Kelsey McCreight, LCSW, the Director at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Outpatient Services in Lancaster shares her thoughts on Community Inclusion.
Who I am and what I do
I started in the behavioral health field as a Family Based therapist with WellSpan Philhaven. It was in this work that my passion and dedication to family and system wellness really took root. I believe that individuals can always be better versions of themselves and that they need a supportive network around them, the family as an institution and the community as a larger system. Fast forward a few years and I now have the express pleasure of serving individuals and their families at the WellSpan Philhaven Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD). Merging the experience I have in supporting families and systems with an understanding of and passion for the developmental disability population has been so rewarding. I truly find it an honor to be a part of the journey for a family, from diagnosis to treatment to wellness.
Why Community Inclusion is important to me and how it benefits me and the families I work with
When I think of community inclusion, I think most about how individuals can feel wanted and accepted into their surrounding environments. We thrive when people around us get us and want us to be involved. Individuals with a disability and their families often feel quite isolated at first and traditional community events can be more stressful than fun. A family that begins to feel connected, begins to feel confidence that they can manage problematic behaviors or that an event won’t create any problems expands their support network. They begin to see possibilities as opposed to limitations and barriers… this is paramount to their wellness.
Some of the challenges I see for practicing meaningful Community Inclusion
It sounds cliché but a lack of understanding, knowledge of how to interact with an individual with a disability and their family are the biggest challenges. I believe most people want to interact, to engage and be inviting but aren’t sure how and thus don’t. It can make them seem standoffish or rude when really, it’s not their heart to appear that way. They may think they need special training or some specific skill set to interact when really they just need to be themselves and be curious, take a chance. The world is a big place, giving everyone a crash course on disability is a large task!
How I support families to work towards practicing Community Inclusion
So this is where the rubber meets the road so to speak. We cannot have successful community inclusion without brave and confident families getting out there! What a huge ask it is, that is not lost on me. Think about a time when you tried something really hard and it didn’t go well… would you try that again? Likely no, or at least not right away. Understanding the pain, judgement and embarrassment some families feel with failed attempts in the community is important to getting them back on their feet. Everyone moves at a different pace, being patient and encouraging is key. Finding opportunities that will have high likelihood of being successful are also important!
Some of the first steps I think families should consider when starting to engage in meaningful community inclusion
Ask yourself, “How scared am I?” If it’s about a 7 or above on a scale of 1-10, this particular activity in the community might be too big for right now. That phrase right now is something I use a lot. Right now, it might be terrifying to envision going to a community event without professional supports, but maybe not in the future. Take small steps and build a comfort zone outside of your house. Gradually expand that comfort zone (increase time at an event, decrease supports that attend with you, etc.). Talk to community members you see during these outings, let them know who you are and who your family members are.
How I help families address some of the concerns/fears/hesitation they may have regarding Community Inclusion
Acknowledge that those concerns/fears and hesitations are all real, right now. But they can be tackled and they can dissipate (remember right now?!). We talk openly about them, develop plans to mitigate situations, try to predict and determine the right time to stop an outing right before it gets to be an outburst so it remains a successful experience. Process how an attempt went, what worked or didn’t, what can we learn? We do NOT dwell on failures but CELEBRATE all the wins, no matter how small!
What I want families to know and how they can prepare to start practicing Community Inclusion
Get a cheerleader… someone who has got your back and is in your corner. Someone who can coach you through the preparation and planning. Someone who will help you determine the best possible situation for success and remember, start small for right now.
What message I have for professionals, businesses, community partners and families to work towards promoting and supporting an inclusive environment
We are all humans. While we may look, talk, behave differently fundamentally we’re still the same. Be kind, be curious, be welcoming and see value in each and everyone of us. Do these things everywhere you go.