Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inclusion

Inclusion is an issue that is heavy on my mind lately. Inclusion not just in school, but in life.

And the thing is, I am beginning to realize that I can't assume that everyone - even my friends - want the same thing for Finn that I do. People are thinking about their own kids - of course - and what they want and think is best for their kids.

When I started this blog, its function was to keep family and friends apprised of how Finn was doing, as well as to provide a place for me to write and therefore try to cope. While it still serves those functions, it's also become, in large part, a way for me to advocate for Finn by exposing the world to him. My hope is that by following Finn's journey through life here, people might be changed by it. Their hearts and minds might be changed. Their misconceptions, fears, and outdated notions might be changed. Their perspective might be changed.

I don't know if it's working. I don't know if anyone has been changed by getting to know Finn, either here on this blog, or in real life.

Are you still uncomfortable around people with disabilities? People with Down syndrome, specifically?

Would you still be terrified of having a child of your own with Down syndrome?

Do you think Finn is cute and sweet, but only from afar? If you came to my house, would you pick him up without reservation and squeeze him like you might any other baby?

Would you want a kid like Finn in your child's classroom? On your kid's Little League team? Or would you be against that? Why?

Would you invite Finn, or a kid like him, to your child's birthday party? How about for a playdate?

Do you still agonize over your "typical" kid achieving milestones on time, or even ahead of schedule?

See, here's the thing: continuing to segregate kids and people with disabilities only breeds more of the disability stereotypes. How can we expect kids with disabilities to "fit in" so that we can feel comfortable with them if we don't include them in every aspect of our communities? Continuing to force them to live on the sidelines only makes them seem more "odd." Inclusion benefits everyone. It not only gives my kid the opportunities that every other kid takes for granted, which will surely enrich his life, but it also gives other kids and people the opportunity to learn compassion, acceptance, tolerance - for people with all kinds of differences, not just disabilities.

If you think that my kid has nothing valuable to offer your kid, think again.

Imagine this: your kid goes to school, and in every grade level throughout his or her school career, there are one or two or a handful of kids with different disabilities. True inclusion is implemented, meaning appropriate supports are in place, in the classroom, so that every child is getting what he or she needs. They play together on the playground. They get to know each other and play at each other's houses. Being exposed to these kids throughout their formative years teaches your kids to be compassionate adults. They are nonplussed by the sight of a wheelchair, or a person using sign language, or a person with the telltale gait and upward slanting eyes of Down syndrome.

How could that not make the world a better place for everyone?

11 comments:

Hector and Jennifer Varanini Sanchez said...

You are my hero Lisa :)!

stephanie said...

I think you're in my head and you write down, into beautiful posts, everything I walk around the house thinking about.
I am almost obsessed(in a good way) about people realizing how fabulous our kids are, how not different they are.

Molly C said...

This post should be required reading. Seriously.

and if I came to your house I would TOTALLY scoop Finn right up! the more blogs I read about DS the more I know I'd be fine with having a child with DS. As for the little league, birthday parties, etc. Duh. Finn would be welcome anywhere any other child is. He's a kid. He's a boy.

I get excited when I see people with DS out and about. It makes me super happy. and I think to myself "One day, these people will be the kids I work with, shopping in target, dancing at my Uncle's wedding, sitting outside talking to friends"

Kristin said...

Lisa- I love this post. On the topic of inclusion, I have seen the benefits first hand. My son has some medical problems (but none causing any developmental delays) We attend many clinics with children with all sorts of medical complications. He has been seeing differently abled kids for years. He seems to see right past the differences. He had a friend with him at an appointment recently and a child was having trouble with his feeding tube. The friend was staring and scared. My son rolled his eyes and said "that is just how he eats" "No biggie" and kept on going. I wish some adults could get that these things are no biggie.

Wendy P said...

Lisa - great post.

