Reflecting on Normalcy and Belonging
"True belonging doesn't require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are." Brene’ Brown
Hello, my name is Kathy Becht. I’m the new Technical Assistance Coordinator at the National Coordinating Center (NCC). I am excited and honored to join the NCC team. This blog is my effort to share a bit about myself and how my journey led me to inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) and the Think College NCC.
Normalcy & Belonging
Everyone belonged in our family. Growing up, dad took my sister Lori out every Saturday for errands, a pickup from the cleaners, the grocery, etc. Now there were seven other kids, but dad took only Lori, that was her time. As a result, it seemed the whole New Jersey town knew Lori‘s name and my dad had quickly become Lori’s dad. Lori belonged…. No, that’s not right. Dad belonged to Lori. When we went hiking on Billy Goat Trail by the Potomac river in Maryland, dad usually carried Lori because she couldn’t manage the boulders that the rest of us were scaling. That was normal; it was just what we did. There was never any question about whether Lori would be on the hike.
In spite of her limited vocabulary, Lori had her own way of joining in the melee. When four of us (including Lori) were watching a soap opera one afternoon and a commercial came on, we all jumped up to make iced tea – no microwaves yet so we had to boil the water. Everyone got theirs made but me; mine was still on the counter steeping when the show came back on. During the next commercial break, when I went to get my tea, it was gone. No one seemed to know what happened to it, until I asked Lori. She got this grin on her face and started giggling. I knew then that she’d hid my tea. I found my full glass of tea back in the cupboard, where Lori had put it. We are a family that loves to tease, and Lori was right in the middle dishing it out. Truth be told, I probably did something to her first! I grew up with the belief that disability was ‘normal’.
Expectations, Responsibility, & Purpose
After teaching for 10 years, primarily students with intensive and behavioral support needs, and leading a Florida Supported Employment training grant, I took a hiatus to raise our three kids. When our first son, Pete, finally came home after a little over a year of hospitalizations and finally heart surgery, friends asked us, “what will he be able to do?” Though at 13 months he wasn’t sitting up or babbling, our answer was, “we are going to expect it all and see where he takes us.” By 12, Pete was firmly established as the helper around the house. Eight years older than his little brother Pat gave Pete just enough lead-time to be responsible for Pat when playing outside. The fact that Pete had Down syndrome didn’t preclude him from family responsibilities.
When the kids were in school, I did a lot of advocacy work with schools, families, parent support groups and higher education teacher development. I often spoke in classes, introducing the normalcy of disability. On our school district’s Exceptional Student Education Advisory Committee, I found myself giving a presentation to administrators preparing to be principals. That same day, 13-year-old Pete, with hormones raging, was suspended for brandishing a pipe at a number of boys. Regardless of what prompted it, I now had a tag-a-long to a presentation on the positives of inclusive education, with my son sitting in the audience. Is it any wonder that by high school Pete began speaking to employer groups, teacher professional development meetings, and student groups about disability? He was watching me. Pete understood early on that he could be an advocate for others with disabilities, like himself. He realized that he could help others. There was a need, and he had first-hand knowledge. In finding a purpose, Pete not only belonged but was teaching others about belonging.
Inclusive Postsecondary Education (IPSE)
After I went back to school to earn a doctorate and accepted a job at the University of Central Florida (UCF), Pete was accepted at Inclusive Education Services, an IPSE program at UCF. While Pete lived at school for nearly three years to complete a UCF professional services certificate, I directed the Florida Consortium on Inclusive Higher Education grant facilitating and providing technical assistance to Florida’s higher education institutions. The Consortium conducted professional development, held an Annual Symposium, provided IPSE expansion and start-up grants, and conducted, published, and presented IPSE research.
Following in his brother’s footsteps, Pat decided he could go to college too, though to Santa Fe Community College for a Zoo Technician certification. Pat, who struggled immensely in high school (especially with reading and math) figured if his brother and mom could go to college, he could too. I don’t know who fed his sense of belonging in college more, Pete or me. He even talks about getting a doctorate.
About the post author: Dr. Kathleen Becht has lived, taught, and advocated in the disability field for over 35 years with a passion for advocacy and self-determination. Kathy earned her Master’s degree from Syracuse University and Doctorate from the University of Central Florida. Throughout her career, Kathy has spoken at national and state conferences in the areas of inclusive secondary and postsecondary education, transition, supported employment, self-advocacy, and families. Kathy works to inspire the literate citizenship of individuals with intellectual disability, as consumers, employees, neighbors, college students, and life-long learners.