Our son’s inclusionary experiences formed the highlights of his life; and Reena played a role in many of those activities. Joel had Aspergers Syndrome. Simply put, half his brain worked like a rocket scientist and the other half just didn’t seem to click. He was a charming nerd whose concrete thinking, perseveration, and inability to decipher social cues sabotaged his earnest efforts to make and keep friends.
His own and our efforts to include him in the community informed and defined our family for twenty five years, and Reena was one of our partners on that journey. They listened, understood and did all they could to support Joel via: Teen Scene, Mod Squad, Basketball, and eventually Reena’s Birthright Israel Shadow Program that provided a trained volunteer to be Joel’s “roommate” and travel partner on that once in a lifetime trip to Israel. He left for the trip not being sure he could do it, and he came home proud of his accomplishment and even more delighted with new friends who accepted him for who he was, admired him for what he did, and got together with him on an ongoing basis after everyone was back home.
We all flourish courtesy of healthy relationships with others. When people with developmental disabilities are not afforded opportunities to interact with others, they wither. When they are included in the community, they thrive and so do we.
The issue is that human beings have been hardwired to fear and avoid the unfamiliar. Throughout history, “the other” was viewed with fear and trepidation. It’s no wonder that even in today’s climate of political correctness, many of us remain uncomfortable in the presence of people whose abilities are different than our own. We don’t like to admit it, but our behaviors often suggest our unease. We excuse ourselves by thinking: “I just wouldn’t know what to say”…..”What if I make a mistake or do the wrong thing?”….”I might do more harm than good.” Certainly it is easier to look away and “count our blessings.”
Taking a leap towards someone who is different is one of the most important challenges we can take on. The fact this can appear difficult, is exactly what makes it so worthwhile. Each person who has taken on the challenge can testify to its positive effects.
Think about it and reach out to Reena to learn about ways you can make a difference to those who are different. Include yourself in Reena’s mission to help people with developmental disabilities live, work, and play in our community.
– Julie, Reena Family Member