“When You Look, Make Sure You See”

Dwayne, Julian, Martina and Jared Ballen. Dwayne Ballen was a featured speaker in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services’ recent Google Hangout on Inclusion in Early Learning Programs. (Photo courtesy of the Ballen family.)

Dwayne, Julian, Martina and Jared Ballen. Dwayne Ballen was a featured speaker in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services’ recent Google Hangout on Inclusion in Early Learning Programs. (Photo courtesy of the Ballen family.)

A few years ago my sons Julian and Jared attended tennis camp at the University of North Carolina. During the camp’s awards ceremony, tennis coach Sam Paul announced that counselors and campers unanimously agreed Julian clearly won the category for best attitude.

Coach Paul quickly realized during the camp that Julian, who has autism, was not at the same athletic level as other campers, many of whom were younger and more skilled.At the same time, he had something valuable to contribute.

Coach Paul took the time to not just “look “but “see” Julian, and what he witnessed, he later told me, left an impact. No matter the task facing Julian, it was always carried out with a smile and cheerful readiness. He also noticed the positive effect Julian’s presence had on other youngsters.

A number of the campers began to take attitude cues from Julian. In a couple of instances, a potential tantrum was replaced with a more reflective, and productive reaction. It was the Julian effect in full flower.

What Coach Paul engaged in that week was inclusion. He had no professional training for it, nor was he necessarily pre-disposed to do so. He simply wanted Julian to have the same experience as the other children attending camp. Inclusion should be practiced throughout society and not just confined to those areas where special programs and trained professionals are in place.

My brother Michael provided another clear example of inclusion during our family’s 2013 Thanksgiving gathering at his house. During a post-meal trivia game, Michael announced that he wanted Julian as his partner. The subject of the afternoon was Disney trivia. Michael was acutely aware of Julian’s passion for all things Disney, especially the animated movies and theme parks.

Julian, full of excitement and a staggering amount of Disney knowledge, was the star as he and my brother destroyed a team comprised of five other family members. Michael, a municipal police department official, found a way to bring his nephew out of the corner and to the table of engagement. All it took was recognition and desire. That is inclusion.

My wonderful wife, Martina, and I have always believed that inclusion is a full family endeavor that takes all forms. Julian does the same amount of chores his brother Jared does. If one takes out the trash then the other is expected to roll out the recycle bin. Julian is expected to clear his dinner placement and put the dishes in the washer. He has responsibilities that fit with his capabilities, just like his brother. This too, is inclusion.

I’m hopeful that we all consider opportunities to practice inclusion in everyday life. It begins with the simple idea of, “When you look, make sure you see.” It’s also important to understand that inclusion is not just a one-way street. Those being included often have something to teach us about ourselves and the human community. I’m sure Coach Paul would wholeheartedly agree.

Dwayne Ballen is the author of ‘Journey With Julian’, an autism advocate and speaker, and a network television sportscaster with the CBS Sports Network. Dwayne Ballen was a featured speaker in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services’ recent Google Hangout on Inclusion in Early Learning Programs.


  1. This is a remarkable family that has so much to teach all of us. Thanks for giving me clearer sight and a broader vision.

  2. While the dept of ed pats itself on the back with isolated incidents of inclusion they ignore repeated attempts to change catch22 laws regulating such behavior. For instance inclusion in team athletics is guaranteed to all attending higher education and all a wheelchair student need do is express an interest and the institution must provide reasonable accommodations.
    Did they ever follow that through and realize why would a student with an interest to play competitive wheelchair sports show up at a college that doesn’t have it already. It’s a law designed not to be tested. And let’s say a student did express an interest, would the school be able to put a team together before he graduate. The law/guidelines need to be changed.

  3. Inspiration can occur in a a compelling story such as the one above. Each person naturally desires to be a part of a group. This is especially observable in teenagers. They are an excellent and rich example of this need to belong. Perhaps it is a design in human nature that allows us to survive and thrive.

    It takes attentiveness to observe and recognize the needs of others and is ultimately necessary in order for inclusion to occur. It also requires the ability to listen beyond the words being broadcasted in order to see the message the person being excluded is conveying. Only then has the challenge begun to include others in a dignified manner that is natural to the circumstance.

    It is certainly not common to recognize the people who have the ability to orchestrate the inclusion of others who would typically be excluded. Yet, as demonstrated in the account above, it can and does occur. No law can dictate or impact how we interact with others as poignantly as the personal account shared in “When You Look, Make Sure You See”. Stories of inclusive interactions can resonate and demonstrate the influence that any given person holds to incite the value others see within themselves or in the people around them. It would make our journeys through each of our personal narratives a more enjoyable experience if it is shared with others.

    I wish we would take more time to recognize and learn from those who are “gifted” in their ability to include others. I find that the people with this ability don’t often recognize their own impact when they have included typically excluded people.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Striving to listen intentionally…

  4. Beautiful! Exclusion is an ugly action. Most of us do not realize that we are doing so when we engage in activities that exclude others based on our perception of what is valuable.

    I am a retired female professor of mathematics and always included students who were different. Often
    they the ones who see beyond symbols.

    *It is not you look at , it is what you see.*
    Thanks for sharing your story!

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