This last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting some of the strongest, most amazingly motivated women in the state of Louisiana during the 2014 Partners In Policymaking first class/session. (This is a 6 month crash course on how to be a better advocate for those with developmental disabilities) I am not the kind of person to speak up when given the chance. I am, however, completely comfortable documenting my experiences and opinions here for the entire world to see (ironic right?) and so here I go.
It has been the general consensus of the self advocates and of the mothers in the class that inclusion is the most appropriate way to encourage the abilities of those with developmental delays. Throughout history, and even today, this is not happening. In fact, quite the opposite is going on right under our noses. So, I am here to say to you, parents, that you are the only way this world is going to change.
There is one basic and simple way that you can help to make this world a better place for those with developmental delays. This will not only effect those with the delays, but society in general....
Let me explain.
I work at a preschool (Goldman School) that is an inclusive environment. This means children with and without delays are in the same learning environment and do the same crafts and activities. They eat their meals side by side at the same table & they play outside together on the playground. When required, teachers give assistance to the children who need it and everyone is given the opportunity to be included in every aspect of the daily routine. For the few that do not know, my daughter Natalie has developmental delays. We enrolled her in this childcare center last year and after seeing the progress she has made there, I took up employment. Not only do I see how this "inclusion" effects children from a teachers eyes but, I see it from a mothers eyes as well. The children that do not have delays learn a patience and kindness from being there that other kids are missing out on. They are learning quickly how to see things from another perspective instead of their own. The children with delays become more social as they play along side friends their own age. They pick up things quicker by watching and interacting with the other children. Most of all, they laugh and play like children should because they are secure in the environment they are in and feel cared for by the people they see everyday.
When children with developmental delays learn and play alongside children who do not, both children benefit. What children learn, then, is that everyone is different & the proper response to that difference is kindness.
What can I do? You ask... well, I will tell you....
When your young child is in the store with you, staring (and maybe even pointing), wanting to ask a question about the kid in the wheelchair or the one with the feeding tube.... let them. Do not be afraid that your child will say or ask the wrong thing. Trust me when I say that it will be okay. Your child's pure, unedited curiosity about my child with a disability is FAR better than the fear that comes with not knowing.
Often I see children in the store wanting to talk with Natalie or play with her and their parents just "shhh"' them and quickly brush them along with that "I'm so embarrassed by what my child just said/did" look on their face. Or if a child does manage to get the question out the parents may apologize to me and tell their child not to ask questions or say that what they asked was rude (etc.). This should never be done. While I am sure it is well intentioned, it does more harm than good. If a child is never allowed to ask questions or be around those with disabilities, they are naturally going to think it is a bad thing.
Quick! Think of something you have desperately tried to get your child's attention away from recently.... The candy isle? Something they shouldn't have seen on TV? A word that slipped out that they keep trying to pronounce? All of them are negative, right? Don't let "asking questions about people with developmental disabilities" be on that list. Simple.
Allow your child to play with mine. Allow your child to ask questions. Allow your child to be curious and stare. The best thing you can do for the world, right now, is to just allow them to be the naturally accepting people that God designed us to be.
"Barriers are not created by disability, but by society's response to it" -Unknown