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Eight Reasons to Be Inclusive

Promoting Inclusion in Your School, Church, or Group

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Maybe you've decided that although inclusion sounds like a good idea, in practice it's just not practical. Maybe you've rationalized that kids with disabilities are really happier with children like themselves. Maybe you've objected that accommodations for kids with special needs are unfair to kids without, or actively destroy the experience for everyone.

For whatever reason, you've decided that being inclusive is not worth the trouble. But as the parent of two children with special needs, I think you're wrong about that. And I've got eight reasons why you need to reconsider.

1. Typical isn't so typical anymore.

If you think of your child as "normal" and kids like mine as "not," you need to check the headlines. Research is proving you wrong. Latest estimates say that at least one in six kids has a developmental disability. One in 110 has autism. Six million U.S. kids have food allergies. Two out of ten have a mental-health disorder. As awareness increases and diagnosis becomes more sensitive and services become more important, it's going to be harder and harder to eliminate children with special needs from your kid's classroom and troop and Sunday school class. It's in everybody's best interest to figure out, now, how to include everybody in a way that benefits everybody. It's not impossible. It just takes all parents working together.

2. Any child can become a child with special needs.

Not every disability is diagnosed at birth. Not every kid who fits your definition of "typical" today is going to stay that way. An accident, an illness, a diagnosis of a chronic but previously undetected problem -- you can be on our side of the fence in a heartbeat. Considering how you would feel if it was your kid is not just a sensitivity exercise, it's an invitation to consider a very real possibility. If you're going to expect some compassion and understanding and flexibility when your child needs it, start working on those institutions and groups now. It's easier to advocate for right treatment from where you're currently standing.

3. The opposite of inclusion is exclusion.

"I'm sorry, we can't accommodate children with those issues in our program" may sound nicer than "We specifically exclude kids like that," but it means exactly the same thing. There was a time when children were excluded based on race or gender or faith, with pretty much the same sort of excuses: "He doesn't belong here." "She wouldn't be comfortable." "It will ruin things for everybody else." Those excuses aren't accepted anymore by other minority groups, so why would you think it's okay to exclude on the basis of disability? Keeping kids away because of who they are and how their brains and bodies work is just ugly.

4. You get good volunteers.

What, is your school or team or organization so brimming with parent support that you don't need more willing hands? If you've ever bemoaned the lack of good volunteers, consider what you're wasting by turning away children with special needs. Their parents are eager for them to be included, may be able to help make that inclusion work, and can be an asset to your program in all sorts of ways. Better they use their energy and expertise and motivation to support you rather than fight you.

5. It puts your money where your mouth is on bullying.

You may say, "It's not okay to bully people who are different than you." But if you follow it up by making it clear that some people with differences don't belong in your class or your club or your church or your business, you're not practicing what you preach. Inclusion is a dramatic way of demonstrating that you mean what you say, that treating people as less than is never okay, that everybody deserves to be treated with respect and given the same chances and opportunities. If you actively oppose inclusion, you can talk against bullies all you want. You still are one.

6. It's good for every child.

A well-done inclusion program isn't just good for children with special needs -- it's good for every child. It's a way to celebrate all kinds of strengths. It's a way to let every student to work at his or her capacity, from the gifted students to the typical students to the ones who need assistance whether they're classified or not. It takes into consideration different learning styles, different types of intelligence, all the various gifts that our children bring. A standard classroom or program doesn't fit a lot of kids right, but some square pegs can be crammed into round holes better than others. Why not let there be holes of every shape and size?

7. It's the law.

Ever heard of the Americans With Disabilities Act? If you thought it was just about curb cuts and ramps, you're wrong. It's about making society accessible to anyone with a disability that affects a major life activity. It means that if you are running a public program, you are required to make it safe and available to the kid with life-threatening food allergies, the kid with diabetes or asthma, the kid with intellectual disabilities, the kid with disability-related behavior issues, the kids with disabilities you can see and disabilities you can't. Nowhere does the law suggest that you can pick and choose which disabilities are worthy of your consideration. Open up.

8. It's the right thing to do.

That should be enough, shouldn't it? And if it's not, how do you justify that to yourself? If you've never forced yourself to really think it through, let this be your kick in the pants.

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