How My Son's Classmates Without Disabilities Also Benefit From Inclusion


“He’s not going to need to be in a special needs preschool.” That’s what I was thinking about five years ago when someone told me when my son Hudson turns 3, he’ll transition into a special needs preschool. I remember it vividly. It was early on in our journey with his disabilities — he has polymicrogyria, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and other complications as a result of a virus I contracted during pregnancy called cytomegalovirus (CMV.) By the time he turned 3 I fully embraced special needs preschool, but it was a journey.

This year Hudson started kindergarten. When I tell someone he’s in general education, it usually goes like this.

“It’s not a special kindergarten?”

“No.”

Then they look at him with a surprised expression, almost as if they are seeing him for the first time, and say “Wow!”

To be honest, part of me revels in their surprise, because they clearly underestimated him. But I get it, too. If you don’t spend enough time with Hudson, or have the patience or understanding to really “see” him, you might not think he can do much.

Thankfully the teachers and staff at his school do “see” him, and it was their suggestion he be placed in general education. At the time I wasn’t sure where he needed to be -– I was hoping for general, of course, but had they suggested special education, I wasn’t prepared to go to war over it. A few weeks into the school year, I knew he was in the right place for him.

There’s the educational benefits, of course — he’s pretty smart and receiving the same education as typical kids his age. But lately I’ve been most thankful for something else. When his classmates are exposed to a child like him — he’s nonverbal, uses a wheelchair, has seizures, and is tube fed — it lays the foundation for acceptance and respect for humanity in general. At lunch one day, a little girl was asking all kinds of questions about Hudson, one after the other. Finally another little girl in Hudson’s class jumped into the middle of the conversation and simply said, “You know, everyone’s different. I have brown hair and he has yellow.” And that was that.

But that is it, isn’t it? That’s the reason inclusion is important. His school is filled with impressionable little minds — children who will grow up and lead the world. Children who may be in situations where they can take advantage of the “little guys” of the world. Statistically, Hudson is three to four times more likely to experience violence as a disabled person. According to the World Health Organization, “Factors which place people with disabilities at higher risk of violence include stigma, discrimination, and ignorance about disability, as well as a lack of social support for those who care for them.”

In addition to kindergarten, Hudson was invited to be on a flag football team with first and second graders. Our neighbor is a coach, and he knows how much Hudson loves football. Maybe that’s why he invited him to sit with the players during games and got him a #9 jersey. In a world with people like Brock Turner’s dad, we also have dads who are teaching their kids respect, and that competition isn’t the most important thing. Now this coach may have only done this because he knows how much my son loves football. But I like to think he also saw an opportunity to teach his children that some things are more important than competition.

I’d like to think he’s changing the world just a little bit. I’d like to think the chance Hudson will be the victim of violence just went down. But I wouldn’t even stop there. I’d like to think this lesson translates into something more. How will this impact his children as they grow up? Hopefully they’ll think about disability differently. But in a world which lately is seemingly full of misunderstandings and fear which have led to violence, rioting, and division, I’d like to think these children will know how to approach life’s challenges with acceptance and respect.

I believe inclusion is changing the world. It’s teaching children how to deal with differences, how to navigate people who are different than you. How to listen when they can’t speak for themselves. It teaches them how to troubleshoot playing with someone who can’t play like everybody else. It teaches them to search for common ground and see the similarities rather than the differences. It’s a world I dream about existing one day. And inclusion is a key step in that direction — whether it be on the field, in the classroom or elsewhere in the community.

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