A person with an IDD, or Individual Development Disability, is seen through the eyes of the public as “not normal.” Some challenges that people with IDDs face are slower cognitive development and difficulty communicating with other people. This puts the unbelievable men and women with an IDD (and their families) in a tough situation when participating in school and sports.

About 20 years ago, people with IDDs were placed in their own separate wings of schools away from the mainstream population. Their classrooms often had pads all over the walls for safety purposes, inspiring the horrendous name “the rubber room.” Luckily today we live in a world that recognizes the power of inclusion and how much it can positively affect someone’s life.

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I am a part of the Best Buddies organization at my high school. In Best Buddies, someone without an IDD is grouped with someone with an IDD for the sole purpose of developing a special bond. We do special events throughout the year, such as a Best Buddies Basketball Tournament. The integrated teams play basketball games against teams from other towns. We have so much fun and show the world that just because someone has an IDD doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy what they love to do. My buddy, Will, participated in this basketball tournament because he is a huge basketball fan. Watching him play the game he loves is a reason to smile … even more so when he scored! There were two minutes left in the last game of the day. Will caught the ball at the top of the key after a tremendous defensive stop at the other end. He let it fly. Swish! Will immediately spotted me, a colossal smile across his face. He waved, then raised both fists in the air in celebration.

I also participated in the TLC program at my middle school. Every day, I would leave my study hall and go to the TLC room to help students with developmental disabilities with their school work. Whether getting them through a tough math problem or studying for history class, I saw how much inclusion means to students with disabilities. I will never forget walking into that room and seeing everyone’s face light up with happiness. It was priceless and the joy immediately rubs off on you. Working together gave the students additional confidence and motivation. When they got a correct answer, you could see the student light up again, showing how much they loved to be included in schools.

Inclusion has many forms. It goes beyond playing basketball and studying together. Inclusion can simply mean sitting with a kid who is alone at his lunch table, too afraid to sit with everyone else because he is worried about getting made fun of or being told that he doesn’t belong. Asking that kid to come and sit with you can have a monumental impact.
Over the years, the concept of the “rubber room” has faded away. Treatment toward these astonishing men and women with IDDs has improved tremendously. With extremely crucial programs like Best Buddies and TLC, these special men and women are becoming more involved and are developing unbreakable bonds with others. As a result, we have learned how much inclusion changes lives. At the very least, it increases the number of smiles seen throughout a district and even the world. Who doesn’t want that?