Allie is taking some summer help in math at a local school. This morning when I dropped Allie off she was telling me about the kids in her class. Some were from her current class and others she didn’t know. Allie said that there was only one other girl, a bunch of boys and one weird boy.
Weird boy, I asked, do you mean the boy with Down syndrome?
What’s that? Allie replied.
Well he is special needs, like Boo, I explained
Oh, is that why he has a teacher just for him in the class? (Yup) That makes sense now. I thought there was something different but couldn’t figure it out. Why didn’t they tell me so I could help him?
This conversation floored me on many levels. First, Allie has intuitively known that there is something special about Boo and has accepted her without conditions. I automatically assumed that she would recognize and accept it in another child. Second, Allie attends enough of Boo’s therapy appointments to see other children like this boy. I was completely astounded that she even had to ask, or worse in her mind label this boy as “weird”.
Allie has been a staunch defender of Boo. She would never let one of her friends use that term with her sister, so why did she do it with a boy she just met? Have I failed in some way in to prepare and nurture her to accept all others like she does Boo?
Of course, I asked Allie! Not that specifically, but why she did she not understand that this boy was special. She thought because he was so big and not little like Boo he was just a boy. I asked (just to make sure) that she hadn’t made fun of this boy. She was quick to say no, but that she wished that the teacher had told her because the other boys in the class did. Allie was so cute, telling me that she would make sure it didn’t happen again! We had a long talk about Boo and how would Allie feel if one of her classmates called Boo “weird”.
But it made me think, is inclusion working? Are the teachers and other parents explaining to their children that not all children can run, read, speak like others. Whose responsibility is it really? Mine, in some way because while I can educate/prepare Allie and she can then teach her peers. But neither Allie, her dad or I can go into Boo’s class and wake up the other children/parents. I can only be responsible for the children who interact with Boo in my presence.
Is it the teacher’s responsibility? Certainty, but how can they do this without embarrassing (not the right word, but hopefully you get my point!) the child in question. Allie thought the teacher should have let the kids know.
I think the biggest obstacle is that the other parents are not on the playground or in the classroom with their children. So they might not even be aware, like me, that their child may be prejudging some one. Think about it, if you do not have a special child would you think to educate your ‘typical’ child about a child with Downs, CP, and autism or like Boo one who is undiagnosed? I will admit that before Boo I cannot honestly say I would have said something to Allie until she asked/made a comment in my presence.
I think as children get older they may become more aware (and yes, mean). But at Allie’s age it is just a sense of innocence where they don’t really notice differences in others until the difference is glaringly obvious.
Boo is in an integrated preschool with a not so equal ratio of special/typical kiddos. Even there I notice that some parents look at us askew when Boo is not participating like their ‘typical’ kid in the class. Once a child asked their mom what was wrong with Boo and the mother, instead of educating, told the child to ‘hush’.
So I don’t know what the answer is, if integration is worth it or how to educate the world at large that Boo just has a different sense of typical.