Pepe’s picture stares out from the yearbook with the look of support and care that she normally would provide every single day. Nestled among the rows of pictures of students in each class, her big brown eyes speak to her dedication and to her unconditional loyalty. As an Autism Support Dog, Pepe provides daily support in her school community and to one child in particular. Pepe’s picture in the yearbook is not just another image, it is a sign to her family that she is part of something bigger. The inclusion of Pepe’s image in the yearbook is not just a nice touch, it’s a sign that children with disabilities belong in our schools. To all of us, the image is a reminder of the importance of small touches. If inclusion is alive and well, then you see not only overt big things, but little touches that demonstrate our ongoing attention and care.
I do not intend through this blog to underrepresent the challenges that are faced to make inclusion a reality where every single child gets what they need, want and deserve. However, I was so touched by the image of Pepe, that I reached out to the family and asked if I could write about the small things that matter. They welcomed and encouraged the blog and mentioned these threads:
To our daughter, inclusion IS about the little things. Our daughter will not be on sports teams, honour or school clubs. She doesn’t understand the intricacies of how to be “liked.” She is non-verbal and quiet. I try to create an environment where she will know that she is important and will be loved. I want her to hear her name and have places to go at school where she knows she belongs.
To the parents, the inclusion of Pepe was a huge sign. A sign that their daughter belongs and she belongs unconditionally. Their daughter is getting high fives in the hallway and kids are saying this is “so cool.” In response, since she is non-verbal, a warm smile flashes in return and likely this means “friend for life” in ways that only a mother can tell.
I was touched by the image not because of the image, but because of the story and its inception which was that this simply happened. An individual took the time to “just do it.” Why? Likely because it makes perfect sense. After all, it seems like such a little thing. Little yes, but after all, sometimes little things are big. The yearbook reminds us, of course, of Margaret Mead’s quote:
Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For that’s all who ever have.
We must never cease to fight for the rights and beliefs that surround inclusion. We have mountains to climb and we can never cease our advocacy and to strengthen the foundation on which we stand. We have come so far, and yet the journey is far from over. Lao Tzu reminded us that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Let’s hope that we all are taking the steps needed to continue that journey. The cost of an inclusive mindset? Well that’s free. A journey that starts with a gesture and ends with a warm smile that simply means “friend for life.” Well that, as we know, is priceless.