When Kids In My Son’s Class Were More Accepting of His ‘Differences’ Than the Parents
Recently there was a school event in my son’s general education classroom. 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 reminder of Evan’s daily challenges.
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), but I had 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 we entered the classroom and 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 last time I was there, 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.
Some of the other parents in the classroom didn’t know how to address my son. 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.
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 open-minded and accepting. On the one hand, they don’t treat Evan or the other inclusion kids any differently. They called Evan out when he tried to cut in line. Yet they support him and his classmates when they need a little extra help.
During this class 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.
Many typically developing kids are a testament to good parenting. Their moms and dads teach them how to respect others. Even when parents think their kids aren’t listening or watching, they may be 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.
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 may seem like a strange question from their perspective, but it’s 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. Let these amazing children teach us adults how to open our hearts to some amazing and unique people, like Evan.
Follow this journey on Special Ev.
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