“In a place like this, they usually think I am a bad parent.”
I heard these words thirteen years ago but they still haunt me. They were spoken by the parent of a child with autism at the orientation for the first Friend’s Discovery Camp, Creative Discovery Museum’s inclusive camp for children with autism. The parent was referring to the judgment people made about his child’s public behavior and said this was the reason his child had missed out on many childhood rites of passage. Some parents of children with autism choose to stay away from museums, amusement parks, grocery stores and even birthday parties because others judge them and their children.
Every year, I realize the value of including typically developing children in the Museum’s camp for children with autism. Research suggests that all students benefit from inclusive environments. When children with and without special needs are in inclusive settings they develop social skills, gain a comfort level with people who are different and learn to appreciate everyone’s unique gifts. These are values and skills that will follow children into adulthood.
Additionally, children with special needs thrive in settings that are less restrictive. The inclusion of typically developing peers in Friend’s Discovery Camp means we can offer activities that provide over-the-top fun for all children but might be off-limits for children with autism in other settings.
My hope is for all parents to find opportunities for their children to be a part of inclusive environments. Instead of judging parents by their children’s behavior, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we celebrated the similarities and differences of all children and offered all children an opportunity to be a part of those activities that promote positive values and make childhood magical?