We often talk about inclusion in terms of classroom placement and integration, but what about everyday life? To me, inclusion outside of the classroom walls is just as important.
While camping a few weekends ago, this topic came to my mind when we came across two amazing families that we instantly connected with. Camping has become one of our favorite things to do as a family. And we not only love the memories we are creating with our family, but we’re also enjoying the people we meet along the way.
After getting to the campground later than expected and having rushed setup and nighttime routines, we went for a leisurely morning walk around the campground as a family. We, of course, made a stop at the playground, and a mom with her two little boys joined us. We started with some small talk and ended up really connecting, and then spent a good part of the day together!
Everything about the way she interacted with us and engaged with us was inclusive. She asked about all my kids’ names, talked to Harrison, and looked him in the eye, even though he couldn’t respond back or meet her gaze. When we went over to her campsite, she offered him a popsicle just like she did to my older son. Her family waved and said goodbye to Harrison specifically, even if he wasn’t responding back. When we went to the campsite store together, she offered to help me carry Harrison’s stroller up the stairs so that he could be in the store with us. When she rented pedal carts for the big kids, she offered one for him, too.
In a short amount of time, it felt like we had known each other for years. This is the kind of mom friend I want to be around! We talked about Harrison’s school, his therapies, and all the things coming up for him in kindergarten next year. She brainstormed with me, listened to my fears, reassured and encouraged me, and it was such a great connection that we had. When the big kids got tired, we hopped on and enjoyed a little ride around the campground, with me wearing our baby and her older son pushing Harrison in his stroller behind us.
The bottom line: there was no assumption of what he could or could not do.
She lived in the “sweet spot,” as I like to call it. She didn’t ignore him, disregard him, view him differently, or leave him out of anything because of his differences. She offered all the things to him that she would any other child, and left it up to me as his mom to decide what was appropriate for him.
To top off an excellent experience and new friendship, our next-door neighbors at the campsite were a sweet family who had an adult boy with Down syndrome named Andrew.
We connected with them and spent lots of time sitting at their campsite; my oldest son, Carson, and Andrew played with and talked about Power Rangers for what seemed like forever! (He still can’t stop talking about him!) It was so great to connect with another family who had been through lots of the stages we will be entering. That connection with another family of a child with an extra chromosome is extra, extra sweet.
We invited Andrew’s family to join us at the Cardinals game with our local Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis and our community of families and friends. It was absolutely heartwarming to celebrate with them and so many other families blessed by that extra 21st chromosome! We are grateful for the opportunity to celebrate at this event each year with music, dancing, food, Fredbird, the Cardinals, and lots of smiles and laughter. You know … just things ordinary families do together! We had a blast.
I look forward to staying connected to our new camping friends and hope to see them soon!
When it comes to inclusion in everyday life outside of the classroom, this is what it looks like:
It’s talking to my kid even when he can’t talk back.
It’s accepting him for his own unique gifts, and not feeling sorry for him because of what he can’t do … YET!
It’s making sure my kid is offered the same things at his level.
It’s slowing down the pace so that my son can be part of it.
It’s inviting him to play dates and birthday parties, even if he may need extra accommodations.
It’s letting your kids and families interact with my son and ask questions to get to know him, even if that means asking about Down syndrome and what it is.
It’s seeing my boy for who HE IS, not simply for his visible diagnosis.
It’s treating our family like any other.
With October being Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than putting a spotlight on these genuine, inclusive interactions to honor my son and the community that we continue to build for him. People and experiences like these help bring more acceptance and inclusion of people with differences in our world. These are the people that restore my hope in the goodness of humanity.
Let’s build a more inclusive world together – one campsite, one stadium, one family, one interaction at a time!