It’s easy to get sucked in. To begin to measure my parenting not by how kind, cooperative, creative or unique my child is, but by how much they conform to their age-mates. Especially if they happen to have special needs.
Inclusion has become a religion these days. As if sitting in a room full of typical children the exact same age, following the same curriculum, with as few adjustments as possible, is the measure of a good education. I’ve met both educators and parents so enamoured with the concept that they refuse to accept the limitations of the philosophy.
Fortunately, the staff at our school have a different goal in mind: what works. What works for B. What works for our family. What works for the staff and the other children in her class.
Grade 3 has been a struggle. And when our favourite SEA (special education assistant) left, it was even worse. Her classmates love her, like a cute little mascot. They pat her head and give her hugs and try to carry her around. In a bid for attention (and out of boredom), she caused all sorts of disruption: talking out of turn, pulling her shirt over her head, poking friends and throwing herself on the ground in a tantrum until she had to be removed. Her only real learning this year took place in the back corner of the room with her SEA and the school iPad. It just wasn’t working.
Along the way, they discovered that she fit seamlessly into the kindergarten class. I’m sure it was out of frustration that she began to spend more and more time there. In this class she is doing the same work as the other kids. She can keep up and even excel in some subjects. She has meaningful conversations with her playmates. She can participate in their play (as more than just a prop). She requires little support to get through the day. This class is developmentally appropriate for her and we want her to stay.
It works for everyone, except the school district, which is reluctant to step outside the traditional inclusion model. They have given grudging allowance as long as she still connects with her Grade 3 class regularly and is officially on that attendance roll. Apparently what matters to them is not what she needs, but how many birthdays she has under her belt. Inclusion trumps everything else.
I want the same thing for B that I want for all my kids. A happy, safe childhood and the development of meaningful life skills along the way. In Kindergarten she is included, she is learning and she is happy, what does it matter what grade? Kindergarten is where she needs to be right now. I am endlessly grateful for a resource teacher and staff who are willing to fight for that.
My daughter is not just like everybody else. It is both her struggle and her strength. It will not help her to deny or obscure or try to avoid this. I operate here in reality, because I am not afraid that she is less. I am absolutely sure of her worth.
I’m not going to pretend that Down Syndrome is a blessing we eagerly embrace. I’ve met some who feel this way and I just don’t get that. “What God intended,” they say, as if cognitive disability and health problems and speech delays and lifelong struggle are comparable to height or hair colour. The world is full of sickness and disease and disorder. That God allows it does not make it a good thing. It is what it is.
My daughter is not remarkable BECAUSE of Down Syndrome. She is remarkable because of HER. The sweet, determined, spunky firecracker that shines brighter because she has to.
So here’s me, seeing the value of inclusion, but only when it helps. Because, there is no shame in being different.
How has being different served you well in your own life?