The word inclusion has quickly become one of my favorite words since joining the team at Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin two years ago.
"Inclusion is a philosophy that urges schools, neighborhoods, and communities to welcome and value everyone, regardless of differences. Central to the philosophy of inclusion are the beliefs that everyone belongs, diversity is valued, and we can all learn from each other" (Renzaglia, Karvonen, Drasgow & Stoxen, 2003).
Inclusion is one of the many great things our autism services team recognizes as a cornerstone in the lives of those who participate in our program. Ultimately, we want the children and adults that we serve to function in a typical environment. Whether it’s sitting at a baseball game with friends or going to the grocery store with Mom on Sunday morning.
Our intensive applied behavior analysis program recently had a child who’s programming was focused around social skills and relationships. Our team took him to the playground everyday after school and worked on having him create and maintain friendships. By the end of the school year, the child who used to sit by himself in the lunchroom was now sitting at a table with a group of his friends who routinely came over for play dates and sleepovers. Another example is that of a child with autism who successfully integrated into a Boy Scouts troop. He is now capable of attending sessions without additional support and as a result, he has been able to build very strong relationships and gained real life experiences.
On a larger scale, we’ve recently launched our free sports clinics. These clinics are available not just to children with autism, but to their siblings as well. Our first clinic was hosted in collaboration with the football team at Marquette University High School featuring roughly 60 children. Brothers and sisters were able to participate with their siblings with autism and other young sports enthusiasts alike. Parents were able to see all of their kids participate and play in a group setting that has never been available previously. It was a great opportunity for the families to feel safe and have an activity that was focused around their unique needs. One of my favorite memories of the clinic was seeing the interaction between siblings and how much they enjoyed the day together. Looking over at the sideline, I saw a crowd full of parents smiling and taking pictures. I can only imagine how proud they were to see their child out on the football field, running and jumping with high school athletes.
Our social skills groups are yet another opportunity we offer that are run in inclusive environments. The social skills groups see participants paired up with a typically developing peer. Not only is this educational for the child with autism, but it’s an amazing experience for a typically developing child to learn techniques to communicate with a child on the autism spectrum. After graduation, we often hear stories about how the peers help out at school when a child is having a meltdown or how they lead a child with autism through relaxation techniques after participating in the group.
Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin is proud to provide a variety of opportunities focusing on inclusion which supports each child and ensures he or she has the resources needed to be successful. By participating in typical events and creating similar events, we are able to integrate and include children with autism into new social settings.
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