Inclusion for the One; Inclusion for the Many

Inclusion is really not one single concept.  In fact, it can be described as a spectrum of options that make it possible for people of various ages and with a range of needs to take part - fully or to the degree possible - in community or school activities.

Interestingly, while inclusive practices can (and probably should) be built around the person who is being included (that is, the person who learns, thinks, communicates or behaves differently), such is only occasionally the case.  Typically, it happens when ONE person with a disability or disorder is interacting with ONE person in the community who, for whatever set of reasons, actively wants to include, coach, teach or nurture that disabled individual.

We've seen it happen when the director of education for our regional symphony decided that Tom was the right kid to include in his band camp and junior youth symphony.  It was just a good match: Tom is a natural clarinet player, a good listener, and a nice kid - and his speech and language delays didn't stand in the way of his musicianship.  No, George wasn't creating an open-door program for disabled kids: rather, he was opening the door to Tom.

Our experience is not particularly rare.  Often, individuals with challenges are fortunate enough to step into the right place at the right time - a karate studio, a church, a stable, a theater, a model train club - and discover a person or people with whom they click.  Very often, in that type of situation, "authentic" inclusion is possible because there is a shared interest, personal affinity, and - much of the time - a desire to succeed on both sides.  When that happens, it's a beautiful thing - but it's a personal choice, and it may have very little to do with an organization or group. 

Once the decision about inclusion goes beyond two people, things get trickier.

For example... consider the family unit.

Much of the time, if a family is seeking inclusion as a unit, their choices of where to go and what level of inclusion is best is based, not on their child's abilities or needs but on those of the parents.  That is: parents decide where to go, and what degree of support is required.

It's not unusual for parents to prefer MORE support than is actually needed for their child - for a number of reasons.  They may prefer to come to "autism only" events, because they will meet up with friends and avoid the possibility of embarrassment should their child melt down.  They may prefer to have a built-in communication and support system which often comes with "special" programs but must be actively created in more typical situations.

Organizations consider many factors when they think about inclusion - but the number one factor is almost never "exactly what do the people we're including need to succeed?"

Most of the time, if an organization has developed an inclusion policy or practice, its policy is based not on the people being included but on the needs, preferences and capabilities of the organization.  This is true not only of schools, but of museums and zoos; YMCA's and Boys and Girls Clubs; libraries and churches.  ganizations, of course, develop inclusion programs with an eye to their own mission, legal requirements, capabilities, desires, and funding.

Without a doubt, it is easier to create a "disabilities-only" one-day access program than it is to create a permanent, ongoing inclusion policy.  And since few community organizations or schools actually include families or children with disabilities in their planning process, it makes sense that few organizations would choose to go the whole route in creating programming, staff training and opportunities for individual with differences and challenges.

Naturally, families and organizations MUST consider a number of factors, and more than one or two people, when making group decisions.  There's no absolute right or wrong.  The hope, however, is that families and organizations will be flexible enough to seek out those "authentic inclusion" opportunities as they float to the surface - and to encourage and support those opportunities as they arise.

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  1. What we need, then, are more parents of differently abled students working our volunteering in the zoos, museums, etc, so that there is someone there with some real experience of what inclusion means for individuals.

  2. Dorid - that makes very good sense to me. I find, though, that parents are often so zeroed in on their own child and his/her challenges that volunteerism is not on their minds... Not quite sure how to change that!


  3. In thinking about visitors to a museum, for example, I would add that for me inclusion also means people whose culture is different from the majority and whose first language is not that of the majority. Although their needs may seem different outcomes can be the same for all these groups. Designing exhibits for everyone - Universal design - means that if I can hear it, see it, touch it, interact with it - we all benefit whether its visual impairment, mobility issues or language. It welcomes everyone, including those that may just have some short attention spans, or prefer to look at images and not read quite so much. Everyone should be able to come away with the main concepts of the experience.

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Lisa Jo Rudy