Brady Murray
April 22, 2024

5 Reasons Why Including Children With Autism is a Great Idea

Today, we're sharing insights from a recent episode from the Conquering Your Clownfish podcast featuring the inspiring Kaley Stymeist. Kaley is a mother to three boys, including twins, and her youngest son, Hudson, who has non-speaking autism. She resides in St. George, Utah, and works as a registered behavior technician. Most importantly, Kaley is a passionate advocate for inclusion and a champion for the autism community. Through her popular Instagram account @Kaley_and_3, she has inspired countless people with her family's story and her efforts to create a more accepting world for her son, Hudson, and other children with autism. 

In the episode, Kaley shares a powerful anecdote about taking Hudson to a school dance and realizing he was the only child there from his special education class. While she understood why this made her sad, Kaley emphasizes how important it is for kids with autism to be included in these types of events and activities, even though it can be challenging. Her experience illustrates some of the key reasons why including children with autism is so beneficial. Let's dive into 5 of those reasons now.


1. Inclusion Benefits Both the Child With Autism and Their Peers 


One of Kaley's main points is that inclusion is a "two-way street" that is just as important for a child with autism as it is for the neurotypical kids around them. When Hudson attended the school dance, not only did he get to enjoy the music and dancing, but his classmates and peers got to see him participating and enjoying himself in that context, too. 

This visibility helps break down barriers, challenge assumptions, and fosters greater understanding and acceptance. Kids learn that their classmates with autism aren't really that different from them - they're kids who like to have fun, too! These shared experiences lay the groundwork for building more meaningful connections and friendships.


2. Focus on Making the Effort, Not the Outcome


Kaley acknowledges that including a child with autism in activities often takes a lot of effort from the parents. There can be sensory challenges, behavioral issues, logistical hurdles, and more. It's easy to just want to stay home and not deal with the hassle and potential stress. 

However, she encourages parents to reframe how they view success in these situations. It's not about having the "perfect" outing where everything goes smoothly. It's about making the effort, showing up, and giving your child opportunities to engage with the world and other people. Some days, it might work out great. Other times, you might have to leave early - and that's okay. The key is to keep trying. Kaley viewed taking Hudson to the dance as a success regardless of how he reacted because they put in the effort. That's what matters most.


3. Inclusion Supports the Development of Critical Skills


Consistently including kids with autism in everyday activities, even when it's hard, serves as a powerful form of positive reinforcement and supports crucial skills development. Kaley describes how the more she has brought Hudson to events, the more he has learned to adapt and gained coping skills for dealing with the sensory elements and other challenges. Things like waiting in line, taking turns, transitioning between activities, and regulating reactions and behaviors are skills that take a lot of time and practice to develop. 

While it may be easier to avoid situations that will be overstimulating or triggering, it can prevent kids from learning to handle those environments. Inclusion is a way to meet kids where they're at and slowly nurture progress through exposure and repetition. With support and accommodations, they can build confidence in engaging in the world around them.


4. Inclusion Breaks Down Stigma and Stereotypes


When kids with autism are regularly included, it helps normalize autism and other disabilities. Rather than being seen as something strange, scary, or shameful, neurodiversity becomes simply another facet of the beautiful diversity in our communities and classrooms. People begin to understand autism as a different way of thinking and perceiving, not a defect or flaw. This is so important for reducing stigma. 

Kaley talks about how she makes a constant effort to see and treat Hudson like any other kid his age. She doesn't want people to infantilize him or pity him for being autistic. Instead, she wants the world to embrace his unique strengths, challenges, personality, and humanity - just like they would for a neurotypical child. By including Hudson alongside his peers, she's modeling that autism doesn't make him less than. He deserves to take up space, be seen, and be treated with full dignity like everyone else.


5. The Benefits Ripple Outwards 


The positive impact of inclusion extends far beyond the single child with autism and the specific setting or activity. Kaley describes how Hudson's brothers have become his fiercest advocates and are fostering a culture of acceptance and inclusion among their own friends and community. By growing up with Hudson and being encouraged by their parents to embrace him, the twins have developed a keen understanding of autism, a compassion for difference, and the language to educate others. They're influencing their peer group and planting seeds for a more inclusive generation. Their friends now come over and engage with Hudson like any other kid. Those kids will carry that perspective forward.

Additionally, every time a family pushes to include their child with autism - whether it's in a classroom, an extracurricular activity, a community event, or even just the neighborhood playground - they are challenging the status quo and expanding people's understanding of disability. Little by little, this is how cultures shift. As inclusion is normalized and more people see it in action, it won't seem like such a big deal anymore. 

Kaley's hope is that one day, it will be commonplace to see kids with autism and other disabilities participating in all facets of life alongside their neurotypical peers. The more families who include their kids now, the faster we move towards that reality. 


Building an Inclusive World


It's easy to understand the urge to protect our kids with autism by keeping them away from situations that may be challenging or potentially lead to sensory overload, negative responses from others, and tough experiences. But Kaley's story illustrates why leaning into inclusion is so important and worthwhile, even when it's hard. Inclusion benefits our kids' development and makes the world a little bit better.

So, to all the autism parents out there - keep pushing for inclusion, even when it seems daunting. Know that your efforts have a profound ripple effect. And to everyone else - be the change you wish to see. Look for opportunities to include, support, and uplift those who are different. Educate yourself and others. Normalize autism and other disabilities. Choose to be inclusive and accepting in big and small ways. Together, we can make the world a place where everyone is included, valued, and able to thrive as their whole authentic selves.
 

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