Monday, March 3, 2014

Special Needs and the Community

As a society, where have we come regarding individuals with special needs and where
do we still need to improve?

What have we experienced with Caleb? We have lived in the same city since the time
Caleb was 3 years old. We chose this city, not only because we liked it, but also for
the school district, which we felt could best meet Caleb's special needs. We have not
been disappointed. Up until this point, Caleb has received a great education and has
been able to be involved in our community.

Over the years we have become very familiar with the local establishments within our city. Caleb has accompanied us to restaurants, stores, and the library hundreds of times. The workers at these establishments have seen Caleb grow from a little boy with autism who was attached to a ventilator to a tall and lanky teenager. They have observed us on successful trips and trips that have entailed a few meltdowns. In this regard, they have seen the same successes and failures with all of our children.

As Caleb is now nearing adulthood, our thoughts are turning to post secondary
work. Granted, we are still a few years away from the infamous age of 22, but I have
decided that if Caleb is to have a job working in the community when he leaves high-
school, we should begin now, by starting with volunteer opportunities. With this in
mind, I have begun to be more observant of the workers at the local establishments
that we frequently visit. I have been saddened to see that I am finding no adults with
special needs working at these businesses. How can this be? Our city is filled with
individuals who have disabilities. Our city boasts a wonderful school that meets these
children's needs and a great center for adults with developmental disabilities. Where
has the breakdown occurred?

When I was a child, all kids with disabilities were placed in a classroom for "retarded
kids". Because our schools today have progressed so far, I find that Caleb has been
able to be educated with typically developing children. In turn, we have a whole
generation of children who are being raised comfortable with others who are different
than themselves. When we are at the park or out in society, kids from Caleb's high-
school will say hello to him. They don't need to; they could choose to walk on by and
I wouldn't be the wiser because I don't know who attends school with Caleb. But they
see value in Caleb and therefore engage with him. I believe when these youngsters
are grown and become business owners, they will find a place to include adults with
disabilities. But what about my generation of adults?

I believe that my generation is learning to accept people with differences, but I am not
quite sure if we are able to embrace them and include them in our society. We have
updated our buildings to make them handicap accessible because we are required to
by law, and we are friendly to individuals who enter our establishments who have a
disability, but are we willing to go out of our way to make a way for these individuals
to participate in our cities?

As I begin to search for volunteer opportunities for Caleb, I am finding my options
are limited or nonexistent. Caleb is capable of more than shredding paper or rolling
silverware. We are beginning to find that kids with autism are capable of so much
more than we once thought. But for them to be able to reach their full potential, we
are going to need to come together as a community and create opportunities for these
special individuals.

As families, I believe that we need to have our children out in the community from
the time they are little. Is it a challenge to take a child with autism into the store or
restaurant? Most certainly. But it is our privilege as parents to share our children
with society and to help society become comfortable with our children.

As businesses, we need to open our doors to individuals with disabilities. Not only as
patrons but also as employees. Will this be a challenge? Of course. Will this stretch us
as business owners? Most certainly. But will we be better in the long run? I believe

As a society, I believe that our individuals with special needs have a lesson to teach
us all. They stretch us beyond ourselves and our own selfish motives. They have the
ability to make our society a place of love and acceptance where all individuals are
valued, not for what they can add to our pocketbooks but for their intrinsic worth as
human beings. I envision a society where all individuals are part of the daily workings
of the city. Will this occur in time for Caleb to have a place in it, or will we have to
wait until our children grow up and become the owners of the local establishments?
I hope that our local city will work with the school and the Center for Individuals
with Disabilities and will begin to create opportunities for this unique population of
individuals to become part of our community. For in doing so, we will certainly be a
model city that will be an example and challenge to the rest of the world.

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