Inclusion is an easy word to say, but its effective and successful implementation is far from easy. As parents and educators, many are still blinded by the idea that inclusion can only happen for those students we label or consider to be “high functioning”.

It’s because of this we don’t want to give up on self-contained classrooms. We still function under the principle that some kids need much more than what a regular or mainstream classroom can provide.

Because I’m the mother of two children with Down syndrome, who are considered people with significant disabilities, I have a strong opinion in favor of inclusion and I disagree with the idea that inclusion is a dream or a political ideal. Inclusion is not a dream, but a reality with its ups and downs like everything else.

My children are fully included and they are successful. They succeed not because they can do everything in the same way and at the same level as everyone else, but because we have learned, as a team, to focus on their abilities.

As a team, composed of our family and school personnel, we always step up to the table. It’s not about services, but about recognizing natural opportunities. It’s not about how many weekly hours of speech therapy they have, but how we can strengthen their natural opportunities to use their words, to clarify their voice, and to learn to use it while they teach others that disability is just a natural part of life.

I’ve witnessed the power of inclusion in the lives of my children and, along with me, other people have become inspired in its power. That’s why I want to help parents to understand that inclusion is not a privilege, but a right to all. And when parents and schools are committed to working together, inclusion can happen for everyone, regardless of his or her disability.

How to start when your child is –supposedly- not ready yet….

First: Inclusion doesn’t start at school, so please don’t wait for school to start including your child.

Inclusion starts the day your child is born. It starts with your commitment as a parent to fully understand your child’s condition in order to feel safe and prepared to learn to focus on your child as an individual.

Inclusion starts with your commitment as a family to treat your child with disabilities as you would treat any other child. It’s not about ignoring the fact that he has special needs, but acknowledging the reality that, like everyone else, your child is going to need love, rules, consequences, and high expectations in order to provide him all the opportunities he or she deserves.

With this foundation set, when it’s time for your child to start school, he or she may or may not be quite ready yet for a full time inclusion plan, but he or she will definitely be on the right path.

Second: Give your child a chance to prove you’re wrong… and as a result, you’ll learn to do the same with others.

You know those times when you are so afraid of letting your child do something on his own, or you’re petrified about taking him or her to the regular activity in the community? And then you try it, and he or she surprises you, not always by doing things like everyone else, but by doing it and being successful on his or her own way? That’s the magic of inclusive parenting.

Those are the times when you go back home, sit down and think, “I can’t believe I almost deprived my child of this opportunity based on my own fears.”

Well, this is the most amazing lesson your child is going to teach you, but it doesn’t end there. You need to learn to pass it on to others in the same inspiring and positive way.

As a parent, you are the one in charge of bringing hope. You can help professionals to understand their value in the life of your child by motivating them to be part of the success, challenging even their own preconceived notions, and by presenting your child as an individual with no labels.

Third: Positive doesn’t mean unrealistic. Yes, it may take longer than expected to see results and, in the meantime, as happens with any other human relationship, everyone runs the risk of getting frustrated.

You may also face negativity and indifference from others. And sometimes, you’ll be the one experiencing these feeling and asking yourself, “Is this worthy?”

Well, it is. Keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on the possibilities, not on the challenges and live under the assumption that there is always a way to be able. (Which just so happens to be another great lesson your child is going to help you learn.)

Inclusion is not a dream; it’s a reality. And like any other real experience, it has its up and downs. As a parent it’s your job to focus on the ups and help the people on your team (your child included) to overcome their downs. Inclusion is worth it. Your child is worth it.

 

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