Two years ago, I was at the town pool with my kids. S, already little Miss Independence at age six and a half, was on the other side of the pool swimming and playing with her friends. I was in the shallow end with G. He was splashing, flapping and amusing himself by making silly noises. I was delighted that he was having such a good time. It was a season-long struggle to get him in the water. (See earlier post). The fact that he was even in the water was an enormous accomplishment. The fact that he was having fun? Priceless.
Two children from my local preschool class spotted me, and came over to say hello. I greeted them with warm smiles, and asked about their summer so far. G had been quiet for a moment, so I made an attempt to introduce him to my students. They were, after all, exactly the same age. However, they didn’t know each other because these kids attended the local preschool where I teach (and where my daughter attended). G did not go to this school, because he attended our town’s integrated preschool school where he received special education services
Unfortunately, G was totally uninterested in the introduction. He started up again with the noises and splashing. He didn’t like that I was paying attention to the other kids, and he tried to engage me with some of our favorite nonsense words. I actually don’t remember exactly what he was doing, because his behavior fell in the realm of our “normal”. The look on my students’ faces told me that this behavior seemed anything but normal to them.
“Is that your son?” the little boy asked me incredulously.
The little girl chimed in, “Why is he so weird?”
And that was it. The beautiful celebratory bubble that had enveloped me just moments earlier evaporated, and I was left speechless and stunned. I managed to stammer, “This is just how he likes to play.” Then I maneuvered G over to another area of the pool.
In the three years that G was in the integrated preschool, I never heard anyone use the word “weird” to describe another child’s behavior. Friendships formed between typically developing and not-so-typically developing kids that were beautiful to see. All of the kids got the opportunity to be around classmates with all kinds of differences. The staff had the attitude and the skills to make it work.
When G transitioned to kindergarten, I was delighted that he was going to be attending our neighborhood school. He would be mainstreamed into a typical classroom. But as thrilled as I was about the placement, I was also worried. Would the staff in his kindergarten class have the attitude and skills to make it work? Or would G be regarded as the weird kid, sitting on the sidelines?
As I’ve written in other posts, this year has been AWESOME. G is included in the life of his class in every sense of the word. I’m beyond delighted. But I’m also worried. Right now, there isn’t such a huge difference between G’s behavior and his peers. In a well-structured environment, he can blend right in. And, in his kindergarten class, his peers are learning to see him as a valuable member of the community. What will happen next year?
According to both G’s neurologist and his developmental pediatrician, we should expect that the social and academic demands in G’s life will increase in the next year or so. We need to stay on top G’s difficulties with attention and anxiety. (I don’t mean that my husband and I should be attentive and anxious. We already are. I mean that G has trouble sustaining attention, and he is susceptible to anxiety). The warning signs are there, but so far these are obstacles that aren’t slowing him down yet.
Will next year’s staff have the skill and the attitude to help G, and kids like him, be part of the class? Even if G’s differences become more pronounced, and the other kids become more aware… will he still be included? Despite my worries, I do have a lot of confidence in the staff at G’s school. I know all the teachers have been trained in Responsive Classroom (www.responsiveclassroom.org), and that training is evident in the high level of skill in supporting kids’ social development. I can appreciate how well the Responsive Classroom approach is being implemented, because this is my background and training as well (more about that in a future post).
The culture at our school places an emphasis on creating a safe environment for all kids. The attitudes and skills to make this happen are in place. As the tide turns, and the challenges our child faces become more pronounced, I hope we can find this acceptance and support in the broader community as well.