Here, everyone wins.
The word "inclusion" gets thrown around a lot these days, but it's not always clear what that looks like. People with disabilities and different abilities are everywhere—what does it mean for everyone to be "included"?
A video shared by the mom of a severely intellectually disabled teen offers a perfect example of what it can look like—and people are loving it.
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Carissa Brealey Bonacci of New Mexico shared a video on Facebook of her sons, Aidan and Isaac, performing with the Oñate High School marching band. She wrote:
My middle son, Isaac, is severely intellectually disabled and rarely gets to participate in the same activities as his siblings. When Isaac started high school this year, my older son, Aidan, convinced me to let Isaac join the marching band. Isaac cannot play an instrument and needs constant supervision, so I was extremely skeptical. But marching band is Aidan's family-away-from-home, and I was touched at how much he wanted to share that with his little brother. I caved, and I've been blindly sending the two of them off to band camp and rehearsals for the last six weeks. I figured Isaac was helping set up equipment or run water bottles, and he came home every day very happy and chatty. What more could I want?
Last night the boys had their first marching performance of the season. Isaac did not set up equipment or run water bottles. He PLAYED. He played percussion just like his big brother. He stood front and center in the percussion pit and totally jammed on a drum pad. The pad muted his playing, which was pretty off-beat and completely out of sync with the rest of the band, but he had the time of his life. I bawled.
The band director has thanked me for allowing Isaac to be part of the band, and Aidan has told me many times how much everyone loves having Isaac there, but I don't think I really got it until last night. I'm so used to Isaac being treated like a burden (with varying degrees of patience and tolerance), even by relatives. Seeing him be so thoroughly appreciated for who he is (and not judged for what he isn't) is something I never expected outside our family. I just had to share. I couldn't be prouder of both my boys.
The fact that Isaac's big brother advocated for him to join the marching band is touching. The fact that the band director not only welcomed Isaac in, but thanked his mother for allowing him to be part of the band is wonderful. And the fact that Isaac got to be an active participant in the band's performance and not just a helper on the sideline is what inclusivity really looks like.
Inclusion means making accommodations that allow a person to participate in an activity in a way that works for everyone. Often that means getting creative. Sometimes it means thinking outside the box. But it always means putting compassion and empathy ahead of rigid rules or traditions.
When inclusion is done well, everyone wins. In this story, Isaac is happy. The band is happy. The band director is happy. Isaac's family is happy.
And frankly, anyone who is not happy watching this video needs to have their grinchy ol' heart examined. This is humanity at its best. Well done, Oñate High.