A family's story

Posts tagged ‘Inclusion’

They Belong

Last night I was feverishly putting the finishing touches on some teacher gifts for the boys’ “village”. I had 18, yes, EIGHTEEN, fantastic people to write thank you’s to, buy gifts for, and thank for a job well done.

As I was shaking a hand cramp out from using a hole punch to do some gift card magic (I NEED to stay off Pinterest), I saw a notification on my phone that Jean, who blogs at Stimeyland, had written a new post. I decided to take a wee little break from my sweatshop (seriously, I did say “feverishly”) and read her post. My heart sank. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. It was as if I had ripped a scab off of a fresh wound. You can read the post here. (And if you’re not well acquainted with her blog, I suggest you read some more…she writes some great stuff.)

Her son, and a couple of other kiddos who are in a segregated classroom because their learning styles are a smidge different from the average John Q. Student, were not included on a 5th grade “graduate” bulletin board. It took NINE weeks to get said kiddos on the board. And this was only after one of the other moms had raised her voice and then, in an act of awesomeness, took a picture of the three excluded kids and posted that sucker on the board.

Just this week, we experienced something similar…and you know what, it hurts. The boys’ last day of school is today. Earlier in the week, the boys got their long-awaited yearbooks. I know, I know…yearbooks in elementary school….but they are really well done, and this year we could personalize 2 pages for our children. So, of course, I had to buy TWO yearbooks. Clever, PTO, clever!!!

The first thing Tate did when he got home from school was rip the yearbook from his folder. He shredded the plastic off of that sucker faster than I could say, “hang on!”. Looking at pictures of his friends is highly motivating for him. It always has been. He opened to the front 2 pages that I personalized. He carefully looked at each picture. The impulsivity that we usually see was gone. He was calm. He was smiling–from ear to ear. He was touching each picture of him and his classmates. He was in his happy place.

After perusing his personalized pictures, Tate wanted to see his class picture. Who wouldn’t? Now, I don’t know if all districts are like this, but in ours, the self-contained classrooms do not get their own pictures in the school year book. Privacy and all that jazz. (I, personally, don’t care, but I get it…) Tate went to the general education class that he pushes into. There he found his beaming face from September. He also found the 3 other kiddos who push into that classroom with him. He wanted to know where his other friends were. I told him to turn to the next page.

We turned the page…. And the 4 other children from his classroom were not in there!!!!! Three of them made the candid photos on the other side of the spread, but there are 4 children in second grade who did.not.get.into.the.yearbook. I kept looking. I checked Jake’s yearbook. They weren’t in there either. It was totally an oversight..and NO ONE CAUGHT IT. And insult to injury?! The group photo from a class party (every class has one group photo on the candid page) doesn’t include the 4 kiddos, either. Tate’s class does…but this one didn’t. (I was not on the Yearbook committee…but I have now offered my services as a proofreader and copy editor…I kind of did that before I decided to quit my outside job.)

I am hurt. We’re all about “inclusion”, and yet, it is very clear that sometimes, we don’t belong. Do you know how that feels? Chances are that everyone does…and it really stinks. I know it was human error and oversight..but seriously…FOUR SECOND GRADERS WERE LEFT OUT OF THE  YEARBOOK..and that’s not right. They belong, dammit. They belong, they are a part of that school, and they should be in that yearbook. They spend 10 months, give or take, with these other children. They eat lunch beside them. They play dodgeball in gym with them. Some even participate in science or math with them. And to leave them out of the yearbook is total, utter, garbage.

I also sent a letter to the Yearbook chair to let her know. I copied Tate’s fantastic teacher. Know what? She was never asked to review the yearbook. Not once. And you know what? She would have caught this and made sure it was fixed…because she knows. She knows how fantastic each and every one of these kids are..and the special qualities that they bring to the table, so to speak.

There was an apology issued. The yearbook chair sent an email out to the teachers, and copied me on it. Tate’s teacher asked if she would send an apology to the families affected, and the yearbook chair did that too. The apology helps…and I am now a sitting member on the yearbook committee, so that should help…but for right now? It is fresh and it stings.

Simply: They belong. We need to be respectful of all of our school community. Every.single.one.

A Party

Four weeks ago, a white envelope came home in Tate’s folder. Seeing as my children are rarely invited to birthday parties, he had no idea what it was. I, on the other hand, was beside myself with excitement. “Tate, you got an invitation to a birthday party!” His response?! “No, mom. That’s boring.” (Lovely script, eh?) The party was for a boy in the mainstream class that he pushes into for specials. The party was going to be held at a local indoor playground. It sounded like a good opportunity for Tate. We accepted the invitation.

