Guest blog by Florance Bass
What is inclusion and why does it matter?
Recently, I enrolled my son in summer care with a church childcare center. When I arrived for pick up at the end of the third day, I was told that the director wanted to talk with me to discuss how things were going before the staff brought my child to me. I waited for at least 20 minutes because someone else was in her office. I guess the alarms should have gone off in my head. When it came my turn, she quickly announced she had made the decision that they would not be willing to provide care for my son after all. They were overwhelmed and found providing care for him was too much for their young inexperienced staff.
As a working mom of a young child with Down syndrome as well as two older typical children, I am quite familiar with childcare options and how the settings can be. I also take the time to explain to the staff the needs of my child in detail and make certain they are up to the challenge. I pay close attention to each pause, the body language, and for any hesitancy in their responses. It is not that my child has overly difficult behaviors compared to a typical child. It is that he is developmentally delayed. What you would expect for a typical child his age, he may or may not exhibit that behavior. He may instead have some behaviors that are more common for a younger child. I pay attention to the potty-training requirements even though accommodations should be made for him thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Why am I so guarded? Because my child has developmental delays, childcare facilities may have to expend a little more effort to make certain his needs are met at certain times of the day. Not everyone sees or appreciates that children like mine need to learn from typical peers their age. These children with delays watch their typical peers’ reactions and learn to model the behaviors of typical peers. They also learn the speech of these peers which helps these children close those developmental delays quicker with exposure. Developmentally, all children thrive when they are allowed to interact with others socially. This is well known; even so, a disproportionate number of settings (educational and childcare) do not allow this to happen in Mississippi.
An inordinate number of children with disabilities experience exclusion from their peers for most of their developmental years. It is rare to find a truly inclusive preschool. In Mississippi; most educational settings (public and private) for children with developmental and intellectual delays are self-contained classrooms from the beginning of elementary school as well. Why is this?
The priority to include these children within our communities is absent. We fail to see the contribution of every person. As adults, too often we are not proactive to ensure these children be included in the same activities as typical children. Look around the community. Do you see many developmentally or intellectually delayed children on the athletic fields playing with the typically developing children, especially for younger ages? Go to a Sunday School class on Sunday and observe. For most churches, the classes are mostly typical kids and occasionally a child with some type of disability. Some of the larger churches that have a class specifically to accommodate disabilities assume immediately that all children with any type of disability belong in a separate special needs class.
We must change our mindset to see the value in every single human being in our communities. We, the adults, are robbing the opportunities for typical children to learn valuable life lessons as well. What will you do to make the commitment to make this change? What do you need to help you make that first step to help make the change? Let’s start a meaningful conversation to address this in our communities.