Personal tragedy leads couple to help disabled children, families

DEL MAR — Gayle Slate’s book “Dana’s Legacy: From Heartbreak to Healing” was recently selected as finalist (second place) in the “New Non-Fiction” category by the National Indie Excellence Awards.
It was also selected as a finalist in the “Biography” category of the San Diego Book & Writing Awards.
The book chronicles the short life of Slate’s daughter, Dana, who succumbed to cerebral palsy in 1970 at the age of 14.
It describes how Slate turned grief into action by returning to college and going on to become a licensed therapist with a specialty in child development and special education.
Later Slate and her husband, Dan, established Kids Included Together, or KIT, a national nonprofit that trains youth agencies how to include children with disabilities with typically developing children in after-school programs.
Slate was only 18 in 1956 when Dana, as a result of a birth accident, was born with cerebral palsy.
“She couldn’t walk or talk,” Slate remembers. “I had great difficulty accepting the fact that she would never accomplish anything.”
Slate visited doctors and was told when Dana was 3 that she would die in puberty. They recommended that Dana be placed in a board and care facility.
“I didn’t have the tools to deal with her,” Slate said. “I was 23 and having a nervous breakdown. Hillside House near Goleta was a haven because people were loving and could get Dana to eat.”
As the doctors predicted, Dana withered and died at 14. Concurrently, Slate learned she was pregnant with son Scott.
Three and a half years later she had daughter, Heidi.
Despite giving birth to healthy children, Slate couldn’t overcome her sense of guilt and grief.
She became a volunteer counselor for parents of children with disabilities at UCLA.
Eventually she decided to go back to college and become a licensed psychotherapist so that she could work with families of children with disabilities.
In 1979 she founded the Stephen S. Wise Temple Infants Toddler Program for Children with Special Needs and operated it for 15 years.
When Slate and her family moved to Del Mar in 1993, she commuted for two years to Los Angeles to continue her work.
In 1995 Gayle and Don Slate began working with occupational therapist Mary Shea at the Jewish Community Center in San Diego.
Shea was successful in securing grants to mainstream children with cerebral palsy, autism and Downs syndrome.
The pilot program evolved into the national organization KIT.
“As much as KIT benefits children, the parents are benefiting as well,” Slate said. “This is critical because there is so much grieving that their children will never been part of the community. They eventually see their children as children first, and the disability becomes secondary.”
Slate says KIT makes it possible to find balance in the family by involving
all members, not just the mother.
“Everyone has trauma,” she said. “Having a child with a disability is one of life’s traumas that you can master. Life doesn’t have to be bleak.”
Slate retired from her therapy practice and today is on a mission to let families of children with disabilities know that life can be good.
Although the book focuses primarily on living with children with disabilities, Slate says there is something for everyone to learn about coping and dealing with life’s challenges.
“Even if the child can’t change, the parents can,” she said.
KIT will host its sixth annual National Conference on Inclusion in San Diego from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. For more information, visit kitonline.org.
For more information about Slate and her book visit Danaslegacy.com.

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