Last week there was a Valentine’s Day party at Evan’s school. I wasn’t planning to go because I’d have to rush there from a doctor’s appointment. And, to be honest, it’s sometimes hard to go because the difference between my son and his peers is a harsh reminder of Evan’s daily challenges and struggles.
My plans changed when Evan asked if I could come to his party. I couldn’t say no. Well, actually I did say no (because I wasn’t sure if I could get there on time and I didn’t want him feeling disappointed) with every intention of being there.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to disappoint him.
“My mom is here. I’m so happy,” he shouted to no one in particular as we walked down the hall from his special education classroom to his general education classroom, where he spends approximately 10 hours a week.
I was happy, too. But some of that happiness was unexpectedly shoved aside when I realized that this would be my second-to-last Valentine’s Day party before Evan begins middle school.
Walking into the room, sadness turned to frustration when I saw that Evan and two classmates from his special ed class had their own table in the back. This was a marked change from the December holiday party when Evan and the two girls sat with the rest of the kids.
What’s the point of inclusion if kids aren’t included? Evan already sits with the two girls from his other class most of the time. He goes to the general ed classroom so he can interact with his typically developing peers, not observe them from the back of the class.
The Valentine’s Day party wasn’t the time or the place to discuss the seating arrangement. So I don’t know how the teacher will respond. I’ll find out after the February break.
Some of the other parents in the classroom didn’t get it, either. For example, while the kids were working on an art project, one of the moms asked me – not Evan – if he needed some stickers. Talk to him. He’s sitting right next to me, and he won’t bite.
While some of the adults were missing the mark, the kids were, as usual, amazing. I have always found the kids at his school to be surprisingly open-minded and accepting. On the one hand they don’t treat Evan or the other inclusion kids any different. They called Evan out when he tried to cut in line. Yet they supported him and his classmates when they need a little extra help.
During the Valentine’s Day party, one of the girls grabbed Evan’s reluctant-to-dance classmate by the hand and danced with her. The smiles on both their faces were priceless. Inclusion is a beautiful thing and it benefits all kids.
As adults, we can learn so much from our kids. Accepting those who are different is an area where your children can be your guides because they are accustomed to being around kids who aren’t just like them. Most likely, there’s at least one student with noticeable physical and or cognitive differences in your child’s classroom.
Take a moment and ask your children if there are kids in their class who need a little extra help. If your children are older, ask if any of their classmates have autism or other disabilities. Encourage your sons and daughters to talk about these students. What makes them unique? What do they like about them? What’s it like having that student as a classmate? I bet you’ll be impressed with their answers.
A number of typically developing kids are a testament to good parenting whose moms and dads teach them how to respect others. Even when parents think their kids aren’t listening or watching, they’re taking in a lot more than they can imagine. To these parents, I say: keep up the good work so your kids continue to grow into altruistic big people.
Some children have compassion in spite of their parents. For every positive interaction I’ve seen from my son’s peers, I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of witnessing negativity, judgment and disdain from adults. For example, when Evan goes up to strangers and asks if they have spider webs in their basements, he’s often ignored. Yes, it is a weird question, but not a hard one to answer.
As parents, we see ourselves as the ones responsible for educating our kids – but the role of teacher can go both ways. Even though Valentine’s Day is over, let your children show you how to open your hearts to some amazing and unique people, like Evan.