the teacher’s permission. We became very famous.
First, I would tell the teacher that I wanted to help him/her and the class to feel comfortable with Levi by knowing about the condition he had. They always wanted me to come in for themselves as well as the class.
The first year (kindergarten), I took a thing that Levi wanted to share (pictures, trophies, hobbies, etc.) and a large bag of M&Ms. Keep in mind that kindergarteners are simple, so I kept it simple. I sat Levi at the front of the room on a stool. It was a great chance for everyone to look at him without it being called staring. After all, it is in human nature for people to stare at anything different. I really don’t think they want to hurt any one’s feelings even though something that simple does start to hurt.
We would share stories about what Levi had brought to show everyone (like show & tell). Next, I would pass out the M&Ms, about five or so each, making sure to tell them not to eat them yet.
Then, I would ask simply who could tell me how the M&Ms were alike. The kids would say things like: they are round, all had an “m” on them, hard candy on the outside, chocolate on the inside, and tasted the same, etc. I would ask them what was different about the M&Ms. There was only one answer, the color.
Then, I would say M&Ms are a lot like people. We are all mostly the same. But we all do look different. Some of us have straight hair, some of us have curlier hair, and some of us have no hair like Levi. Some are big, some small, etc. We were all made different and that’s ok. Then, I would say, “Sure Levi looks different, but not one of us looks the same in this room.” Once I put it that way, they all looked at things a little differently.
After I gave my very short talk, I let the kids ask me and Levi any questions they wanted. They never asked me anything about his syndrome. They would ask things like “Why is Levi such a fast runner?” Aren’t kids great?
I came back year after year to give that same talk to which ever classroom Levi was in. I never change the talk, after all it’s not just kindergarteners that are simple. It’s just people in general.
He was in 6th or 7th grade when he said he was too old for his mother to come into his class. But, boy did the kids look forward to it. They would see me and say, “Hey Mrs. Howard, Levi’s in my room this year. Are you going to do the M&M talk?” To tell the truth, I looked forward to it just as much as they did.