As a lot of you may already know, our son, Jayden has Autism. In our most recent newsletter, Spectrum Speaks Vol. 4, we looked at whether the reason we spread information about Autism is because we want our son included, or whether it is because we want him accepted or understood.
In a recent discussion with a group of people (who I admire and are my wealth of knowledge), an interesting question was posed. If we single children out as “children with disabilities” and give them special events or give them special treatment, then is that in fact not a form of exclusion because we are treating them differently? I totally respect and understand that perspective, so it got me pondering again about what we mean by inclusion. It is easy for some to say, “everyone is invited” and that is the world we all wish to live. But is it realistic to think that every event is suitable for everyone? I know with Jayden there are places we avoid (or reduce) because we know it is not somewhere he feels comfortable, and there are other places we love to take him because they have a sensory space, so we know his needs will be met. That is not to say that others shouldn’t be invited to those places, but does that mean by holding special sensory events that we are excluding others?
As we have expressed many times before, we cannot thank Jayden’s school enough for everything they have done to ensure Jayden feels supported and included. The school has extra assistance in the classroom for children that need extra help with either reading, writing, maths or even just every day skills. They have directed play for any child who finds the playground overwhelming, and they have visual displays in the classroom, so children are aware of any transition that may happen throughout the day. All these little things make a big different to the children who need it. These extra features at Jayden’s school are there for everyone, not just the Autistic children, or children with learning difficulties or children with needs, but everyone in the school. And that is what is so amazing. Jayden (and others) are not singled out as ‘that child’ that needs the help, which is so important for inclusion. The school also recognises Jayden (and others’) strengths, and they enhance that through extra support programs. Jayden absolutely loves maths, so they encourage him to extend his learnings and challenge him in a fun way. Likewise with reading, as he has known his letters since he was two, they have moved him into an accelerated program to excite him about learning. But then with areas he’s no so confident, like writing, they provide the extra support that is needed through working with other children in a fun and supportive way.
The school adjusts learnings and requirements to suit all children’s needs. So where does this leave children outside of the school environment? Should we have events or centres which are specific to people with needs, or should all events and centres just invite everyone? Could you compare this to female gyms and argue that they exclude males? Or places that recommend a particular age requirement, doesn’t this then exclude people based on their age? I’m not going to pretend to have the answers, but I do see value in some events/places being specific so that they’re more suitable for people with needs. It allows us to feel safe, unjudged, and comfortable. As much as we do enjoy other events/places that are open to everyone, they just don’t always have the things we need to allow for everyone to be comfortable. So, for me, I think the answer is a mix of both – as this provides the opportunity to learn in both situations and surroundings.