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What My Son With Down Syndrome's Shoes Can Teach Us About Inclusion

Our school district is slowly moving towards inclusion as the rule, not just an exception that parents need to fight really hard for. I believe our son Daxon is the first child with Down syndrome that his first-grade teacher has ever had in her General Ed classroom.

One of the “problems” she brought to our attention was that Daxon takes his shoes off in the classroom as it was a hardship for her to have to put them back on every time they left the classroom. When she reached out for help in finding a solution to this issue, I told her I could understand why he feels like taking off his shoes is the right thing to do. After all, we have him take his shoes off when we go home, go to other people’s houses, and when we go to camp at our local karate dojo. He is good at following rules as long as they are consistent but has trouble understanding when there are nuances or exceptions.

I almost hate to admit it, but my first suggestion was that we could buy shoes that were hard to get off. Turns out, this didn’t stop him and shoes that are harder to remove are also harder to put back on. Ultimately, it made everyone’s life more difficult. Eventually, we got him shoes that were super easy to get on and off. She reported back that while he was still taking them off, he could put them back on by himself, and he was so proud of his independence.

I was happy we found a solution, but frustrated with myself for doing the same thing I often see the school district and society doing. Instead of making everyone conform to arbitrary rules, we need to take a step back, re-evaluate what is truly important, and take down barriers. As small and simple as this example is, I will carry it with me when I am looking for solutions to future “problems” and do my part to help build the least restrictive environment that all our kids deserve.

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