Building Authentic Inclusion - One Person at a Time

Authentic inclusion means more than a separate-but-equal program carefully designed to support the special needs of people with learning or developmental differences.

It means truly inviting another human being into a real school, community or work setting as an equal.

Of course, it's not always easy to make such full-scale inclusion work.  Not every setting is right for a person who thinks, learns, relates or speaks in ways that are "out of the box."  For example, a salesman with autism would probably do a poor job.  A percussionist with sensory dysfunction would probably fall apart before the first performance.

But that doesn't mean authentic inclusion is impossible.  Instead, it means that authentic inclusion situations must be a custom fit.  In other words, real inclusion is not about programs: it's about people.

Where does a kid with technological genius and social anxiety belong?  Probably not a Challenger Club baseball game.  But very possibly at a Lego Mindstorms club - may even one run at a local university.  And while that kid might fall apart in the school cafeteria, he might well thrive in a setting where his talents are showcased and his weaknesses are not on full display.

How do you figure out which inclusive setting is best for any individual?  That's the challenge.  Because the truth is that every individual has unique qualities - and, just as importantly, every community has its own opportunities to offer.

Here on Upper Cape Cod, for example, it's easy to find science labs, libraries, performing and visual arts centers, and outdoor recreation.  There are loads of marine activities, ranging from marine mammal care and whale watches to boating, swimming and conservation activity. When we consider options for our son, we think within the context of what's available - here and now.  We think about our contacts, the programs available, the people most likely to take an interest in our boy. Then...  we start sending emails, making phone calls, and (of course) talking to Tom.  Which opportunity interest him?  Which builds on his strengths?  Which is likely to help him along the way?

How do you start to build inclusive opportunities?  What's worked well for you, your child, or your community?

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Lisa Jo Rudy

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