You may have seen me use this hashtag before, on Twitter, when I share a link or express my thanks to a public figure for drawing positive attention to a situation which involves an individual with Down syndrome.
This is something that I do to try and share the importance of inclusion with everyone, as many people just don’t have cause to think about it. It is my hope that someone sees the hashtag and puts a little thought into why inclusion is such a beneficial element.
Today, I was fortunate to see inclusion in action. Alex went to a birthday party for one of his third grade classmates. For the last couple of years, this has not been a standard occurrence. For some reason, the party invites stopped arriving; we feel as though this has coincided with the decline in classroom inclusion in previous years. The kids just haven’t been given an opportunity to see Alex as their peer. However, we (Mark, Al’s third grade teacher, and myself) have worked hard this year to increase Alex’s inclusion time. When Mark spoke to Al’s class on World Down Syndrome Day, he made sure to point out all the similarities between Alex and typical third graders. We sent home an information sheet about Down syndrome to the class, and Mark felt like he really got through to the kids. I would have to agree.
When we arrived at the party this afternoon, he was greeted with the usual enthusiasm, and after that, he chose to shoot baskets on his own for a bit (the party was held at an indoor play area). This is what we typically do. The kids are always happy to see Al, but then they get caught up in their own activities. This doesn’t usually bother Alex, as he still gets to see his friends, so I just followed Al around as he explored all the different play areas.
Then, something remarkable happened after Al happened to catch up to some classmates. They decided they were going to play on something else shortly after Al joined them, but instead of taking off, they stopped and waited.
“C’mon, Alex!” one boy said, and then another repeated “Yeah! Alex, c’mon, with us!”
Alex beamed. I beamed. It was wonderful.
They all stampeded toward a trampoline, where they bounced and shot baskets into an attached hoop. Al has a pretty good shot, and could keep up fairly easily with his peers as they all jumped around, playing basketball.
My amazement didn’t stop there. “Mrs Kearns! Did you hear that Alex read to our class today? It was awesome!!”, one of the boys yelled.
There were no other adults involved in this conversation; nobody was prompting them to make conversation about my kid. They seemed genuinely proud of their friend and his accomplishment, and they wanted to make sure I knew about it (I did know, as his teacher had sent me a note to tell me). Again, Alex beamed.
Then, the pizza arrived and it was time for the kids to eat, but Al decided he was too hot and he asked to leave. He said goodbye to his friends (and even got a couple more hugs), and we thanked the birthday boy’s family for the invitation.
I hope this is the beginning of a new trend. The more his peers see that Alex can do what they can do, I feel like they will include him more in their activities outside of school. This is just one way that inclusion benefits everyone, and hopefully, with time, we will be able to spread the word even further.
Inclusion matters. It really, really does.