Since Bridget’s birth we have integrated her as much as possible. We never wanted her to be the crazy aunt in the attic that only came down for the holiday family photo. We want her to be a part of her family and her community. We wanted Bridget to have a village. Her village grew from family, to friends, teachers, educational support personnel (ESP) and therapists.
Slowly COVID-19 and this pandemic is taking that village away from her.
I 100% understand that social distancing is the only way to stop a pandemic. In our case this isolation is the very thing we feared as our child grew out of integrated preschool and began advancing grade levels. Bridget is not included in a lot of GenEd anymore. It makes sense, the learning is so far above her understanding that she spends more time in special ed where she is accessing education.
At school there was still inclusion. Not as much as I would like, but some part of her day was with typical peers. Being a social butterfly, this is where Bridget excels. It doesn’t matter that she cannot read at the same level or do multiplication. It matters that she could talk with her friends. It matters that she had moments in time to make peer connections and be a part of her community. Not standing on the sidelines of life.
A dear friend made the very difficult decision to send her son to a school that specializes in autism. The one negative was that there is limited to almost no social / typical peer interaction. What made the decision easier for her was that as her son started middle school the opportunities for peer interaction were so minute that her parents could see their child being more and more isolated. They made the hard choice to take their child out of the known environment to something so completely different. It was the right choice, their child is flourishing.
But it was a choice.
The pandemic has taken the choice away from all of us. Parents cannot weigh the factors. They cannot choose between multiple settings and decide what is best for their child, where they would thrive and break barriers.
Students in special ed are beginning to lose the connections with their typical peers. In our school system the GenEd class is meeting for an hour every morning. For Bridget this is the one opportunity she may have to stay connected. It is not working. It is too much chaos and the materials discussed are so far over her head they might as well be speaking a foreign language. It is just is how the platform works, and teachers are on a learning curve. In the real world setting Bridget is given time to process and the “real” 4th grade teaching is done when she is not in the room. Inclusion education has not supported by this distanced learning.
It’s not her friends fault. They are all social distancing, they haven’t connected and are all missing friends from school. They are connecting (a bit) during the school’s morning meeting. They are young enough that they are not on social media, texting or even have phones. They are all isolated and they are missing their friends, but Bridget is not. Her world has become myopic and about Abby. She is frustrated with FaceTime and does not understand how to talk on a phone.
When (fingers crossed, IF) school reopens, her friends will have continued to move forward while Bridget is marking time. Their friendships will be quickly reestablished. It’s like summer camp, they all go and transition the friendships to that setting. Bridget cannot do that.
It feels like our kids are being left behind and excluded from the GenEd experience. These important community connections that have been made over time are now in the past.
I do not know the answer.
I do know that I used to think that I would have 8 more years before I faced the day that Bridget’s friends went off to college and left her behind.
So I have to find the answer.
Please note, I would never ask a therapist, teacher, ESP or doctor/nurse work during this unprecedented pandemic. However something is happening to families whose child has special needs and we have to talk about it.