Yes, We Do Need Inclusive and Exclusive Events – CHOICE MATTERS

The following article making its round through social media has me puzzled and quite frankly frustrated “#asf”: 

https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/7x7myx/prom-for-disabled-people-perpetuates-stigma?utm_source=tonicfbus

Nope, nope, and nope. It’s a nope from me, folks. 👎👎

I’ve been commenting left and right on this article, so … what do you know, it inspired a post. Funny how that happens, eh? (Or not.)

Forcing an individual and/or family to choose any sort of placement, provider or environment is not and has never been acceptable to me. Quite frankly, I find it ironic when advocates push for one means or the other and justify such by saying “it is in their best interests.” But, is it always?

No. It doesn’t work that way. We don’t know everyone’s story. We shouldn’t make up other people’s minds before they have the opportunity to decide what is the best fit. It is unacceptable to limit choice. When you limit choice, you in turn immediately disrespect someone’s opportunity to MAKE a choice, even though you may have the very best of intentions! 

Limiting and forcing choice is not being respectful to my son, not giving him the space to tell the world where he wants to be at any given time, and not giving him the chance to use his voice. He has worked damn hard since his diagnosis of PDDNOS at three years old to discover words and how to use them to convey his feelings, his wants and his needs. 

Let me share a shining example. At age 13, Christian was transitioning from junior high to the Freshman Academy in our district. He was enrolled at the time in their social skills group, because … well, HELLO!?!?! My district was willing to host a social skills group and I didn’t have to produce a rabbit’s foot, the hair off of a witch’s chin and $2 million dollars to have it written in to his IEP! DUH. Of course I told him to attend! 

Before the end of the school year, we of course held our annual IEP meeting to make revisions. For the first time ever, Christian asked to attend the meeting. Prior to that academic year, having a meeting with so many administrators and teachers present would make him anxious and therefore he was not present. This year was different. He said he wanted to talk about his goals and plans for the next year, including the group.“I don’t want to attend anymore, Ms. P.” he said. Said school psychologist, LEA and I widened our eyes. Mama Bear Cathy, the know it all bad ass look out for me with my Wrights Law binder warrior extraordinaire, was dying inside. What was he saying?!?! What was he thinking?!?! 

“I don’t like the group. I don’t have anything in common with the four kids besides having autism. And Joey (*name changed), well, I don’t like him PERIOD! I like being with all the other kids, and I like being with kids who just have autism like me – but just not these kids. I would like to withdraw, please.

Our eyes were opened, albeit with tears stinging. All of us learned a valuable lesson that day, and it’s a day and a lesson I’ve never forgotten. That day was the first time he strongly advocated for a desired outcome.

Throughout his high school experience, he attended both inclusive and exclusive events. He attended support groups and social outings just for people with autism so he could meet other young guys and gals who understood the ups and downs of the spectrum, as well as worked part-time hours in a restaurant and went to his junior and senior proms (with two gorgeous and sweet young ladies!). And, if I may brag for a moment, he graduated with high honors, two scholarships, and multiple outstanding student awards. Choices he has made have brought him to where he is today – not without struggle, but he is living his life the way he wants to and I count myself fortunate to be a part of guiding him while not making choices for him as he moves into adulthood.

In my eyes, full inclusion and being an advocate activist means that my now 20YO son gets to choose, himself, where he’s comfortable and use his voice to announce that choice and take action. He may choose inclusive opportunities, he may choose exclusive opportunities so he can meet others who share a commonality with him, or he may choose to attend a mix of events to bring joy and fulfillment to his life. And he has proudly made choices in both regards. He’s had great experiences, from autism meet ups to attending two inclusive high school proms. Inclusive and exclusive opportunities allow him to learn, to grow and make his own memories from places HE CHOOSES to go.

Am I an advocate for inclusive opportunities? Oh, you better believe it. People with disabilities, diagnoses and differences have fought hard for decades for opportunities in schools, workplace settings and our community. Do NOT twist my words. However, to take away the choice and the opportunity (which for some, is the only opportunity they may feel they have) because we think these events aren’t needed simply because they have “the right to inclusion” is just wrong. They have the RIGHT. They also have the RIGHT to make a CHOICE.

Presume. Competence.

What gives you the right to make choices for everyone else? What gives me the right to choose? Why are we limiting opportunities?

I’ve seen the smiles and heard the laughs from individuals with disabilities who clearly enjoy events like “A Night to Shine.” They are happy. Isn’t that what we want – for our loved ones to be happy? I know I for one, absolutely do.

People matter. And so does choice. It isn’t our right to take choice away. Both inclusive and exclusive opportunities are needed. We have room for both.

Author: Catherine Hughes

Passionate Advocate. Innovative Storyteller. Engaging Strategist. Author. Editor. Blogger.

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