At the end of the summer as I began to look forward to the fall and what it would bring for our family, I started to look into some programs for my older kiddos. I really wanted both Jake and Cole to be in swimming lessons, as well as gymnastics. And so I began calling around, trying to get information from different organizations about what it would take for me to be able to sign Jake up for their programs. This was our first foray into the world of true inclusion, and since I am a newbie in this arena, I wanted to make sure I was doing it right.
I called an organization in the city that, ironically, is mandated with providing services to adults with disabilities. They run a social enterprise in order to help them achieve their financial goals. This social enterprise is a recreation program at their facility, which includes a pool and offers swimming lessons. When I spoke with them on the phone, I explained our situation. I told them that my oldest son has Down syndrome. I expressed my desire for him to be enrolled in their swimming class, and asked if that would be possible. I inquired as to what it would take to make that happen.
The response I got was very interesting to me, considering they are an organization working in the disability sector. They were very nonchalant and noncommittal about the whole thing. They had no real answers, opinions, or advice for me. They told me that they could probably take him in one of their classes, but that I may need to provide additional support. To be honest, if I were to sum up my interaction with them in one word, it would be this: tolerated. The vibe they put out during our conversation was that Jake would be tolerated in their program, but that it would be up to me to make sure he could function.
My next phone call was to the gymnastics center closest to our house. They run a program for 3-4 year olds that I thought would be perfect, since I could put Jake and Cole in a class together. Again, I explained my somewhat unique situation, and asked what my options were.
The response I got was phenomenal. They put me on hold for a couple of minutes, and went and found the director for the preschool program. He got on the phone, and as I explained my situation to him, he was overwhelmingly positive about the possibilities. He told me that the center absolutely, unequivocally, without question wanted Jake to be a part of the class. He explained to me that they work very hard to create an inclusive environment that is conducive to all children. He suggested that I sign up both of my children right away, and told me that I should absolutely not send an aide with Jake, or stay in the class with him myself. He made it known to me that he is training all of their instructors to be able to help all children function well in their classes. If that means extra help, extra support, or an extra hand, then so be it! I left the conversation with tears of joy in my eyes. I would sum up my interaction with them in one word: embraced. The vibe I got from them was that Jake would be embraced in their program, and they would do everything possible to make sure he could function.
Guess which one we chose?!
There is a world of difference between these two words.
Neither organization flat out denied my child access to their program. Both of them stated that they would, in fact, enroll Jake.
But while the outcome was the same, the tone behind it was completely different.
I am so incredibly thankful for organizations that choose to embrace my child.
He deserves nothing less:)
Addendum: We ended up signing both our kiddos up for the gymnastics program, but ultimately looked elsewhere for swimming lessons for Jake. Because at the end of the day, the nuances matter…