Inclusion Matters: Our Community Has Made Inclusion the Norm [SOUTHCOAST VOICES]
THIS GUEST OPINION PIECE BY: Jennifer Roback is a mother to three children: Lilyana, Paul, and Allison. She is a special education teacher by day, and taxi driver, chef, and more by night to meet the needs of her very busy children.
Paul is a happy, active, socially outgoing 12-year-old that happens to have a diagnosis of Down syndrome. He attends Hanson Middle School with modifications and accommodations in place to access the curriculum within the most inclusive setting he can. He has the opportunity to learn with his peers as well as make meaningful social interactions. The most meaningful interactions he holds close to his heart.
Such friends as Evan, Timmy, and Seth have made Paul feel like he is one of the guys. He plays basketball, football and more at recess. Paul is happiest when he is with his peers. Most recently I posted on Facebook the following:
As I sat waiting for this handsome dude I was reflecting on my lack of vision for this guy 12 years ago. 12 years ago he was placed in our arms with a diagnosis that we did not plan on. We were not ready for. 12 years he has been defying odds and beliefs of what he should do. Paul attended his first school dance in middle school. We dropped him off and hoped for the best. I had no idea his one-on-one would go and support our guy. He had a blast, bought pizza "not dinner mom it was an appetizer". He danced with friends and watched some of a movie. The best take away of the night was hearing the true acceptance of the kids in attendance. Kids walking by doing handshakes (secret society like), yelling bye to him and coming over to the car window to be sure he knew they said goodbye. This was not forced, it was natural. He has grown up with these kids. Hanson, I thank you for raising amazing kids that embody acceptance and inclusion. My dreams for Paul to have friends, be truly happy, and accepted are coming true.
Following the post, many responded. The most important was a classmate sharing Paul’s experience at the dance with her family. Through this, I also learned he had a dance-off. Paul has been included and has truly been accepted as one of the gang. His acceptance within our community, his school, and by his peers is more than I ever could hope for. Inclusion works and is beneficial to all parties. Even Evan’s mother has said inclusion has been beneficial for him, making him more accepting and caring towards others.
Paul truly is Evan's best friend, and I hope they stay that way even after high school graduation! Evan has truly accepted Paul at the heart of who he is; he has patience and guidance that makes Paul rise to the friendship. But Paul’s inclusion has not stopped there. It has spread throughout the community where they included him in the Plymouth County DARE camp, and town sports teams have gone above and beyond to make plays with Paul.
Our community has made inclusion the norm, therefore Paul does not ever think he cannot be included. Without the kindness and inclusive mindset, these moments may not have come true.
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.