By Olivia Musselman
What if I told you that you could make a positive impact on an entire population just by making two changes? What if I said these changes could make someone feel like they belonged and were accepted into society? That these changes would make a family, who felt alone, begin to feel part of the world around them. Would you do it?
I work at a school in Northern Virginia that educates children with severe disabilities. I am lucky enough to go into work each day and see amazing events unfold. Students who cannot talk are learning to speak with iPads, kids with behavior problems are learning to keep their hands and feet to themselves, and teachers who have a passion for making this population successful are finding creative ways to educate.
In the school setting we are in a bubble. It is normal for students to have breakdowns in the hallway, because transferring to the next activity is too hard. You are not judged if your child comes out of the bathroom with their pants around their ankles, because he forgot to read step number five on his bathroom checklist. If you get bit or hit you are offered an icepack, not questioned why you cannot control your student. This is not how the real world works. That is where I need your help.
Everyday there are more and more opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities once they leave the school system. They are getting jobs, living in group homes, and building friendships. The jump from the safety of the classroom to the real world is a big one. So here is your first change. Treat these people like they deserve to be treated. If an individual with a disability is taking too long to order a drink give them time, then offer a suggestion of something you enjoy. This could be their first time going to Starbucks by themselves. If you are huffing and puffing, because they are not ordering fast enough, you could really impact the way they view going out alone.
The second is be an advocate! The word “retarded” needs to be eliminated from everyone’s vocabulary. Mental Retardation is no longer a medical diagnosis, so there should be no reason to use the term. A lot of this population does not have the ability to stand up and educate the people who are using this word, or they are too scared. I want us to be the voice of those people.
This might not be on the top of your priority list, but change that. It is not hard, but does take some conscious effort. That effort could make someone with an intellectual disability start to feel like they belong.