Monday, April 28, 2014


Many, many years ago, I worked for an agency that helped public schools and other agencies integrate kids with disabilities into typical classrooms or other settings with typical children.  "Typical" meaning "non-disabled."

One thing I found was that other kids were really good at figuring out ways to include kids with disabilities.  The idea of inclusion seemed to make more sense to them intuitively than it often did to adults.  Adults were quick to say, "Oh, he won't be able to participate" or "There's no way she can do this activity."  Not only were kids really good at figuring out how to include their peers with special needs, they were often quick to change the rules of games or invent new games to allow their peers to participate.

At one point I was working with an after school program for kids, kind of like a day camp type thing, where kids could stay after school until their parents could pick them up.  The kids got a snack, help with homework, arts and crafts, games, etc.  I was working with a little girl with cerebral palsy, maybe nine years old.  I'll call her Nancy here.

One day a group of kids was outside playing kickball.  I pushed Nancy over to the group in her wheelchair and asked if she could join them.  The kids looked uncertain.  They didn't want to exclude her but they didn't know how she could participate.  They knew she would not be able to kick the ball.  They knew she could not run around the bases.

One little boy, also about nine or ten, said, "Well... how will she play?"

I had my own ideas but decided to ask the kids first.  "Do you think there is a way we could help her play?" I asked.

The little boy that had asked how she would play thought for a minute and then suggested, "Maybe I could kick the ball for her when it's her turn?  I'm good at kicking."

I told him I thought that was a super idea.

Another kid then suggested, "Maybe you could push her around the bases?"

I told her I thought that was a super idea, too.

Note that it took them only a couple of minutes to think of these ideas, even though this was a totally new situation for them.  It had never occurred to them before that Nancy could play kickball.  But not only were they open to the idea, they were excited about helping her.  They ended up asking to take turns kicking the ball for her when it was her turn.

Now, was it much fun for Nancy, not being able to kick the ball herself?  Well, it probably would have been more fun if there had been a way she could kick the ball, but I couldn't readily think of a way to do that.  But she was outside on a beautiful sunny afternoon, being pushed fast around the bases, surrounded by a group of laughing kids that were happy to be playing with her.  It was fun.  It was a lot more fun than sitting on the sidelines watching them play while being ignored by her peers, which is what used to happen.

What's the point of this story?  Well, partly I just felt like telling it.  I thought of Nancy today for some reason and I wanted to tell the story.

But also, do you see how easy it was to include her?  And the other kids didn't mind that the rules of the game had to be changed a little.  They didn't mind that they had to do a little more work and kick the ball for her - in fact, they enjoyed that.

If it's so simple for kids, why is it so hard for adults?

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