Saturday, March 25, 2017

There They Go

Yesterday, I attended a pep rally at the school where I work, and my attention kept being drawn away from the dancers and the flags and the DJ to the students near me.  They were teenagers, but they had disabilities just like my son who is only eight.  Some had gone down to the festivity and been cheered for their sports, some were part of the announcements, but these students, they were each of them, alone in a crowd.  They didn't sit, but they didn't socialize either.

I saw my son in six years.  Or rather, I saw how it could be.

Inclusion is easier in elementary school than anywhere else, and I've witnessed it first hand, but it should be the goal for the upper grades, for middle and high school.  Not that we'll sit with the kids who have disabilities, but that the kids with disabilities will be sprinkled amongst the various clubs, the poms and the tennis, the Korean Pop troop and the flags, the fans and the grades by class, and seamless. I want it not to be inclusion, but ordinary to the point of being the invisible taken for granted baseline of how we will be as a people.

Some might point out that some teens pull away from the crowd, they aren't joiners and in the disablied community, this is no different.  I would say yes, if I thought those teens I saw Friday milling about, not engaged in the pep rally were enjoying their aloofness.  Teens working to not fit in, relish their isolation.  I did not see this in those students.  I saw them engaged in self stimulation, in trying to figure out how to be where they were and fit in, and having neither a plan or a purpose for themselves, not being able to settle, stand, sit or cheer.

At home, my son has the protection of his siblings who constantly teach without teaching, how to get into a group and engage.  They've taught him how to play brawl such that I've learned not to start worrying if I hear him saying, "Help." if he's in the basement with his siblings.  It just means his character is getting beaten and someone needs to give him an assist.  At his school, he has friends across grades, across the spectrum of ability.  I know this because when we've come to events, kids come up to visit with him independent of a club or assignment or a teacher, high five him and visit.  It isn't a long convesation, it's usually "Hey Paul, what's up?"  Paul gives them a "Good" and the high five, and the other kid says something like, "See you on stage." or "Cool science project." or some such, and Paul shows them or says "Yeah" and tries to say the same back, and they know it.

Inclusion isn't easy, but it has to be more than the Compassionate Student Organization will sit with the Special Needs Students for lunch.  It has to be that there are actual relationships being built.  The kids at my son's school know he loves dinosaurs, flags and playing outside.  They bring him toy dinosaurs and books about it to read with him.  (Not as a club, as individuals).  Relationships aren't, I'm doing good for you because I'm good; relationships are I will the good for you, and I enjoy spending the one commodity we all have in limited supply, (time), with you and on you.

These sort of organic inclusion moments are something a mom of a kid with a disability lives for, and always at the same time, can't quite enjoy until after the fact.  We hold our breath when they take place, because the moment can be so fragile.  The thinking goes something like, "Please son don't do something that drives the other kid away.  Please other kid, don't ignore my son.  Please, somehow interact without super sweetness or baby talk, please please please be real."

Going back to the pep rally, I admit, I want a society where interactions between the mentally handicapped are neither artificially created nor imposed.  The kids with the handicapping conditions have a reason to be there, it's a pep rally for their school.  They don't have a reason to be in isolation, because they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.  It wasn't that the teachers or the school were doing anything wrong, only that as a Mom, and as a member of the Education community, I want more for the kids I saw, for they are just like my son.  I know we can't teach "How to act at a pep rally" through task analysis or breaking it down, but we could take a cue from the elementary school and the neighborhood model of friendship.  We need to learn how to be willing to spend time, wasting time with each other.

What does inclusion look like?  Every morning while waiting for the bus, all the kids put their feet together and do "one-potato-two-potato" to start.  My son gets mad if people don't tag him or don't let him be it sometimes, because he knows, as I do, it has to be real.  He has to be it sometimes.  When he's touched, he puts his hands out, giggles and begins to moan as he lumbers toward whoseover he's declared the newest target.  He doesn't need any guidance, he's immersed as they all are.  It isn't a case of "there he goes" to play with the other kids or "there they go to play with him."

It's look: "there they all go to to play.  See how they love each other."

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