Many children with disabilities crave the consistency provided by set patterns of routine. And while some may not acquire the language to fully express this desire, these structures enable them to function. So while many of us look forward to weekends and vacations, times when our everyday, even mundane, routines are interrupted for an opportunity to relax; families with children who have disabilities often find these times more stressful and more challenging.
This chasm between families of children with special needs and “everyone else” is one that many of us unknowingly perpetuate. We make assumptions that all families look forward to things like weekends and summer vacations. What message do we send when we continue to wish people a great weekend or a wonderful vacation, without knowing enough about their lives to know if these are challenging or enjoyable times for them?
How many other ways do we perpetuate social norms that expect conformity without even realizing it?
· When you learn that a student is a high school senior, do you automatically ask where he or she is going to college?
· Have you ever given a subtle look to someone using a handicapped parking spot that doesn’t look “visibly” disabled?
· What about those reproachful glances we give to the parent of a child having a meltdown, silently criticizing their parenting without considering other reasonable reasons?
Attitudes can be the greatest barrier to inclusive communities. Sometimes such attitudes are malicious, but other times it’s innocent ignorance. Either way, we have to work hard to ensure that our attitudes, our behavior, and even our everyday dialogue are truly inclusive. But it’s worth it.