The other day I was surprised by an interesting conversation I had at the grocery store. We were doing some shopping with the kids when one of my son’s classmates ran to Emir to give him a high five and say “hello.” It wasn’t a big deal for any of us but when I looked at the kid’s parents, they were totally surprised and confused. “How does my child know yours?” the mother asked. And because that wasn’t uncomfortable enough, she added, “My child is not special needs.”
Asking God for patience and strength, I replied, “My son is not special needs either. He has Down syndrome and they both are in the same classroom. As you can tell, they know each other and I suppose they are friends. Anyway, you could go ahead and ask your son,” I said. She was completely annoyed and probably ready to request a meeting at school just to be sure her son wasn’t in the wrong classroom, so I told her, “This is called inclusion. Children WITH special needs are appropriately placed in a typical classroom to benefit from a grade level curriculum as they develop typical relationships like this one. No worries, your child is in the right place, and mine is too.” I closed the conversation with my most beautiful smile and kept walking.
Some Parents of Typical Children Are Scared of Inclusion
When we think about challenges for inclusion we usually focus on the professionals in charge of our children’s education. The times are few that we consider that the larger challenges that might include the parents of our children’s classmates who, as in cases like this one, don’t understand inclusion and don’t seem excited or happily surprised to find that their kids are sharing the classroom with a person with a disability.
Why are these parents scared of inclusion?
Based on my experience and what I have heard from other professionals and families:
- They seem to believe that inclusion is unfair for typical students. They believe that time and attention is taken away from their kids to give it to the student with a disability or special needs.
- They don’t understand the meaning or process of inclusion so they are driven by prejudice. They believe that an inclusive classroom has lower standards and because of that, their typical children are at risk of being “mislabeled” as a student with disabilities.
- They don’t have experience interacting with a person with disabilities and they don’t see the individual They recognize the disability and they see it as a problem. They are victims of the circle of prejudice that portrays people with disabilities as violent, aggressive, and/or socially inappropriate.
We can’t judge parents for not understanding these concepts; however, it is just not right to expose our children to this kind of experiences in a typical trip to the grocery store. For that, months like October, designated as an awareness month for Down syndrome, are dedicated to creating positive change. One of our goals should be to be sure our School Districts dedicate time to highlight disability awareness days and months as much as they do non-significant occasions like “Crazy Hair Day” or “Pajama Day”. Inclusion is such a positive experience for everyone, and awareness days are a great opportunity to read a book, to talk about specific disabilities, to highlight a student with a disability and recognize his or her abilities. There is so much that children can learn during awareness months and days.
Most importantly, as parents, let’s take the initiative to contact our children’s teacher and school administrator for a friendly reminder of these days. Let’s not forget we are our children’s best advocates and by learning to communicate, we are educating our communities and helping others understand that inclusion is natural, strengthens diversity, and prepares all of our children to celebrate everyone’s abilities.
Thanks to Lee County Schools, my children’s school district for allowing me to share this message with students, for recognizing the need, and for celebrating our children in general.