learning to live and love from a new perspective

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.

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Comments on: "A Nurturing Environment" (6)

  1. I was thinking about this issue at last week’s T-ball game. G was having a great time, but at one point he started studying a clump of grass and forgot about the game- it’s hard for other people to grasp that, and kids stare at him uncomprehendingly. I think he will learn to negotiate those situations, but it’s hard not knowing exactly how he will do it.

  2. Thanks for your comment! I agree… he will need a lot of support. Some of that support will need to be in the form of someone keeping a close eye on him, and making sure he’s staying focused. Some of the support will be someone keeping an eye on the environment, and making sure that all the kids are learning about individual differences.

  3. Your school sounds wonderful, David and Alison. 🙂 (And re: attention at ball games – Jonah plays in the outfield and sometimes he forgets that there’s a game going on, too. I’m surprised that the other kids think that’s strange!) G is lucky to have you two as parents.

  4. Hi Jen! Thanks for your comments! I agree… there were a lot of kids studying the grass, etc. It helps to remember there is a piece of this that is completely age-appropriate behavior!

  5. Thanks for sharing parts of your life, Alison. It is wonderful that you have found such a safe and nurturing environment for your son to be a part of. He is also so lucky to have you as a mother–for all of your personal characteristics and also your understanding of the importance of a healthy school community for your child, and what that can look like. It seems like the more special needs (of many kinds) that a child has, the more aware her/his parents become of the culture of the school.

  6. Hi Sandy! Thanks so much for your comments! It’s so interesting to me…. in all the years I worked for Project Aspire, I never really thought that we were teaching about including kids with disabilities. In fact, I don’t remember any books about kids with disabilities (except, of course, Arnie and the New Kid). I wonder if that has changed….

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