This was my wife’s first lesson for me and I’ll never forget it.
It was when Garrett was entering Kindergarten in a public school.
She said to me during our conversation about school:
“We all learn from our environment”
You can say it, because I did -
“No Sh@t Sherman”.
Ok, so it’s pretty common knowledge that humans learn from our environment. That environment, where and how we grow affect us greatly. But she got me - because her reply to my No Sh@t was:
“So, as always, inclusion is our standard and anything less is unacceptable”.
Inclusion has been our #1 rule since Garrett was in pre-school and would always continue to be to this day.
Most parents have heard this speech on inclusion in our schools.
But here’s the twist!!
Why don’t we look and push for opportunities for inclusion outside school?
My wife and I agreed inclusion is the #1 rule - to me that also meant in everything; including sport, little league and other typical activities that kids participate in.
Among the many values of kids playing youth sports is the opportunity to learn things like teamwork, communication and proper social skills. The years playing in the local basketball league gave Garrett the opportunity to learn and grow that only playing in organized youth activities can.
I’m sorry to say that, sometimes, we as parents of a child with special needs tend to protect our kids by having them only participate in activities designed for their “label”. It’s great to have those activities. They provide their own opportunity for growth. But participating in only those activities limits your child’s potential. It’s important to branch out early - because as your child becomes an adult there are fewer opportunities for those “special “activities.
Break some barriers.
Sign your kid up for the neighborhood little league or soccer or gymnastics, dance, Scouts or whatever it may be - but let them reap the rewards of participating in the typical youth activities, alongside their typical peers.
Believe me, there will be tough times and heartbreaks trying to accomplish this. I remember Garrett trying out for the High School basketball team. He thought he was a lock to make it. Wasn’t easy when he didn’t make it past the first cut. It broke mom and dad’s heart to see his heartbroken. But then again, my heart broke when my other two sons stopped playing organized sports as well. You have to go through the good and bad experiences in order to grow as a person.
We bring the rule of inclusion with us to our foundation. That’s why we have our Adaptive CrossFit at a regular CrossFit box during normal class hours. It’s the Inclusion and the opportunity to learn and grow in a positive environment along with the fitness that makes it such a special program.
Definition of anarchist
1 : a person who rebels against any authority, established order, or ruling power
2 : a person who believes in, advocates, or promotes anarchism or anarchy; especially : one who uses violent means to overthrow the established order
By Definition it's necessary to be an Anarchist if you are a parent of a child with special needs.
You have to be willing to buck the system!
There are so many times when our instinct is to rely on the system, or the specialist and follow blindly. There many more times that “the systems”: the school system, the legal system and society as a whole work against you as a special needs parent.
Let’s look at an example, does the 3 letters “IEP” give you chills!
The process by which we have to sit with the school system and develop and Individualized Education Plan.
I promise you if you haven’t been through this process it’s a battle every time, those that have been through it I think you know what I mean.
If you don’t go into that meeting with the mind set of an Anarchist then your child will lose. If you’re not willing to ignore the system and advocate for your child then you child will lose.
Why, because “school systems” have their normal pre-package state approved education plans already to go. Well kids whether they have special needs or not, are humans and no two humans are the same. So when you go into the at IEP meeting you need to have a plan for your child not necessarily what the system wants. I can go on and on about the IEP process.
The IEP example is an easy one - fighting the norms to get what your child needs.
We were lucky enough to learn this early in raising Garrett
let me share that experience with you.
It was 20 years ago when Garrett was 8. Our older son had been playing little league baseball and I was coaching for a few years. Our youngest turned 5 and of course T-Ball was on the agenda. Garrett was 8 at the time and wanted to start playing baseball just like his brothers. Me I couldn’t of been more excited that he wanted to play – but I never imagine what we would have to do to make this happen. I was already a coach an involved as member of the Optimist club - they knew Garrett - so I thought it wasn’t a big deal for him to play T –Ball. Oh boy was I wrong. See first they hit with the liability and does insurance cover it – Bureaucratic BS. Once we shot those excuses down it was time for a Board meeting. That board meeting would have made anybody crazy. The lack of knowledge from intelligent people is amazing. The what if’s people come up with just to exclude him from player for their own stupid reason. I made some new friends but also pissed a lot of people off. What nerve I had to fight for my son to have a normal child hold. I can share with you it was the single best thing we did as parents.
From the moment on I realized that I had to be an Anarchist to make sure my son had every opportunity my other sons would have. Sure the first time he ran the bases backwards we heard about it – the see why is he playing came pretty fast. But being a coach as I was we taught him the right way to play the game. By the end of that first season Garrett had fans cheering on and it was a great experience for the park.
It was an important early lesson - it’s ok to be an Anarchist Parent.
That sometimes you have to say NO to the “tired and true” methods of conventional wisdom and norms is something you have to do.
It was almost 15 years later that Garrett became his own Anarchist - as he sued in Federal Court for his right to fight in a sanctioned MMA Fight. That was worth it also - because now he legitimately calls himself “Champ”!
Don’t be afraid to be an Anarchist – fight for what you know is right for your child they are worth it!