INCLUSION (in·clu·sion): The action or state of including or being included within a group or structure. -The Oxford Dictionary
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What is Project Unify?
What are Unified Sports?
What are Unified Clubs?
What are Unified Friendships?
Score A Friend is a 2012 Program, developed by Sarah, a 13 year-old girl in pursuit of her Girl Scout Gold Award. Sarah’s twin brother has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and beginning in middle school, experienced a lack of inclusion in school clubs and sports, as well as an overall lack of friendships.
I have grown up in a family of 5, including my twin brother, Jacob. As twins, Jacob and I grew up doing everything together. When we were little we had joint friends, parties, activities, and sports. As we got older, we split up more and more as I got busier and busier with friends and activities. Jacob, however, got less and less busy and had fewer and fewer friends. It wasn’t until 4th grade when I realized Jacob actually had no friends at all. We were planning our birthdays and I realized he had no one to invite to his party.
It wasn’t because friendship wasn’t something Jacob didn’t want or pursue. And it wasn’t because he didn’t try many sports and activities. It was because he has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and the opportunities for friendship were few. As we entered middle school, things became even worse for Jacob. I joined many school clubs and participated in intramurals. I ate lunch with groups of friends, while Jacob often had no one to sit with, until he had to sit at the “kids with disabilities table”. Jacob could not join any school sports or clubs and be successful at them. Our school did not offer Unified Sports and I had no idea, at the time that they even existed. I learned later on that Special Olympics Unified Sports is an inclusive program, which combines individuals with intellectual disabilities (athletes) and individuals without intellectual disabilities (partners) on sports teams for trainings and competition. Athletes and partners compete alongside one another, each in a meaningful and integral role on the Unified Sports team.
Jacob often left school early on days there were school events because there wasn’t staff available to support him and he didn’t want my parents to have to come. I remember the many after school dances and events that I was so excited to attend, but Jacob had to go home instead.
In 7th grade I begged for an iPod Touch and always had friends at my fingertips. Jacob didn’t have the skills to track a cell phone or to communicate through one at the time. My parents tried to help with friends, but the school was not allowed to give out any contact information for the kids in Jacob’s class. Jacob became more and more isolated by the day. In our community, I was involved in an active Girl Scout Troop led by my mom. My dad served as a co-leader for Jacob’s Cub Scout Den and then Boy Scout Troop. He had a great Cub Scout experience, but by middle school, his very supportive Troop became a place where he stuck out as different – struggling with large group meetings and more complex badge requirements and because of this, he quit.
Jacob and I took gymnastic classes at the same gym for years. Jacob was able to go to the class independently and he loved his class and his teacher. I’ll never forget the day when my parents came to pick up Jacob and a new teacher was waiting with him. The new teacher said that Jacob did not have the skills to be in the class and could not return. This was the beginning of many activities that Jacob was made to quit and heartbroken to leave.
At age 13, Jacob was old enough to participate on his first Unified Sports team. He joined a basketball team through our local recreation center and for the first time I many lots of other kids with disabilities and their parents. I watched the games and was first introduced to the concept of “Unified”. Parents met each other at the games and the kids had big smiles on their faces. I asked my parents why the schools didn’t have Unified Sports and learned that my district offered Unified basketball in high school only. I was confused why kids with disabilities had to wait until high school to get to play sports and why there was only one sport offered.
I wrote my first email to our district Director of Special Education and asked why. She told me she didn’t know, but it was a very good question. By 8th grade, I was excited for high school, but Jacob showed fear in his eyes when we talked about it. He was not looking forward to learning a new school and at that point was isolated from peers and activities and was always at home with my parents and younger sister. He wasn’t even excited about high school unified basketball because he had already played it and wanted something new.
It was then that I found my project to earn my Girl Scout Gold Award. I wanted to find a friend for Jacob so that high school would be better for him. And I knew that if I could find a friend for Jacob, I could help other kids with disabilities find friends too. I began thinking that adding more Unified Sports to schools could be one of the answers I was looking for.