Inclusive Environments

"Everyone is a genius.  But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”                                                                                                                       –Albert Einstein

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to how we are, and are not, creating inclusive environments for children in our society.  I had a wonderful and interactive webinar with the American Library Association.  I hosted a guest blogger (see last month) who is an attorney practicing in special education law.  Perhaps most inspiring, I have received a number of emails recently from people reaching out to KIDapp, individuals sharing their stories and networking to advocate for children with special needs.  What strikes me the most across all these contacts is that we are all looking for ways to spread the word – these are our children, our future.  Unfortunately, what strikes me next is how we need to label our children, to focus on perceived deficits, too often to get necessary support.

Let’s consider for a moment our health system.  Whether we are talking about physical health, mental health, emotional health, we first look to diagnose.  A diagnosis, by very definition, focuses on identifying deficits, telling us what is wrong, undesirable, needs correcting. We speak of disability – a lack of ability – when talking about what a child needs.  We are always looking for what we need to fix, a way to manage behavior that is outside of what we expect.  Our medical system, our legal system, our educational system all work to help us if we get that diagnosis.

Instead, let’s consider what a child needs to succeed regardless of diagnosis.  What happens when we give a child who has difficulty sitting still the chance to get up and move?  What happens when get down to eye level to help a child focus? How can we simplify and clarify directions?  How about if we get a little less done today because we go off on that learning tangent and consider “what if’?  Will a quiet break, or a movement break, or a break to dance and enjoy the rhythm detract from those children who are able to function without these moments?  At what point does a child cross over from “normal” to “special needs”?  Are we considering their needs, or our need to control and to contain behavior that is difficult for adults?

Please know that I am not looking to minimize extraordinary parents who deal with extraordinary situations caring and encouraging their children.  Quite the opposite.  I am challenging all of us to consider if our words and our actions are supporting that child and family, or helping to keep them contained so that we are more comfortable.  I am challenging professionals to think about assumptions made once a diagnosis is shared.  I am challenging parents to keep advocating for your children, regardless of diagnosis or need, to help each child reach their fullest potential.  I am challenging society to change words, actions, thoughts.  We must change our thinking, not our children, if we are to create inclusive environments. We must begin looking at the positive, the abilities, the extraordinary gifts and talents of each child.