When we began our search for a school for Cris, I remember wanting a school that would allow him to spend time with neurotypical children. I wanted inclusion and all the good things that in my head this would include. From modeling behaviors, to spending time with other kids aside from those in his classroom and having the opportunity to take part in all the activities that the rest of the kids in the school were entitled to. All these wonderful experiences would definitely help right? Of course they would. I had seen so many other parents successfully mainstream their children without a single issue so why should my experience be any different? Well it was. It has been very different but not necessarily in a bad way.
This past year has been a very eye opening experience for me. I have come to realize that while I thought I was looking for inclusion, I really didn’t understand how it would affect my son and how it would define his school experience. Things that I thought would benefit him, ended up being a bit of a disaster in a way. What could potentially go wrong by including him in a school wide activity with hundreds of students, parents and teachers being loud? How could he not love going to a play where he would have to sit for a long period of time in a dark theater with loud noises? I mean really, what was I thinking???
I am not saying that inclusion is wrong. I actually think it works for a lot of kids, but I believe there are a group of kids just like my son, who would probably love to be a part of all of these events if they were more accommodating to their needs. Throwing him in there head on without easing him into these situations was a big mistake and one that I am glad I made now while he is still young.
I know my son is different and while he is very social and loves being around people, he seems to feel and act his best with people who understand him. Outside of the kids in his classroom and perhaps his teachers, the rest of the kids in the school don’t quite know why he wears a helmet or why he walks around with a communication device. I solely believe schools should conduct workshops for the other kids in the school so they can understand why our children behave the way they do and this is not always done which makes things even more difficult when trying to include our children. They don’t understand which is normal but not addressing it, makes things even worse. Recently my son took part in a school wide activity which took place in the gym, with loud music, echo and tons of people. He held it together like a champ for the first few minutes and then he was ready to go. They brought in headphones for him and it was still too much so we ended up taking him out. While I am glad we made the attempt to include him, I can’t help but wonder how different this would have been if they would’ve given everyone there a heads up that children on the spectrum would also be taking part in this. Perhaps let the parents know to not be so loud or crowd the space, lower the volume of the music and try not to use the microphone when they were already there. All things that would seem reasonable to me, but I also understand that this might create issues with the rest of the parents since they might feel their children’s experience would somehow be ruined if these things happened. So where do you draw the line? I honestly I don’t know.
The one thing I do know is that what my son needs right now is to feel fully included and that this doesn’t mean he needs to be around neurotypical children, instead it means that wherever he goes they need to provide opportunities for him to participate in activities other children take part in but in a manner that Is suitable for him and his needs. They need to treat him with respect and allow him to develop and mature at his own pace. He needs to be around people who love, understand and accept him. They need to allow him to feel comfortable in his own little skin because behind that label, lies a pretty darn awesome kid who is just waiting to find his tribe.