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How Inclusion Helps Bridge the Divide for My Autistic Son

Highs and lows.

Getting Declan, my son with ASD, to talk about his day has always been a challenge. I am constantly trying new ways to get a sense of what Declan’s day at school was like. I’ve been trying a new approach — highs and lows. I ask Declan to tell me the best part and then the worst part of his day. For the first time, Declan’s actually answering — thoughtfully, too! And I am seeing a bigger picture of his school day.

Last week after telling me his high point — that he did not have a substitute teacher — he told me his low.

“Two kids on the playground were making me upset. They kept telling me that Thomas Jefferson was not the third president of the United States. They kept trying to tell me that he was the 16th president. And that’s not true. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president. They wouldn’t listen to me! The teacher came and talked to them and then she made me feel better.”

The U.S. presidents are one of Declan’s special interests. Hearing any incorrect detail about his interest will always get him upset.

Bummer.

The following day, the low – there was a substitute teacher in the gym. But the high?

“The teacher had the two kids play with me on the playground. It was a lot of fun!”

But the following day, the kids returned, unsupervised and not to play nice.

I’m not going to use the word “bully.” At this point the kids are just being mean. Big meanies.

Declan is an easy target for meanies and bullies. They realize he has this great big shiny button, and when you press it, you get a really big reaction.

Declan is mainstreamed with supports. He carries an invisible diagnosis his peers may not know about. He has a hard time understanding social situations, reading others perceptions of him, and picking up when someone is going out of their way to be mean.

Declan has big feelings about things that are incorrect or upsetting. He will not think to go get an adult for help. He will fight for what he knows is “right” in his mind.

I must be watchful with Declan because the big meanies create a divide. Once they push his button and get the reaction they’re going for, they create the chasm between “us” and “you” — “the weird one.” The “us” only potentially gets bigger when other peers see the great divide.

Thankfully for Declan, right when it was super important to monitor his sense of self because of the big meanies, a new opportunity arose. Seeing Declan at football practices, a football coach offered to have him join their football team as an honorary coach. They gave him a jersey and a wrist band with plays in it.

The boys on the team love Coach Declan. They cheer when they see him and are never short on giving him high-fives.

So last week when the big meanies went on attack, Declan shared this as his high for the day:

“They were being mean, so I just looked down to my arm at my football plays and ran to the right, away from them! It was great!”

That made me smile.

A football coach saw Declan on the sidelines and found a way to include him in a way that fit him. Not only that, the football coach just taught every kid on that football team what inclusion looks like.

Declan is autistic and that is not going to change. The big meanies and bullies aren’t going to go away either.

Thankfully there are other people helping Declan feel happy, boosting his self-confidence and making him feel like a million bucks. And demonstrating that inclusion is not just a word, it’s an action.

This story originally appeared on Autism Family Power.

Getty image by MamikaStock.

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