When you hear the term inclusion, certain thoughts will probably come to your mind. These thoughts form your concept or understanding about what inclusion looks like. Whether your concept contains a positive or negative cogitation speaks to your own experiences. This proves especially true when discussing inclusive education.

Personally I did not fully appreciate the inclusion debate’s ramifications until I started writing a lot about disabilities. That might come across as surprising considering my cerebral palsy (CP). However, since my CP proves so mild there existed less barriers to including me within the general education classrooms. Subsequently I ended up taking an inclusive environment for granted.

Still I required special education services. Throughout elementary school I received pull-out services to obtain speech therapy and physical therapy. Meanwhile the school’s occupational therapist came into the general ed classroom in order to work with me.

Once I began attending a school with multiple floors I received elevator access. Additionally upon entering junior high my IEP incorporated physical education accommodations. My accommodation list grew as a high school freshman due to surgery recovery.

Again though, nothing jeopardized my place inside general education classrooms. Yet I bring up my accommodations because they affected me. Rather than an inclusion issue I experienced a confidence issue.

Oh how I desired to blend in with everyone else, to feel “normal”! Anything which worked against my desire, as my accommodations did, caused self-consciousness. Consequently that led to shyness and timid behavior. Perhaps I should provide an example.

Back in elementary school I remember the school physical therapist coming to the classroom to get me. As I packed up my desk and moved to the door my classmate asked “Is that your Grandma?” to which I briskly replied with a stern no. Needing physical therapy made me feel weaker than my “normal” peers so I responded with such a tone to avoid giving any explanation.

Now you may wonder why I keep putting “normal” in quotations. Simply put, these days I see “normal” as a myth. Everyone possesses differentiating characteristics making each person a unique individual and invalidating the “normal” idea. Accepting said premise could revolutionize how to view inclusion.

Insight from Think Inclusive founder Tim Villegas’ post “What Does Full Inclusion Really Mean?” comes to my mind. “Full and authentic inclusion has more to do with complete membership in a community rather than time spent in general education… Membership is about belonging, having full access, being accepted, being supported and having an environment in which every student can learn the best.”

Placing that thought into context with my own education journey, “being accepted” stands out as a key point. Classmates accepted me since I didn’t experience bullying. Teachers accepted me daresay the majority enjoyed my classroom presence. Nonetheless I didn’t accept me because I fixated too much on my differences and not fitting into what I perceived the “normal” boy image.

Curiosity leaves me wondering how inclusion may look if schools established a culture which celebrates differences. For instance, I envision a class assignment where each student identifies something which makes him or her unique and share how that uniqueness provides benefits. Drawing to a close I ask if you hold a position where you can help create a culture celebrating differences, you contemplate doing so.

*Anyone interested in an in-depth take on my journey to self-acceptance should checkout my memoir Off Balanced, available on the Kindle and Nook.