When I was 11, my life radically changed within a month. I went into the hospital as an adventurous kid, but I left as a grown up. From then on, restrictions and limitations ruled my life. They formed a fence I had to stand behind as I watched everyone else live a seemingly limitless life.
Then I met Sid Brannan, a coach at my school. He knew I couldn’t participate during athletics, but he found a creative way to make me feel like I was still part of the group. As my first year behind the fence of limitations came to an end, Coach Brannan said, “I’d really love to have you as my assistant coach this next year. Your perspective is valuable, and I’ll need your input.” Instead of excluding me from athletics because I couldn’t fill the role of an athlete, he included me by creating a role that was unique and purposeful.
As I’ve thought about how Coach Brannan kept me from feeling excluded, I’ve come up with a little advice for including someone with a disease/disability:
1. Create a role for the person based upon the person’s strengths. You may need to create a role that’s a little unconventional, such as group hairstylist, but you’ll make that person feel like their abilities are valuable. And spoiler alert: their abilities are valuable!
2. Hype up the person’s role in your friend group, team, family, etc. You have the power to make the person feel like an important part of your group.
3. If the person just needs the plans altered, then make accommodations. For example, shopping depletes my energy. My family has learned that if I rest and refuel as we shop, then I can still be included in the fun. We just have to make some accommodations for my health!