By Erin Wilson
My fun-loving and active 14-year-old son, Jay, has severe autism. He has found benefit and great enjoyment through inclusion programs at school and in his extra-curricular activities.
Inclusion Helps Develop Lifelong Acceptance
We are fortunate that our school district has a great push-in “buddy program” which brings general education students and special education students together on a regular basis. It has been the catalyst of many successful encounters not only for Jay but also his peers, who have greatly benefited from their exposure to a person with severe autism who also has minimal speech. The exposure helps them to develop a lifelong acceptance of people who are differently-abled.
A Karate Instructor First Encouraged Us to Include Jay in Regular Classes
We work to keep Jay active. After several years of private lessons at a school of the American Taekwondo Association, his instructor urged us to place Jay in a mainstream class. We were resistant at first, afraid he might disrupt the class, bother the other students, or become a topic of complaints among parents in the waiting area. I was especially worried that he may get more attention than the other students, which could upset the other parents. Our instructor assured us that she would not allow those complaints in her school, and she paved the way by speaking with each parent and student about autism and our son. She went one step beyond that by appointing one of her teen students as Jay’s one-on-one for needed support.
Having Jay Learn with Typical Peers Has Improved His Behavior
Seven years later, Jay is still active and thriving in martial arts. He’s grown up with many of the families we once worried would complain about him–instead, they encourage us by noting his progress and successes. His behavior has improved when it comes to waiting in one place for class to start, raising his hand to get the instructor’s attention, and putting on his shoes independently. He has bonded with his peers and they truly seem to “get” him.
Educating Organizations About Inclusive Practices Is Important
All classes and programs offered through our city must include provisions for people with special needs and ensure accessibility to everyone. Jay has attended classes such as ice skating, trampoline, and day camp with the help of a one-on-one aide. The city’s Board Certified Behavior Analyst has been instrumental in providing strategies for Jay to be included. Under their guidance, he has participated in community outings to places such as museums, the circus, and amusement parks.
Jay Communicates with His Peers in Non-Typical Ways
One summer, Jay became fascinated by swimming behind people so he could “high-five” their feet. A group of girls regularly swam ahead so that he could high-five their feet along the way. They wanted him to follow them exclusively and would even act a bit possessive when he would follow other swimmers. They had found ways to interact non-verbally with him and were protective of his friendship!
Like Others on the Autism Spectrum, Jay Has Become Lost
Like others on the autism spectrum, Jay has eloped from what we thought were safe places. He’s become lost at school despite a one-to-two ratio (one adult to two children). He eloped during a well-manned field trip to an amusement park, despite the many aides and safeguards. And despite the growth inclusion has brought for him, in these unexpected situations, we cannot count on Jay to advocate for himself.
We Created Wearable QR Codes to Aid Jay If He Ever Is Lost Again
My husband Bruce and I set out to find a way to alert people of Jay’s condition should the need arise. We created wearable items with personal QR codes that link to a live web-based profile of vital information about the wearer. We also founded IfiNeedHelp.org, a non-profit organization with a purpose of getting these communication tools into the hands of individuals, organizations, and other groups that support the autism and wider disability community.
Our Patches Keep Thousands of Wearers Safe with Vital Information Seconds Away
Now, Jay and thousands of other wearers have patches and other “wearables” that instantly communicate critical facts, including a contact person and other emergency medical and behavioral information when scanned or manually entered into the site. We feel better knowing that Jay and other people on the autism spectrum can attend inclusion programs and other opportunities with a greater sense of well-being, thanks to an assurance of clear communication for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
Photo Credit: Erin and Bruce Wilson
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