The meaning of inclusion is something that keeps coming up, both in my own journey with my son Arthur, and in my work with clients and schools. I think there is a perception that inclusion is simply involving someone in what we are doing. However, being involved is not the same as truly participating and benefiting from equal opportunities to achieve. A report by the National Inclusion Project wrote that “inclusion is not simply about physical proximity. It is about intentionally planning for the success of all students” and I couldn’t agree more!
An example that comes up all the time for the families I work with is PE sessions in schools. How many of our children have PE sessions that are used for physio instead of what the curriculum has planned? Rather than being included in PE sessions, how many of our children go and have physio with a 1:1 rather than join in with the class? There is a perception that physio should be included as part of the PE programme, but here is the thing! Stretching is beneficial to all children regardless of their needs, and it really should be a part of all warm-up and cool-down processes so why can’t it be incorporated into the PE lesson? Isn’t there a way that we can adapt these activities to make them truly inclusive?
Sometimes an attempt is made at inclusion and children are asked to referee or take the score in order to participate in the game. That is not inclusion. Being truly inclusive means creating opportunities for everybody in a group to be able to participate at the same level as everyone else. For everyone in that group to have the same opportunities to succeed at that activity. It also enables children to recognise their own abilities, increase their confidence, and improve their perception of experiences. Inclusion at school can also have a positive impact on families and home life; feeling more confident and able can improve behaviour and communication at home.
Of course, inclusion isn’t just something that should be considered in schools, it is equally important to foster an inclusive environment in workplaces, public spaces and all other areas of life. Being able to participate fully in activities can massively improve a person’s sense of self worth and belonging. For inclusion to happen in all settings the people around you have to embrace the diversity of needs that we all have, emotionally, physically and psychologically. There is a lack of acceptance and awareness of our differences that can cause people to make a snap judgement of a situation and not consider how they could work towards a solution. Social inclusion is so strongly linked with wellbeing that we must try to change this lack of understanding in order to give everyone the supportive environment they need to grow.
As true inclusion starts with education, it is natural that driving this change in school is a great place to begin. When advocating for your child in their education setting, I always advise including the following in EHCP reports:
When we educate ourselves and our children about diversity we increase our tolerance and acceptance of one another, and also of our own needs. If everyone did this we would create an environment where inclusion was inherent, we would automatically consider what everyone needs to thrive. No one should be made to sit on the side-lines, whether in their PE lesson or life. It is my hope that the lessons we have learnt from the pandemic will allow us to forge a much more inclusive future for everyone.
If you want to hear more of my thoughts on inclusion then head over to my free Facebook group The Parent Platform, where I recently went live to discuss this with the group. I also offer a membership platform, The Therapy Toolkit Hub™, which is designed to arm you with knowledge, a supportive parent community and a host of information from a highly specialist children’s physiotherapist. I would love to see you in there!