Inclusion is all about belonging; being a welcome participant in community recreation programs and activities. It is giving children with special needs the same rights and privileges as peers. It is providing opportunity, which allows children to follow their dreams and achieve their potential.
The journey of inclusion starts in the home with being part of a loving family where parents have the same expectations as they would for siblings. The norm now is for children to enjoy preschool activities, attend the same community school, participate in recreation and leisure activities of interest to them, and belong to church and cultural groups. The end result is a competent young adult who looks forward to post-secondary school and/or job training. Ultimately, the dream is to live independently and have a great job.
Sports, recreation, culture and leisure activities are where children find their passion, discover their talent, and learn how to socialize with others. Like their peers, they learn how to make choices, be a friend, follow rules and perform as a team. They are signed up to be learners and the goals are the same, just adapted to their own unique needs.
Children love being with same age peers and they are capable of learning to play by the rules. Inclusion is not about treating everyone the same. It is giving individuals what they need to excel. All children will come with unique personalities, strengths and needs.
The key to successful inclusion in any activity is setting consistent expectations for everyone in the group. It is common for instructors to lower the bar rather than raise the bar for children with special needs. When that happens, the participant is really not a member of the group because he or she is allowed to act out, check out, or sit out.
It is not enough for the child to just be present. Instructors set the bar for success by:
• Asking parents for information and strategies - communication is job #1
• Knowing the child’s needs and limitations – information is knowledge, knowledge is power
• Making the appropriate accommodations – modifying equipment and activities
• Expecting full participation - I believe you belong!
Inclusion benefits all participants. Children learn that being different is okay and they are better people when they learn through experience how to:
• Look past disability and discover the ability in peers
• Create friendships with people who are different from you
• Best support and advocate for peers with disabilities
Research proves that physical literacy is a fundamental basis for developing participation in society with life-long benefits to each individual’s self-esteem, physical and mental health, and happiness. Children become self advocates when “I believe I belong”.
Excerpted from the Community Inclusion booklet, authored by PREP.
Several authors contribute to the CAN Blog.