The dictionary defines “inclusive” as "including everyone.” I like that. It doesn’t leave anyone on the sidelines.
But in practice, “inclusive” might look different. Because while the good intentions are there, the mark might be sorely missed.
Recently, I watched as a child approached the swing next to my son on the school playground. She called for her mother, who didn’t answer or come. So she turned to my son and asked, “Will you save my swing?” He agreed, and she was off.
When mama approached, she saw her daughter go to the swing by my son. She looked at him, and then she said to her daughter, “Let’s go down here to a different swing.” The little girl said, “No, this is my swing!” And the mom said, “I said, let’s go to a different one.”
So many reactions ran through my head, none of which were appropriate for the morning school playground!
Did she not get the memo that we don’t exclude anyone at this school?
I alerted the head of the school of our experience. I told her the who, what, when and where. And I hoped she had the nerve to address it with that parent. But I don’t think that happened. Instead, once again, my son had to start his day with the unspoken message: “I don’t belong” and “I’m not wanted” and “I’m bad.”
These are the phrases we are hearing out of our 8-year-old son’s mouth. It’s disheartening.
Anyone who has a child with a brain difference knows what I mean when I say, yes, he’s different than some. Yes, we know he has outbursts or needs his space. He runs away when overstimulated or dysregulated.
But his heart is just as pliable and just as easily hurt as that neurotypical child running to the next swing at her mother’s insistence. And the message that young girl just received is that it’s OK to treat my son’s heart with less concern than her own or others.
That’s not OK.
What would have been? If the mother was concerned about her daughter being near my son, she could have stayed close by and perhaps engaged him in conversation. Or she could have thanked him for holding her daughter’s swing for her.
She could have been an example of how best to treat others.
My son never said a word about the incident. I don’t know how he received it, because if he had missed it (not likely), I didn’t want to injure his psyche by calling attention to it. My hope is that it bypassed him altogether and he didn’t feel hurt by the insensitivity of one very ill-mannered person.
Let us all remember that each of us is different in some sort of way. How would you want to be treated if you were the different one? I hope we all know enough to be sensitive and to extend a hand of acceptance when we find ourselves in the presence of someone outside of our known circle, and then figure out why we feel like they are different from us.
The Family Support section of this site has lots of relevant information.