Alexis Colvin, a recent Santa Clara University graduate, became a player at E-Soccer at age seven. She began coaching at E-Soccer in middle school, and took the inclusive ideals that she learned at E-Soccer into high school.
“What I saw about E-Soccer is that I made a lot of friends. Part of me felt like I was helping people, but … I learned so much from the kids I worked with or hung out with … I didn’t feel like it was this ‘I’m above, you’re below’ thing. In high school I felt that.
I felt like the special ed class was so separate … we never saw them … Sometimes a few of them would join our classes … during lunch they hung out in their own room … I didn’t feel like it was very inclusive.”
Seeing the exclusion of people with special needs at her high school, Alexis decided to start a club called E-Club. The focus of E-Club was to educate students with typical needs on what different special needs are, and why they needed and could learn from their classmates with special needs. Alexis would ask professionals in the field to come speak to E-Club on the issue, and also developed lessons on various subjects, such as sensory needs. She and the other members of the club took the lesson she made on sensory needs and presented it to students at a local middle school. Alexis formed E-Club because of her belief that inclusion is essential for everyone.
“I feel like inclusion is something that benefits everyone. Like it’s not just a nice thing … to do for someone … whether it’s [someone with] special needs or anyone who is excluded … everyone needs inclusion … I think when it comes to people with special needs, that’s something that I’ve always felt really strongly, is that it’s not just we should help them, but we need them. When they’re not being included, our world suffers for it.
There’s a hole that I think they’re meant to fill. Which is true for everyone … But I think, people with special needs, whatever it is, whether it’s learning disabilities, Autism, Down Syndrome … they bring such a unique perspective that someone who would be considered neurotypical wouldn’t even see or wouldn’t even think of having.”
Along with her participation in E-Soccer, Alexis has also learned the different perspective people with special needs can have through her experience with having special needs within her family. Though she grew up with members of her family having special needs, it took a while for Alexis to understand both their needs and how they were more similar to her than she thought.
“I had some understanding of what they were going through but I think it wasn’t until around high school that I really understood. Because what I initially understood is how it affected me, and I’d be like, ‘Well, they’re having a meltdown … I can’t say how I’m doing because I have to help’ … I would feel this conflict or turmoil of, ‘Ok, I know they go through stuff but so do I … and I can feel like they take priority … but like they should take priority because they have more needs, but why can’t I [take priority]…’
So kind of this conflict. I think it wasn’t until I got older that I think it helped me understand, one, that we are more alike than I thought, that we have the same fears and insecurities and the same things we feel about. Like we both care about what people think about us or we both feel inferior sometimes or we both feel afraid of what the future holds … So I think that helped me understand them a little bit better.”
While Alexis began to understand her family more, she also feared for their futures. She wondered if they could be independent growing up, or what their lives to look like. This can be a common fear among family members of people with special needs. Luckily, Alexis had friends her age and older who had special needs that were similar to her family’s special needs.
“I think it helped me to just be around other people, too, who also had disabilities. Because it helped me understand that, one, we’re not alone, and two … especially being around older people with disabilities, it gave me a lot of hope for my family… I knew people who were my age or older who … had similar challenges … and they were awesome. I respect them … I would get afraid for [my family’s] future, and what it was going to look like for them, and if they’d be able to grow and … be independent … I had a lot of those fears, but it helped me to be around people and interact with people who were similar and who were living their best lives.”
Being around so many perspectives and empowering lives, Alexis grew to form the idea that special needs or disabilities were not necessarily the best way to define the experience her family had. “Disability” inherently connotes limitation, but this was not at all what Alexis saw at E-Soccer or at home.
“The definition of disability … I mean that word literally means lack of ability. Right? But I don’t feel like that’s true for someone who has disabilities. I feel like someone with a disability has different abilities, like different strengths and weaknesses …
There’s a quote from Temple Grandin: ‘different but not less’ is something that she would say all the time. I think that’s something that I always go back to with anyone with disabilities is that they’re different, not less. Because I think a lot of times people can say ‘different,’ but it can be loaded, you know, like it can be seen as less but it’s just a nice way of saying it… People are different, it doesn’t mean they’re less.”
Alexis was grateful to be a part of teaching people at her high school that people with special needs are different, but not less. A few of her friends at high school had a similar definition of disability and some also had experiences with family with special needs. Together, Alexis and some of these friends decided to write and publish a children’s book for siblings of kids with special needs. The book is called XCED Presents: Better Together.
“It was cool that we made it about being better together because we put the experiences that we went through … It had ways you could cope [at home], but then it was also like ‘here are [the sibling’s] strengths and ‘we’re better together’. He’s his person, I’m my person, and we’re better together … That’s something that I feel really strongly about my family and I feel like people who have siblings with special needs can learn that and can have that with their family.”
After starting E-Club, writing an inclusive children’s book, and volunteering at E-Soccer in high school, Alexis wanted to take the inclusive vision with her to college, “I’d seen ground level inclusion, which I feel like is really important, but I also wanted to see global … systematic inclusion.” She continued to volunteer at E-Soccer and decided to intern in special education classes in elementary schools. Alexis used her entrepreneurship classes for her minor to teach students at a fully inclusive school how to start their own small business. The product that the students designed was a T-Shirt for communicating with people who are nonverbal. Alexis minored in Entrepreneurship and majored in Psychology because she thought of starting a nonprofit that would work on making the world a more inclusive place for people with special needs.
Alexis has since graduated from Santa Clara University, but firmly believes inclusion will be a part of her wherever she goes.
“I feel like no matter what I do, it’s something that’s always going to be on my mind. Even if I’m not in the educational field, I’m still going to want to do something wherever I am to change that … Inclusion isn’t a career … it’s a mindset … It’s something you carry with you wherever you are.”