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Want to See Inclusion on the Playground? It Starts at School

There’s a video circulating in the Down syndrome community that shows a group of young girls playing at a splash pad. Another young girl with Down syndrome is trying to play with the group, but the girls just kind of look at her and then look away.

Twenty years ago, I may have been one of those girls. Although the original video should have been blurred, it has started some meaningful conversations. Fellow Down syndrome parents are sharing the video asking parents of typically developing kids to talk to their children about it. I showed it to my typically developing daughter and we talked about being kind and including everyone. I think this is a great thing.

However, I think there’s an underlying issue that isn’t being discussed: Why? Why is this happening?

I think I could have been one of those girls 20 years ago because I was never exposed to kids with Down syndrome or other disabilities. They were in a separate classroom. They sat at a separate lunch table. At school assemblies, they sat in a separate section. We were separated.

And guess what? Twenty years later, some schools are still this way. Sure, improvements have been made. Advocates have fought hard and won many battles and I’m so thankful for them.

But I have plenty of friends who have had to hire advocates for Kindergarten placement, and know other friends who are in Due Process because some schools would rather spend money on fighting parents instead of providing proper supports to ensure our kids with disabilities are included in the general education classroom.

Of course, I don’t know if this is the case for the girls in the video, but maybe it is. They genuinely looked confused to me. Perhaps they have never been exposed to someone who has Down syndrome like my son. Perhaps they’ve never communicated with someone who looks and speaks differently.

Perhaps there’s a bigger issue than just kindness here and that is this: we are still a segregated society.

So, to my friends who are moms and dads of kids with disabilities, I say this to us: no one is going to care about this issue more than we do. No one. This is on us.

Conversations are great. Teaching kindness at home is so important. But meaningful inclusion has to start at the school level. Our kids have to grow up together and not apart if we want to see them included on the playgrounds and eventually in the workplace and the community at large.

This is a civil rights issue, and it’s up to us, the parents of kids with disabilities, to roll up our sleeves, educate ourselves, educate others, call our congressmen, go toe-to-toe with our schools if we must, and be the change.

Demonstrate kindness, teach acceptance, but advocate for inclusion.

Learn some school inclusion basics here.

Here are some ways I’ve educated myself, perhaps you will find something in here helpful. Take a Wrightslaw course and sign up for their newsletter, apply for Partners in Policymaking, see if your local ARC or Down syndrome organization provide advocacy/parent-training classes, join NDSC and sign up for their newsletter and follow their policy page on Facebook, subscribe to Down Syndrome Inclusion Evolution, join the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network and ask to join their IEP group, join the Inclusion for Children with Down Syndrome group on Facebook.

Follow Jillian Benfield on Facebook.

Image credit Jillian Benfield.

Originally published: August 3, 2018
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