And playing off of Kristin's comment - inclusion now means lots of adults later who'll say "no biggie". I wish I had had the opportunity to have differently abled kids in class with me growing up.

And you better believe I'd be scooping Finn up if I had the chance!

Anna Alexandrova said...

Lisa,

Of course, I'd love to give Finn a cuddle, have him over for playgroup, have him be in my son's future classroom, birthday party, etc. It'd be a privilege.

And yes, your blog taught me a lot about him, inclusion, disability etc. Whenever my toddler and me come across a kid with visible disability on the playground, I go out of my way to chat to him or her, to introduce my son, to talk to the parents. I try to act normal and perky, precisely because I remember your description of the "mines" you step on with other parents (you know, the ones who lower their eyes and become silent when you you tell them abt Ds).

Am I less terrified by having a child with Ds? Maybe a little less, but still quite scared... Good for you, Molly C, for losing this feeling. I hope I get there too one day...

In any case, Lisa, you've done a lot more than just keeping friends posted on Finn's progress.

Carla said...

All good questions, Lisa. I've certainly learned a lot more about Ds since Finn's birth and that is almost all thanks to you and he! All of the school districts in our area are inclusion based with an aide, if and when necessary, but I don't know the criteria for getting/needing an aide. A very dear friend of mine was, until last year, an aide, so I should ask her.

I would absolutely scoop Finn up like any other kid but just like with any other kid, I would check with you first. I always asks parents before diving right into physical contact with their children. Not every kid likes contact in the same way. Does he like to be picked up? Does he prefer that I get down on his level first? Just like with any other little one, I'd touch base with a parent first.

Yes, I do still fret over milestones, but I let a lot more of it go now, too. Kids do what they want, when they want, when they're ready.

Tara said...

Recently, a friend I haven't seen for awhile approached to get a look at Eon. She already knew of the Ds and after asking the appropriate questions, she surprised me by gushing, "Oh! He just makes me want another baby!"

I think my jaw hit the floor. It took me a little bit to realize why I was so blessed by her comment. I realized it's because she saw him as a baby first, and because it showed me that Ds really didn't matter to her at all. She not only accepted him, she'd be thrilled with one of her own! I want more friends like that!

Beth said...

Lisa,
Have you gotten to the chapter on homeschooling? Are you ever tempted to just keep Finn at home and educate him yourself just so you can avoid all the special education nonsense? I am. But I kinda hate homeschooling. I tried it with Jake. Still, food for thought, no?

datri said...

When Kayla was a baby, I was big on inclusion. My kid was going to attend the local school no matter what!! I'd break down doors!! She'd be the superstar!!

Fast forward five years. And inclusion is NOT what is best for KAYLA. Yes, I still believe in it, but what's important for Kayla is to be in an environment where the teachers are compassionate and understanding.

She is, quite honestly, "low functioning", "nonverbal" and basically "noncommunicative". Why would I subject her to an environment where she would be completely lost? I wouldn't send a toddler to the local elementary school's Kindergarten class, so why would I send Kayla there?

Plus, there is the realization of what is going to happen when she ages out of public school? The private special ed school Kayla will be attending has innovative, world class programs into adulthood. The adults leave meaningful productive lives (they work on a farm, very communal). And that is what I want for Kayla. To be happy and productive.

I hate always having to defend my decisions. There is so much push for inclusion, that sometimes I feel like a traitor. But I know what is best for MY kid.

Sharon said...

Great food for thought. Based on your recents posts, I have been thinking alot about inclusion. I do hope that Brennan will be included, accepted, embraced. Unfortunately, this depends completely on others. I had dinner with a few moms that have kids from 12-21 years old with Down syndrome. All of them had made the decision (some in middle school, others not until high school)to move their kids to schools for kids with special needs, because even though they had previously been part of typical classrooms, they hadn't actually been included. Hopefully preceptions are continuing to change and acceptance is continuing to increase so our kids will have more of a chance of successful inclusion.