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This is World Autism Awareness Month and the 2nd of April is World Autism Awareness day. Much is being written about Autism, its prevalence, how it affects a child, what is the prognosis and what one can expect. So I thought let’s look at the same problem through a different lens – a lens which is more relevant to parents and families. And as I sat reflecting on this problem of Autism, it struck me that there are various developmental disorders which do exist and the common thread which ties each of these together besides the parental experiences, is the concept of inclusion.
What is Inclusion?
Inclusion typically is a concept that has been applied to the educational setting. Simply put, it posits incorporating and ensuring that children with special needs find a space in so-called normal classrooms with other children their age and with typically average abilities.
Inclusion promotes the integration of teaching methodologies that benefit all and in particular take into account children who may be having any form of a disability or a special need.
The thought of inclusive parenting struck me as I sat with the parent of a 9 year old child who was diagnosed with Autism. We had been meeting each other for a while in the hospital on account of the challenges the child was facing in academics and in social life. The part of academics was being taking care of through Special Education and a close collaboration with the Counsellors and Teachers at school.
It was the social aspect which was turning out to be a big concern. One part of the problem was what was happening at school and the other was that which occurred in the community where they resided. At school, it was difficult for children to understanding why this one particular child was so different. The teachers were spending a lot of time in trying to ensure that things stayed stable at school and that the child was not being shunned by others even they found him to be different.
But it was a wholly separate story in their community. The biggest challenge that was being faced was helping other parents understand that the problem being faced by their child, though not seen as frequently, is a diagnosable condition over which the child has no control. Having parents be comfortable with their “normal” children interact with this child with Autism was becoming a challenge as it was difficult to integrate, accommodate and accept his “being different”.
Can we be Inclusive?
I think that it is in our hands as parents to be or not be inclusive as the adults. Our fears can be understandable but they may not always have a rational, logical basis. Being able to recognize this aspect is integral to being able to be inclusive. The stigma that comes with being “not normal” has certainly abated, but there is lots that still can and needs to be done. If each individual is willing and can push themselves to look beyond the narrow conceptualizations currently prevalent around us, we most certainly can change and bring about more of a change in attitudes, perceptions and reactions.
What can you do as a Parent to be More Inclusive?
There are some basic steps which we all can and must take in order to move forward, beyond the misconceptions and faulty interpretations.
· Stop labeling
· Don’t tell your child to stay away from someone who has a special need
· Help your child see the positive or the good in a child who has a special need
· Harbor empathy first in yourself and then in your child
· Be proactive in seeking more information if you are scared, have some unaddressed fears or apprehensions
5 simple things, yet ask any parent of a child who has a special need…these are very big things for them. They are 5 big steps which could help enhance the quality of life of the child who has a special need.