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Let the Disabled Community Define Inclusion

I recently saw a social media post supporting inclusion where an autistic woman commented with a warning about being “too inclusive.” What she was referring to was forceful inclusion, and gave the example of her mother removing her bedroom door at her therapist’s suggestion to improve socialization. This sounds like abuse, and the opposite of inclusion, but it’s worth mentioning because it raises the important questions of what is inclusion and who defines it?

Inclusion has been a hot topic in education for years, and more recently in the work environment. The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network sponsors an Autism Campus Inclusion Leadership Academy to help autistic students learn to make their college campuses better for people with disabilities. But are our NT/able-bodied-dominant schools, businesses, recreational centers, and other public spaces looking to the disabled community for help transforming and adapting to meet their needs? If so, what ways can they improve and expand their reach to create regular, ongoing partnerships rather than relying on a token temporary consult? Are their understandings of the desires of the disabled community even accurate?

Autistic writer, speaker, and consultant Judy Endow portrays an example of the potential issues an autistic might have with an entirely NT-based educational inclusion paradigm in her article Inclusion–How It Works Best For This Autistic. It was originally published on her website and is reprinted here with her permission.

Inclusion–How It Works Best For This Autistic

As an autistic, I sometimes feel boxed in by the best practice strategy of inclusion. Please don’t get me wrong – inclusive education is a very good thing! Historically, people with disabilities were not given access to public education. Then, over time, laws changed. Today we have special ed classrooms in our schools and the progressive schools practice inclusion.

Today’s Inclusive Education
Inclusion means that all the students get to learn in the general ed environment. Instruction is differentiated while physical, sensory, emotional and every other need of each student is taken into consideration so that all students learn together, each one doing and being his very best self. Inclusion allows each student to belong to the community of his peers.

My Personal Take on Inclusion
I love the idea of inclusion. It is right and good. It is very important. AND sometimes this setup doesn’t work well for me. I am not able to access my thoughts and words in real time. Even a quiet environment, with several people in the same room does not necessarily allow me access to those people or even to my own thoughts. Sometimes this sort of situation can propel me into shutdown or meltdown.

In fact, now that I have access to the typical world and experience an inclusive adult life in my community I am discovering that I don’t always want to participate in the typical world. If inclusion is good and right then why is this?

A Breadth of Inclusive Experience
As I ponder this question for myself as an autistic, I realize that the world is run according to the majority. This means a neurotypical (NT) brain is what is behind the conventional constructs of our society. Inclusion looks the way inclusion works for the NT majority. Inclusive opportunities and indeed, all of inclusive education and life, happens via NT style. It is what we have. It works for NTs and it even works for me some of the time. It allows a breadth to inclusive experiences.

A Depth of Inclusive Experience
But at other times I need to honor my autistic neurology. While I love being part of the everyday fabric of life in my community, I also need to spend time living my life with other autistics. This is where I find the depth of inclusion my heart and soul searched for my whole life. It feels like home to me. It is the place where I do not need to inhibit my natural noises, flaps and extraneous movements and moans. I do not need to be mindful of the hundreds of social rules of NT society. I am free to be my true self. My autistic friends do not judge my intelligence, my potential contribution or my human worth by my unconventional mannerisms. I belong, just as I am in my natural state, accepted and loved for my whole self – not just for my NT look-alike self.

The Breadth, the Depth and the Importance of Choice
And still, for me it is quite important to know how to get along in the world at large. I love the freedom of being able to walk in and out of any place in my community and fit in so as to appear to belong. I love being able to take my place in the world at large. I am grateful to have this choice because it hasn’t always been this way in our world.

Additionally, a different and just as valid inclusion comes from the community of my autistic friends where all of me – including autistic traits and mannerisms – are understood and cherished. This is the place where I have the most fluid access to the best of my being, likely because I do not have to inhibit my natural autistic self. To me this is a treasured wonder.

From A History of Marginalization
At the end of the day, I ponder the inclusion situation through history. Being “othered” most of my life in “special” settings never felt like inclusion to me. It felt like being shoved to out of the way places of “less than.” Then later, given only the opportunity for inclusion only NT style I was left wanting and longing for something I did not understand. It wasn’t until I had both that I felt I was no longer an alien, but truly belonged in this world.

To a Future of Comprehensive Inclusion
I believe we may come to discover in the future that to thrive and to be all that we can be, we autistics will need both the breadth of NT inclusion and the depth of autistic inclusion – two distinct and equally important styles of inclusion. As autistics, we also need to be empowered to choose how this mix best works for us in our given autistic bodies. My needs wax and wane over time, but it remains constant that to love and to be loved I need access to both inclusive environments and to be able to choose the mix that serves me best. This allows me to belong and to participate fully in the human race.

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