Hanging out with your friends is something that most young people take for granted. Going out for a drink, watching a movie or cheering your favourite sporting team are all rites of passage on the journey to independence. Young people meet up, hang out and bond together spontaneously without hardly a second thought.
But if you’re a young person with a disability, it’s never quite that simple.
Dan has always had a positive relationship with his peers, with or without disabilities. During primary school, the other kids accepted Dan for who he was, included him in group projects in the classroom and invited him to the occasional birthday party.
Something changed though, when they all moved to high school.
High School is a Totally Different Ball Game
It goes without saying that high school is a totally different ball game to primary school. Having one main class teacher enables a much greater focus on inclusion than the wide range of subject specific teachers that occurs at high school. But something else happens too. Adolescence.
Adolescence is one of the most trying and challenging times of a young person’s life. As they struggle with figuring out who they are and how to fit in, the kids with disabilities are no longer cool. It’s not that their attitude towards people with disabilities has necessarily changed. It’s just no longer cool to include the boy with autism. While they mostly still had a positive attitude towards Dan, the impetus to include him socially was no longer there.
I’m not blaming anyone here. It’s just what happens. And it leaves a lot of young people with disabilities isolated.
People with disabilities want the same things that people without disabilities just take for granted – acceptance, friendship and a fulfilling life.
Despite having autism, Dan is very social. He loves being with people. He has a very loving and accepting extended family and he is always included in all family activities, but it’s not the same as having some friends of your own.
This is where the NDIS really comes into its own. You can read about our journey with the NDIS here.
Prior to the NDIS, for Dan to participate in social activities, I had to tag along. Now that’s okay when you’re young. But having your mum tag along when you’re 20 something is not cool at all. Yet this was the case for many young people with disabilities.
The Boys Group
With this in mind, families and Yellow Bridge got together this year to create opportunities for a group of young guys with disabilities, like Dan, to be able to socialise together informally. For want of a better name, we currently call it The Boys Group. Over the last few months, the guys have met each month and just hung out together. They’ve had dinner, played laser tag, watched footy, been to the circus and, later in the year, will be attending Shrek the Musical at the Empire Theatre.
Without the NDIS, this would have been impossible.
Without the NDIS, these guys wouldn’t be able to socialise together without having their parents tag along. Now they can hang out together with support workers, who are also young guys, just like them. I can never emphasise enough just how impressed I am with the number of young people I see choosing to work as disability support workers. It really warms the heart and instills pride in our young people.
The NDIS has come in for a bit of criticism of late, and sometimes, rightly so. But, it is early days. It was always going to be an ambitious undertaking to provide the financial support so that people with disabilities can lead independent lives full of meaning and purpose. There were always going to be teething problems and we just need to keep moving forward, working together to make it a reality.
For now, I am just grateful that Dan has the opportunity to be a typical young guy and hang out with the boys.