Any time I’ve dropped off one of my children at a new program – new school, at the start of a new year – I do it with enthusiasm but inside is a nibbling feeling of apprehension. Feeling apprehensive, or dare I say scared, never seems to leave me as a parent, no matter how old the child is. I’ve been told by my own mother to get used to it – par for the course. But with my third child that feeling has been taken and multiplied 100 times. You see, my 3rd child, my daughter, is a special needs child. Forgetting labels, what this means for me is uncertainty – that she will be accepted wherever she goes, that she will speak up for herself or participate, and if not, will others understand what she likes and wants the way I do.

Although my goal is to foster her independence and surround her with new experiences and people, to do so it is absolutely terrifying at times, sometimes more so for me than her, since she seems to adjust to most situations in her own way. This is not my first time around the bend with special needs, my second child has ADHD which brought a host of issues completely opposite of what I face with my daughter. So, I’m well versed in the adversities, stares, and judgement by others that will sometimes have to be faced. The one thing I have not been able to adjust to is the lack of programs that treat kids with special needs just like everyone else – because although they have different needs they are still children with hopes and dreams of doing everything just like other children their age. Due to some limitations and/or needs, the approach may need to be adjusted and not everything can be accomplished, but primarily its just the idea of attempting a level of inclusion that at minimum satisfies an emotional desire to be a part of the group. Children with special needs want to be part of the same fun and every-day activities. Unfortunately in most communities this is not something that is often thought about if you are primarily dealing with the “average” child. Those of us with special needs children and the children themselves suffer from exclusion sometimes more than the disability itself. I don’t expect that my daughter will be invited to do everything with peers her age because at times this could do more harm than good, but most of the time inclusion is not as hard as it may seem and there are benefits for everyone involved. If you and your kids have had the opportunity to spend time with an individual with special needs than you know that the benefits and what you may learn far outweigh any preconceived inconveniences you may have imagined.

Shutaf has proved this time and again over the past 2 years. Although I still suffer from uncertainty when I drop my daughter off at one of their programs it’s not because I’m worried she won’t be included, it’s more one of those regular mommy moments when I’m letting go for a few hours and just can’t be involved in everything she does, and that’s okay. It’s called independence and Shutaf gives my daughter that comfortable place to feel a part of a group program with kids of all backgrounds and abilities. Just like your average middle-schooler.

Inclusion is not always simple, but it comes with so many benefits and if you already have great people like the team at Shutaf showing you the way there really is no excuse to not take a look at how your community can build inclusion programs too.

By Lisa ‘Mati’ Arya, Shutaf parent