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Saturday, March 28, 2015

When inclusive isn't inclusive---the cheery camp booklet

Last week, I went to a presentation at Janey's school, about summer programs, given by people from an autism program at a local hospital.  I hesitated to write this post, because I don't want to put down the people who gave the presentation.  They were earnest, well-meaning and caring.  However, I left feeling like, frankly, their whole presentation had been a waste of my time.

The people from the hospital had made up a very colorful and cheery summer guide.  They made sure we noticed the cute clip art, the little asides and pictures and all.  The core of the guide was a list of 12 camps.  Almost all of these camps were called "inclusive".  A few, instead, were listed as being (and I quote directly from one of them) "for individuals with high functioning disabilities".  One of them said it was for "children with special needs", but then right under that, said "1:3 counselor to child ratio"

As the presenters went through the camps, I felt increasingly depressed.  None of the camps would be a possibility for Janey.  She isn't able to be "included" in the way meant by the camps.  The peppy social stories and advice on talking to counselors would not make her able to attend the camps.  A one to three ratio would never, ever, ever work.

I debated mentally whether to say anything to the presenters about my thoughts.  I know that children in the autism program at Janey's school have a spectrum of abilities.  I am sure many of them COULD go to these camps, and so I decided to keep my mouth shut, to let them get the benefit of the presentation.  Thankfully, one of the autism program directors from the school spoke up and asked the question I had been so much wanting to.  She explained that some of the children in their program had very high needs, and asked if any of the camps on the list would be able to handle that.

The presenters were a little flustered, I think.  They said no, the camps probably wouldn't to able to handle that.  The woman from the school asked if they knew of a camp that could.  They mentioned a camp that "might be able to".  I then spoke up and asked about why that camp wasn't on the list.  They looked at each other uncertainly and said they weren't sure why---that maybe the camp wasn't really for autistic kids.

I am not trying to be mean to these hospital employees.  I don't blame them.  I don't blame anyone, really.  But the guide they gave, and their initial "There's so much out there!" vibe are part of a huge problem.  There is a giant divide between what one of the camps called "high functioning disabilities" and Janey's type of disability.  The general public doesn't, for the most part, understand this.  They might look at a booklet like the camp one and think "Wow!  I almost wish MY child had special needs!  Why do these people whine so much?"

Fortunately, Janey DOES have a summer program.  She goes to summer school right at the same place she goes to winter school---at the public school she attends.  Kids with a very high risk of slipping backwards during the summer get summer school, by law.  The law doesn't say how MUCH summer school they get, though.  This summer, the school will be only 4 days a week, for 5 weeks.  20 days.  The summer has a lot more days than that.  Just a few years ago, the program was 30 days, but I guess our kids, our very high need kids, are not a budget priority.  I wonder if someone up there in the decision-making office thinks "Well, there's plenty else out there for them to do in the summer!" while looking at the same cheery little booklet I am.

I want to end this with a huge, giant, heart-felt thank you to the teachers, aides, program directors, ABA therapists and more that work at Janey's school (and those who worked at her old school and worked for so many years to practice true inclusion).  They don't get the glory, but they are the ones that truly do accept everyone.  Inclusion, in my new thinking of the word, means being able to say "Yes!  We welcome your child!  We will meet their needs!" And it matters to me really not at all if this is in a classroom or camp with no "typical" kids at all.  I'd rather have her accepted than not included in "inclusion"

1 comment:

Angel The Alien said...

Where I live, there is a special recreation district that gives you a choice... a child can either attend a camp (or any program) run by the special recreation organization, and have a 1:1 aide there if they need it, or they can attend pretty much any recreational program in the community (park district, YMCA, etc) and have a 1:1 assistant for them. I wonder if your area has anything like that?