Inclusion Matters: Believe in a Child’s Abilities, Not Disability [SOUTHCOAST VOICES]
THIS GUEST OPINION PIECE BY: Chris Antao is the Executive Director and Founder of Gnome Surf, a Contributing Member of the International Surf Therapy Organization, and a 2019 Southcoast Today Emerging Leader Nominee
Inclusion matters because at it's very core it actually changes the fiber of a community, more importantly, all of the lives in that community.
Typically, you hear how inclusion helps those with Down Syndrome, or any neurodivergent child or adult for that matter, but the story I will tell you is that the lives that are changing are holistic. By holistic I mean it's reciprocal for both parties.
I founded a Surf Therapy 501c3 nonprofit, Gnome Surf, built on the principles of Acceptance, Kindness, and Love for ALL where everyone is free to be themselves. We start with respect and kindness and have absolutely zero judgments of anyone. Parents do not have to explain their child's behaviors or wonder if they are truly accepted and included. We want everyone to know, yes you are and yes you can. We are a judgment-free zone and you can leave those explanations and feelings at home.
Believing in a child – in anyone – for their abilities rather than disability is where real, tangible magic happens. When you give someone the gift of believing in what they can do, you have the power to create an everlasting change.
Through my experience providing All Kids of All Abilities a place to fit in, to believe in themselves, experience joy and friendship in an environment where acceptance is at the very center for all I have come to realize that they are truly changing my life and the lives of our volunteers in return. They teach me that to place judgments on others is a false ideology and a dangerous place to live.
Inclusion and acceptance of children with Down Syndrome teaches me that kindness, happiness, and simplicity is truly a gift and one that they share with us. They give us a road map to where happiness lives and a delicate manual of how you should treat others. These vital lessons are learned only when you stop judging someone and start accepting and believing in them. Our athletes have taught me that labels and limitations are better left in the textbooks and only worth the paper they are printed on.
Our athletes have shown me that love and kindness goes a very long way in helping change perceptions. They are telling a very important story; they are showing the world that with a little belief that they can accomplish things others can't. They are surfing and learning that if they work hard and believe they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. Inclusion matters because it simply makes the world a better place to live. Inclusion has made my world a better place to live in.
Editor's Note: 'SouthCoast Voices' is a series of guest opinions from newsmakers and other people across the region, on relevant issues that directly impact the people of Greater New Bedford and the surrounding communities. The opinions are solely those of the author. If you are interested in contributing, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.