When Charlie my son, who is diagnosed with autism, was newly diagnosed I searched the Internet, books, anything I could get my hands on to learn what this “autism” was. I wanted to tackle this head on. I realized early on it didn’t matter about the label, it mattered more what my son’s struggles were and how I was going to help him. So first, I learned more about my son’s things that he was doing that were inappropriate like playing with a car but just staring at the wheels going back and forth. He wasn’t really “playing”, he was stimming. I realized he walked on his toes constantly. I knew that had to be worked on. He wasn’t talking, that had to be worked on. He couldn’t use a straw, that had to be worked on. I knew he didn’t understand what I would ask him. I knew he sceamed alot and would cover his ears. I remembering making a list of things I needed to help him with.
As the first few months passed, I kept coming across the word inclusion.
Inclusion’s definition is the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure. I thought, “my son deserves to be included.” Then my mission started.
If you have read my book, Autism Is A Blessing, (affiliate link) you know the journey my family and I took to fight for my son’s rights. There were lawyers, court reporters, lots of studying of IDEA law, meetings and more meetings, and lots of time and energy taken away from my son doing all that. I had thought at the time inclusion was the most important thing. He needed to be with his typical peer group as much as possible. I think that is a good start, but most of our kids it is not like osmosis where they watch and can model. Frankly these days some of the peer modeling now is not something I want my son to copy.
Our kids need to be taught functional skills, social skills, they aren’t able to pick up on cues sometimes. In order for them to be truly successful with their typical peer group they have to learn some of these skills and then integrate with their typical peers.
Everyone has very different opinions on this issue and that is ok. I think we as fellow parents, teachers, grandparents we can agree to disagree at certain levels. I realized after I sat on the other side of the school system (I am currently the Assistant Principal of a Special Needs school that has an inclusion program and also a life skills program) I realized inclusion needs to be meaningful. I didn’t want to waste some of my son’s precious learning on waiting for him to pick up on cues, putting him in a class academically where he can’t keep up or keep up socially but he is with his typical peer group. I personally would rather have my son being independent and successful on his own, having the skills he needs to do that, then focus on him being with his peer group at all times. We still strive to have him be with his peer group a couple days a week, or with church youth. We try and use those times for him to actually practice the skills we have been teaching him outside of inclusion as well as with his inclusion peers.
It is challenging to keep getting road blocks when you feel he is ready to be included and they say, “no.” It is frustrating. You feel alone. You hurt for your child.
The good news though is I know my son is always included in God’s Kingdom. My son will always be included in God’s loving arms. He will always be included in a family that loves and will always be there for him. I want him to have friends, even marry someday, but more importantly I want him to be able to function on his own, have a job and support himself. I won’t be on this earth forever and that is my focus, not if he was able to participate in 7th grade with his peers, but can he do things on his own and at the same time working on social skills.
God wants us to go to Him when we are struggling with what the right thing to do is for our children. Pray, ask Him to show you the path you need to take and go for your child. This has been my path, what is God showing you?