Inclusion: what does it really mean? The dictionary defines it as: A person or thing that is included within a larger group or structure.
Often times, we say the words and nod in agreement that this is important, but what do we really do to include those with developmental disabilities?
Do we stop and engage in a conversation with someone who is noticeably different?
Do we respond kindly when someone with developmental delays asks us a question or says, hello? Or do we offer a quick, polite and somewhat cool response before quickly continuing on our way?
Are we secretly hoping no more will be asked of us?
Do we walk right by when no request is pursued? Or do we make eye contact and begin a conversation?
Recently I was at a resort that boasted an outdoor swimming pool nested on the edge of the ocean. Yes, a beautiful place to spend the day. My five year old grandson and I wandered to the sandy shore’s edge. Being a timid child, he was a bit afraid to step too far into the waves, so we ventured in only up to his knees.
Hoping to help him overcome his fear and allow him to experience the thrill of the waves, I sat down on the sandy bottom so the water lapped around my waist. Soon enough a wave came crashing in all around me. With a yell and a laugh I was pushed back.
Seeing my fun, he moved in a bit deeper. Before long as each new wave arrived, he began to shriek, “Oh no, Grandma, here comes another one,” just as the wave knocked into us both. Tumbling down into the foamy water, he sputtered before rising up to rub his eyes, then laughing hysterically, he looked around to make sure I was still there.
Soon his shrieks became screams of delight as we fell again and again into the salty deluge. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a mother standing nearby on the shore, watching her boy challenging the waves near us. Only giving her a glance, it appeared that her son was just a bit older than my grandson. Occasionally his laughter joined in with our own as his glee drifted into the air. Being fully engrossed in the play with my grandson, I didn’t really stop to look at the pair.
Later, as we returned to the pool deck where the one and a half foot kiddie pool waited, the mother and her boy followed. Soon my grandson left to go in for lunch with his mom and the boy was left alone in the kiddie pool.
Watching the boy, I began to notice side burns on his face and adult hair on his legs. I also saw a PICC line protruding from his abdomen. His speech was slurred and staccato like, making it difficult to understand his words. The more I watched and listened, the clearer it became that this boy was developmentally delayed.
Sitting down on the edge of the pool, I began to talk to the boy. I asked his name. He shrieked so loud, that I couldn’t make out the answer. Asking again, this time I heard, “Owen.” We chatted together for several minutes, with his mom acting as interpreter. What struck me was how animated Owen was to be engaged in a conversation.
I learned that Owen was seventeen years old even though he was the height a five-year-old. How often did he play alone I wondered? Did others approach as I had to talk with him or did his differences isolate him? Why had I not invited him to join our fun in the waves earlier? What could I have done differently to include him more?
I left my conversation with Owen feeling frustrated at my own short-sighted lack of inclusion.
Let’s remember Owen and all those like him, for they are an integral part of our group that is the human race.
Author, Bernice Ranalli
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