I’m writing from my heart today and when I do that, I’m not always rational or logical. I speak from a place of great emotion, and emotions almost never make any sense. I will most likely be judged as being out of line by posting but it is what it is and I write to sort of work through this myself.
Less than a year ago I had a passing conversation with a friend and her position and words are still with me today. If I remember correctly, I had initiated the topic, and at the time, accepted her opinion as just that, her opinion and she is definitely entitled to that. But her words rubbed my personal hide so much the wrong way then, but I brushed it aside because I had asked for her opinion.
My son had recently been diagnosed with autism and I was taking every opportunity to get input from anyone I could, whenever I could. We were driving together one day and the subject of education came up. My husband and I had just attended our first IEP meeting after the diagnosis and the team suggested something called a “50-50 Program”, which allows the child to stay in an inclusive classroom along side the general educated kids. This is preferable, if possible, because the children actually, for a lack of better words, they learn better. They need to have that socialization with the mainstream kids. Social behavior has a major effect on learning. More of that at another time because I feel a tangent building and we got to nip that in the bud….
So, we were pretty happy with the solution, but made a mental note to assess whether Gabe was actually benefitting from it. This program is structured to have a classroom, consisting of no more than 10 special needs kids and 10 general ed kids, with 1 special ed teacher and 1 general ed teacher. Among other things, I was wondering, however, who those general ed kids were going to be, how they would be selected and finally, if their parents needed to approve the set up. Which leads us up the to that friendly conversation with my friend. I was telling her about this whole set up and we both wondered the same things. I don’t remember if I asked her or if she just said, which I realize doesn’t matter; but she said point blank that she wouldn’t want her kids in the same classroom as a special needs kid. At the time, I felt the sting of that comment because she knows us and knows Gabe. I took it personally, though I told myself that I could not because it was just a discussion we were having and she was being honest.
Her position for not wanting her kids to share the same classroom with a special needs child is that she was concerned that time would be taken away from her own kids’ education if the teachers had to take time away from teaching the whole class to deal with a potential meltdown or whatever disturbance that would originate from the special needs kids. At the time, I agreed with her; and I do find myself concerned about that, as well. People tell me that I must only be concerned about my own kids’ education, and I am; but I am also concerned with the rest of the class and the teachers and the effort that it will be required to keep the classroom running smoothly.
In this year’s time, I have learned so much. I’ve learned that it’s absolutely necessary, if at all possible, to keep all the kids integrated in the classroom. Let me take a moment to explain that I’m talking about the higher functioning children who do have communication skills. What makes arranging appropriate education, socialization, extracurricular activities, etc., is that the children should be grouped together with those of equal levels of abilities. I sometimes think that it’s no wonder schools fail at socializing the kids. Well, not fail, but they seem disinterested and practically ignore the argument.
I’ve seen so much, first hand, too. The fear that ignorance can spawn can be avoided. I’ve just decided to begin advocating for a Social Behavior group conducted at the school. That is going to be a tall order, I think, despite the fact that there are enough kids there to get it done. Autistic kids can learn social skills from the regular kids. I’ve seen Gabe reach out to his classmates just to be pushed away and snickered at because they do not understand that he is different and that he is just trying to make a friend. I saw this specifically on a class trip last year that I had helped to chaperon. I had Gabe and two other boys. One, I recognized as Gabe’s “best friend”, I’ll call him Charlie, and another boy Gabe had spoken about, and I’ll call him Brian. It turned out that Gabe’s “best friend” was not really his friend. Charlie beamed up and informed me that Brian was his “best friend”. This stung a little, though I do realize that kids this young are still learning how to form relationships. I had to keep myself objective and I do believe I did a pretty good job of it. However, going through the day, watching the two new best friends sticking together, with Gabe on the outside of this privileged little circle broke my heart as a mother. Even more when Brian pushed Gabe away multiple times when he tried to take his hand, as we were all required to hold hands. On the bus, Gabe tried to get their attention by making sing-song sounds that grew quite annoying to them and they kept staring at me, like “he’s weird”. Hence a vicious cycle (mom’s heart talking) perpetuated itself. I recognize that Gabe’s behavior was odd and seemed very strange to these other two boys. That’s not their fault.
ALL the kids need to learn, understand and hopefully accept the autistic child. Are kids this age even old enough to comprehend? I’m thinking they can be instructed in an age appropriate way. What a tall order and I have not the slightest idea on how to accomplish this, especially with the school’s policy of keeping privacy intact and not wanting to draw attention, potentially negative attention onto the autistic child. I get that, I really do; but then how to get past this issue and create a learning opportunity? What I do know is that all through history how we’ve ever managed to affect social change was done through the young, the next generation.
Sigh. So, here I am thinking back to my struggle at the beginning of this post. I don’t hold any ill will. Indeed, do you think it arrogant of me to even say that. Well, these are my thoughts and I need to bring it all around to complete the circle. To bring all this to a close and there it is.