I am a parent of an eight year old boy who has autism. He attends school with typical children in our neighborhood school. I was recently asked to speak at the PTA meeting about our children being in school together. Are you afraid of special needs students being in the classroom with your child? I might have some answers to your questions.
So who are we? We are regular people. Our families are like yours. All of our kids make us happy, sad, angry, crazy, tired, proud, and slaves! We laugh with our kids and sometimes at our kidsparent’s prerogative. What is hard for people to grasp is that to us, our children, including our children with exceptionalities, are just a normal part of the family. Each and every individual in my family is unique and treated as such. Jarrod is a funny, warm, happy, and caring individual. Oh and he has autismbut autism does not have him and does not define him. That may be the hardest thing to comprehend when you do not have an individual with special needs in your family.
Why do we expect more for our children than other children get? Simple answer-we want exactly what you want for our children. We want our children to be happy, safe, educated, industrious, live life to their fullest capability, have friends, find love, and enjoy simple pleasures. Unfortunately, for our children it takes more for them to have those things. How absolutely wonderful for your children and my three older children that they do not need adaptations, extra assistance, speech, occupational and physical therapy, special education, classroom aides, accessibility features and the many other necessary “extras” that our children must have to experience a typical life. And, no, these are not pipedreamswith all of the “extras” in place our children do have a chance to achieve these things in life. Without them, though, they have no chanceso we fight for them, sometimes demand them, because we are trying to do what every parent tries to dogive our children the best future possible.
Why do we want our children in a public school when there are specialized schools designed with them in mind? Why not put them in a school with others who will understand them and be better able to address their needs? Did you have children with special needs in your classroom when you were young? If not, how do you feel when you have an encounter with a person with a disability? Are you uncomfortable? Do you worry about what to say and what not to say? Are you thinking about their disability rather than the topic of discussion? Or do you even pat yourself on the back for being such a tolerant, good person for talking to this individual? If you are thinking any of those things you are talking to the disabilitynot the person. Our children are so much more fortunate than you or I because they will never have those things going through their heads as adults. Our children will go to school with children with special needs their entire life, they will work with them, become friends with them, and know them for who they arenot what they have. Just as our family looks at Jarrod as part of the fabric of our lifeyour children will do the same. And, that is why we want our children in the classroombecause they belong there with your kids, just as they belong in society and in this world. It is their world tootheir lifetheir classroom. A friend of mine told me the other day that her daughter is at Jarrod’s table in his class. She went home and told her mom how good if feels to be able to help him. That’s genuine. Your kids are not afraid of, intimidated, or in anyway “freaked out” by the exceptional students in their classroomeven if their parents are. By the way, my child being in your classroom does not diminish the quality of your child’s education IN ANY WAYit only adds to it. A free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment is granted to our children by law. But more importantlyit is the right thing to do.
Will I offend you if I ask about your child’s disability? If you are worried about itdon’t worry. Because you care, even if you do say the wrong thingwhich you probably won’tit is forgivable. We are all human and we all stick our foot in our mouths from time to time. I know I agonize over what I’ve said at times that I’ve been tacky or spoken out of turn or said the wrong thingwhich means I’m always agonizing. But that’s life. Besides, I’d rather have you ask a question that I can clarify, than have you sit in silence and assume. Assumptions about me or my child can be a dangerous thing. Just ask. Perhaps I’ll be able to help you understand something and therefore help the disabled community at the same time.
How do I teach my child about disabilities? As far as what to tell your children about how to act or talk around my childremember your child is the expertmaybe you’d be better off listening to him than giving advice on this subject. When Jarrod was in kindergarten the inclusion specialist visited the room and talked about autism. One of Jarrod’s classmates went home and told her mother. Together the two of them investigated autism on the internet. This child has been a kind and empathetic friend to Jarrod throughout his school experience.
However, you don’t need to become an expert on autism or any other special needs for your child to be a friend to children with special needs. Rather, if you teach your child empathysomething that we all learned as children, when you were 5 or so and teasing the neighbor with the other kids and your mother or father said to you, “How would you feel if you were the one being teased by everyone?”you will teach your child how to be a friend to anyone. Empathy and perspective are two of the greatest gifts you can give your child in this worldthey are invaluable tools in life.
If you teach your child to be kind, patient, loving, giving, tolerant, accepting, non-judgmental-if you teach your child that bullying and teasing are always wrong, to stick up for those who need it, not to follow the crowd when the crowd is wrong and the crowd is not always rightif you teach your child to see a personnot an exceptionality, or a skin color, religion, political affiliation, class or any other of the infinite differentiations between people, then you won’t need to teach your child how to talk to my childyour child will already know!