The Power of Inclusion
There is article after research paper after journal entry about the importance of inclusion of special needs children with mainstream schooling.
The conversation that is not had as frequently is the inclusion of those children outside of school. What about church, sports, camps, and access to "normal" things like museums.
I 100% refuse to let Hank's condition stop him from getting to experience the amazing world to be had out there. We go for hikes, swim, bike, playgrounds, museums, movies. A wheelchair won't stop him, I simply decline to limit him.
Because inclusion matters.
We fear what we do not understand. We fear things that look different, it's the reason snakes and spiders give us the heebie-jeebies. We stare at things that are not common sites and we feel insecure around something that looks like a challenge.
None of this bad, it's ingrained in our nature to keep us safe. We live in a time though that we don't need to fear catching a disability: science and medicine have come a very long way.
Our church just finished a week of VBS, we do 6 nights!
Last year, Hank was in the nursery.
This year, they asked if it was okay to include him in the regular activities and I said "ABSOLUTELY!"
The director found a 1-on-1 for Hank each night. Someone who would push him to the activities, and help him be included. Shawn had him on night #1 and Kristi for the rest of the week. He was never without a personal driver and entertainer, just the way he likes it.
There were some things that Hank could not physically participate in, and that is okay.
Inclusion doesn't have to mean participation, it means presence. There is an opportunity and an opening, with no expectation or demand on an individual.
Inclusion is everyone sitting at the table even if they are eating different meals.
My favorite photos from Vacation Bible School are ones that simply include Hank in the event. My greatest joy in life is seeing his. Knowing that he is content with simply being in the same room as all the fun.
This year, I led a group of 4 1st graders. 2 were kids from our church and 2 were guests. On night 3 or 4, we were in the sanctuary singing and dancing and Hank's chauffeur brought him in for some entertainment. We paused a minute for a quick group chat on that nights theme. As we did, Hank wheeled around the groups and everyone was telling him "Hi."
As he did so, a little girl in my group who has never met Hank watched. I saw her watching and waited to see what would happen.
It only took a moment for the question to come, "What happened to that little boy" as she pointed. The boys who know Hank well looked around, looking for something that was wrong. An injured or sick child maybe. Not finding the boy in question, he asked her, "What boy?"
She points to Hank and together the boys say, "Nothing. That's just Hank."
In that moment, I sat and thought about those 4 words. "Nothing. That's just Hank."
In the eyes of those 6 year old boys, there was nothing. Because for as long as they can remember, Hank has been in their lives. He's at worship, children's service, play practice, school, the playground. There is nothing different except. They saw nothing. Just. Hank.
Children with special needs are not defined by the names of their conditions. Amy with Down Syndrome. Ryan with Autism. Katie with Cerebral Palsy. Stephen with Muscular Dystrophy.
No. They have these things but these things do no describe who they are. They are "just".
How will you include someone, how will you change the name of someone, how will you let kindness change the world.
Light and Love,
*Names and conditions are merely works of fiction and not representative of any persons.*