“Normal… Is a Dryer Setting”

My most recent hobby has been binge-watching TED talks. I could sit for hours and watch talk after talk. For those of you who have not seen many TED talks, I suggest you start. They are short (fifteen minutes or so) videos of people sharing their passions, and they are really inspiring! I’ve learned so much, and I’m excited to continue learning! In fact, KIT’s CEO, Torrie Dunlap, was recently invited to present a TED talk of her own. Once that’s released, we’ll be sure to share it here!

Last week, I came across a TED talk titled “Normal… is a Dryer Setting,” and I have been so eager to share it with you. Debra Jenkins, the presenter, is the director of a dance program for children with special needs in Huntsville, Alabama. Although her version of inclusion is not exactly what we typically do at KIT, inclusion in her own life is what has driven her work. I was so moved by her experience that I wanted each of you to hear it (well, read about it), too!

Debra started her program out of a performing arts center called Merrimack Hall. She says she felt a “tap on her shoulder” when she saw a news story about a physical therapist using dance to help students with disabilities. She wanted to do the same thing at her studio, but people told her she was not qualified because she did not work with, or even know, any children with special needs. After seven years of building her program, she now reflects on a conversation she had with one of the dancers in her class: “’Everybody has special needs. And we all have two special needs in common.’ She said, ‘We all have the special need to be loved, and we all have the special need to be accepted.’” This young girl’s revelation really stuck with me. It’s true, and it’s why inclusion can be so effective. It is not just children with disabilities who have a need to be loved and accepted; that desire is in each and every one of us. Since inclusive programs tend to be less competitive and instead celebrate differences and unique talents, inclusion helps all of us feel like we are accepted.

Debra later explains that not only do we all have the needs to be loved and accepted in common, but we all have individual special needs as well. Even though some of us may have needs that are not as easily seen as others’ special needs, we all have our own challenges. “Our special needs are going to manifest themselves in different ways in each one of us…You make no mistake. If you’re a human, you have special needs.” Debra tells us that even though we don’t all have a visibly recognizable disability, we all have difficulties. We all face obstacles. We all have needs, and that’s okay.

The end of Debra’s TED talk is a discussion of what normal really is:

The hundreds of people with special needs who come to Merrimack Hall every week are routinely marginalized and left out because our society says that they’re not normal. Well, you tell me—who is normal? What is normal? These are the people who have shown me that we are all more alike than we are different, and that there’s absolutely no such thing as normal. There’s only one place in this whole world you’re going to find normal, and that’s in your laundry room on the dials of your dryer, because normal… it’s a dryer setting.

My favorite part of inclusion is that it redefines normal. In fact, it throws the word normal out the window. Instead of expecting everyone to fit into one mold, inclusion builds our ability to recognize and celebrate each other’s differences, teaching kids to devalue “normal” and instead seek out diversity. As you work on expanding your inclusive experiences, programs, or knowledge of differences, keep this in mind. Normal is not what we strive for. Diversity, learning from each other’s differences, true inclusion… these are our true end goals.

–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor

Check out Debra’s TED Talk here! We will be featuring Debra herself in a few weeks on our blog. Keep your eye out for her original post on Merrimack Hall’s version of inclusion.

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

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