As parents, we are at the forefront of integrating our children with disabilities into the community. This is not always easy, as when our son screamed and cried when we took him with us to a large DIY store. He was tired, young and overwhelmed by the echoing sounds, the number of people around us and the extensive variety of things to see. He had a meltdown, and I was close, as store staff complained about the noise our son was making. I had a few polite, but pointed remarks with the shift supervisor as to the nature of our son’s disability and his sensitivity to sensory stimuli, as well as my expectations of the store staff in accommodating customers with disabilities. I was a new parent in “disability world” but it mattered that we begin to educate our community on inclusion and acceptance of those with differing abilities.
Now our son is a young adult and wants to go almost everywhere that we go. Over the years of exposure to different environments, he has learned how to adjust to the different demands each places on him. I continue to advocate for his acceptance by the staff wherever we go, such as talking to a waiter (in private) about why we do not call ourselves or others “retarded” after the waiter called himself that for mixing up our son’s drink order.
Integrating (or including) our children requires courage when we would rather leave them home, avoid the stares and comments and get through the shopping or appointment in half the time. It means that we expose our children to a variety of experiences from an early age so that they learn over time how to behave in those environments and how to get what they need from the experience, whether it is ordering a meal or making a grocery purchase or learning to move to music. Exploring the community with our children enriches their lives as well as the lives of those who may not have regular contact with people with disabilities. The goal is that our children will have friends, employment (preferably paid) and activities with people from a mix of backgrounds and abilities, which is what makes up an American community.