Inclusion isn’t just a philosophy for the Merrill family, it’s a way of life. They lead an activity-packed life fueled by a contagious, inspiring spirit. Their days are filled with school, sports, activities and friendships.
Anna and Loren Merrill live in Taylor, Arizona and have six children. Three of them, Charlotte, Caroline and Harrison, have rare neurocongenital disorders that cause cerebral palsy and other complications.
The Merrills initially came to Raising Special Kids for training while foster parents to their two oldest sons who they later adopted. There they learned about Raising Special Kid’s services and available resources for their other children.
After attending an IEP Training class and speaking to Family Support Specialist Kristi Grasser, Anna advocated for a more inclusive placement for Caroline who started junior high this year. Caroline had been moved to self-contained classes, which the Merrills didn’t agree with. “Kristi went over the laws and rules with me and helped me put an email together,” Anna said. Using a collaborative, team-based approach, Anna drafted a note to the IEP team outlining her concerns. When she arrived at the meeting, the team had put together a new schedule that was a much better fit for Caroline.
Anna came back to Raising Special Kids for help with Harrison’s school placement. He started in an inclusive kindergarten classroom, but in second grade he moved to a self-contained class. Anna contacted her IEP team to discuss this placement, and again her training from Raising Special Kids came in handy. “I used the right terms, including Least Restrictive Environment, and ultimately the team moved him back into an inclusive setting,” Anna said. “Thanks to Raising Special Kids, I was educated to advocate for my son.”
Previously, Anna worked as a teacher, and she stopped working to allow more time to care for her children. Loren teaches at Snowflake High School. As if their family doesn’t keep them busy enough, Anna and Loren also coach sports year-round for the White Mountain Special Olympics. The teams are unified, with an equal number of participants with and without special needs. The community embraces and supports the teams, with many of the typical athletes coming from local high school squads. The Merrills coach all year, with sports including bocce, swim, basketball, cheer, track and volleyball. “It’s created friendships in our community,” Anna says. “Typical kids come hang out in their free time with other kids, special needs or not. They’re just being friends.”
Anna also serves as a Parent Leader for Raising Special Kids talking to other parents in similar scenarios who need a listening ear and a supportive voice. Thank you, Anna and Loren for all you do for the community!