When most people think about inclusion they think about children with disabilities being included in the typical classrooms within their schools. But inclusion should extend beyond the classroom and into the community. Parents may be hesitant to enroll their child with special needs in a typical recreation program for fear he or she will not be able to fully participate or that he or she will be made fun of or rejected. Parents may opt to enroll their child in a recreation program specifically for children with disabilities. If parents choose to include their child in typical community programs there are strategies that they can use to facilitate successful inclusion.
- The most important starting point is finding an activity that is of interest to the child. People form friendships based on common interests so finding this point of connection is the first step towards success.
- Look for a recreation provider that conveys a welcoming attitude. Do they convey a welcoming message in their flyers and brochures? Do they welcome questions and suggestions? Do they encourage family participation?
- Look for programs that promote cooperation rather than competition; involve children with a wide range of abilities; allow children to progress at their own pace; offer activities that are conducive to friendship.
- Find someone within the program who is open to the idea of inclusion and is willing to work with you. This probably will not be the first person you approach you may have to make contact with several people before finding the right contact. Remember to present your child in a positive light and highlight his or her strengths and abilities. Also highlight the benefits to the program. Benefits include that the program will be seen as progressive; inclusion benefits all children; inclusion promotes diversity.
- Observe the activity ahead of time and determine if any adaptations or modification need to be made. Think about how simple modifications can be made to allow for successful participation. Can directions be presented in a different way? Can equipment be easily modified? Can distractions be eliminated? Can visual or verbal cues be used to help the child? Remember to think outside the box.
- Prepare the child. Are there skills that can be practiced ahead of time? Let the child know what is going to happen.
The road to inclusion is not always an easy, but forming early friendships and connections in the community is important for all children.
by Kristen Burke, OTR/L