Encouraging accepting and inclusive environments

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Recently the themes of acceptance and bullying have been coming up again and again.  It’s a popular topic in the media and that’s because many people can personally relate.  The feelings of empathy are prevalent for those who are victims of bullying and for those who are not accepted for who they are.  As a kid, or maybe as a human being, everyone mostly just wants to fit in without drawing attention to their differences, but in some circumstances, including for those who have a long-term diagnosis of muscular dystrophy, the differences can be hard to hide.  But more importantly, differences aren’t meant to be hidden.

Some of the most basic lessons we are taught at a young age –being kind and respectful—get left behind at some point.  One of Muscular Dystrophy Canada’s programs, HOP for Muscular Dystrophy, aims to teach nursery school and kindergarten students the importance of acceptance.  The HOP for Muscular Dystrophy program infuses an educational component that goes beyond the fun hopping activity complete with bunny ears and crafts to promote compassionate and inclusive school communities, where people of all physical abilities are accepted for who they are.

Sometimes these lessons are forgotten, and by pre-teen age they can become huge issues.  An MDC staffer shared this article about the difficultly one boy with a disability had making friends as he got older; once some pre-teens start to register differences more acutely then they draw away rather than put the bit of extra effort that could result in a rich and rewarding friendship for both parties.

Sometimes it’s worse; bullying is an incredibly timely and widespread issue.  An American film called BULLY, which opens at the end of this month, chronicles the lives of individuals and families closely affected by bullying by attaching their stories to the statistic that in America over 13 million children will be bullied this year. A 2007 self report survey among Toronto youth indicates that 16% of youths in grades 7 to 9 had been bullied on more than 12 occasions during the year prior to the survey.  A 2007 review of international literature by Canadian authors finds kids with physical and developmental disabilities are at greater risk of being bullied.  Use this resource when you are navigating bullying and the child with special needs.

In September 2011, Mitchell Wilson took a tragic and drastic measure, and he took his own life.  Mitchell had muscular dystrophy and had been a victim of bullying.  Students from his school region, the Pickering Family of Schools, chose to honour and remember Mitchell by rallying together to effect change and stand up against bullying.  The i AM WHO i AM campaign raised almost $20,000 in three months for Muscular Dystrophy Canada, and their message was loud and clear—acceptance and inclusiveness for everyone.

Acceptance is something that everyone seeks and should receive. I am who I am, you are who you are, and that should be okay.

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