‘There is always progress to be made’
As I was scrolling through Facebook a few weeks ago I saw a quote that struck me, “I promise to teach my babies to love your babies. Period.”
As a mother of three young boys — one with a disability — and having worked with individuals with intellectual disabilities and severe mental health struggles for nearly five years now this quote hit home for me.
When talking about skill building for individuals who have disabilities very few people talk about the very basic and important human wants and needs of making and maintaining meaningful social connections within their community.
My youngest son, who is 5 years old, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3. He is the sweetest little boy you will ever meet and does not hesitate to bellow a, “Hey guys!” while out in public to start a conversation about whatever dinosaur he is fixated on that day. The reactions are mixed and he is either greeted or turned away from with a confused look.
From my experience within the Marshalltown community and local businesses, several places have welcomed those within the disability community with open arms, but there is always progress to be made. The life of a caregiver or guardian of a child or family member with disabilities is an anxiety-ridden and lonely balancing act of both constantly wanting to shield your loved one from the evil of the world while also fostering their growth for eventual independence.
It is our duty as citizens to educate both ourselves and our children to focus on the abilities that outweigh the disability and allow members of our community opportunities to socialize when and where appropriate. When in the community and talking to someone with a disability talk to them, not around them. When you see someone having a behavioral incident within the community know they’re having a hard time not giving someone a hard time. When you see a caregiver providing support do not thank them for what they do or tell them their profession requires a “special type of person.”
Treat others with respect. It is OK to be hesitant about things you do not understand, but it is not acceptable to be intolerable.
As Lisa Friedman said, “We do not ‘do’ inclusion ‘for’ people with disabilities. Rather, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how all of the things we do can be inclusive.”
Aly Wenner is a director of community services
at REM Marshalltown.