The invitation garnered a place of prominence on our fridge. It HAD to be on top of a binder-clipped group of papers. Daily, Tate would check it out. Jake would let me know that the party was coming up, too. I know that it was a mass-invite, but it was still exciting to be included.

I emailed the boy’s mother. I asked what his interests were. She suggested books, games, and possibly a gift card for the purchase of a Skylander Giants character. I mentioned that it was big at our house too. She was pleasant via email. I asked Tate if he wanted to go pick out the present with me, but he declined. I ended up buying his classmate 2 books (the easy readers, per his mom’s suggestion) and a gift card to get a Skylander Giant.

On Saturday we went over our schedule. Tate reiterated that the party was going to be boring. I knew it was his script. We went anyway. As we walked into the indoor playground, he saw a few of his classmates. He burst into a huge grin and started to move his arms around in big circles. That’s the thing with Tate…when he’s happy, his whole body shows it. He hurriedly took off his shoes and jacket and shouted, “Bye, mom!” as he joined the group.

The birthday boy came up to Tate and said hello. Tate made brief eye-contact, said hi, AND said the boy’s name! I started to relax. I let the birthday boy’s mom know that I was going to stay, should any issues arise. She let me know that several parents were doing the same. I got to meet a few other parents of children in the mainstream class, since our only contact had really been via email.

I said some hello’s and nice-to-meet-you’s, and then I ordered a non-fat latte to sip on as I watched the kids play. (Yes, this place totally caters to suburban parents..and for that, I’m grateful.) Tate was being chased by several girls. Each and every one of the girls had to hug Tate and tousle his hair. (I can’t blame them…it’s irresistible.) They started to climb, and slide, and run, and laugh. I let out a sigh.

At some point it was time for pizza. Tate was much more interested in playing, but upon my insistence to join the group, he followed along. One of the girls patted the bench next to her. “Tate, your seat is right here.” He sat, took a big sip of lemonade, and observed. He didn’t talk to the other kids, but he didn’t act inappropriately at all. He was quiet. I started to chat with another mom.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Um, Tate got a little agitated and didn’t want to eat. He wants to play.” It was the birthday boy’s mom. I was ok with that. I told her that he was autistic, so he may not follow along with everyone else. She said she knew he was autistic, and that’s why she was worried that he got agitated. (I didn’t see the activity…I’m not sure if he got agitated, as that’s not really his style, but more likely, he probably said he wasn’t hungry and left the eating area to go play.) By the time I made my way over to the eating area, he and the other children were playing again, and there was no issue. I mentioned that his medication makes him have a small appetite…and that we had eaten lunch. The mom seemed ok with that.

Towards the end of the party, right before the cupcakes were handed out, I had to go retrieve my nearly 7-year-old from the playground. He got stuck in an area that leads to a tunnel slide. It was dark, and echo-y, and was quite frankly, freaking him out. I asked him to go down on my lap. He refused. He asked me to go first, so I did. He stayed up there, frozen by his sensory overload and anxiety. I climbed back up, and was able to coax him down via some fun squeezy rollers and a slide. That was enough to help regulate him. He joined his classmates just before they started to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Tate sang the song along with the other kids. Well, what approximated singing. It was more like caterwauling. Tate then happily accepted a cupcake with vanilla frosting and sprinkles. A few of the parents kept asking him if he wanted to take the paper wrapper off of the cupcake. I knew that he wouldn’t. He shook his head and said no. He only swatted at the hands of someone’s younger sibling when she tried to touch his cupcake. I reminded him to keep his hands to himself and use words instead. “Shoo, girl, shoo!” (That was appropriate..and probably exactly what I would have said if someone was trying to paw my cupcake!!) He ate a few bites of the frosting, as usual, and asked if he could play some more. Several other kids were off again, too. So he got to play for about 20 more minutes.

As we left, I told him to say thank you. “Thank you, birthday boy’s mom.” (The birthday boy was still on the playground equipment somewhere.) She responded, then Tate asked to leave. We made it to the car. I asked if he had fun. With a huge smile on his face he proclaimed, “Mom, it’s boring.” But I know that he had fun…and felt like a part of the group. And that was a win.

Editor’s Note: I’d like to send a big shout out to the birthday boy’s mom. She didn’t have to include the kids from the instructional class, but she did. And in so doing, she gave my kid an afternoon of feeling like a typical boy…and that kindness is something that he, and I, will not soon forget.

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