Wendy, at Zip-Perdue-Dee-Dah, makes an excellent point on her recent post about "Would You Change the Fact Your Child Has Down Syndrome?" This is a topic I've seen discussed many times online, and of course have thought about myself. The striking point she makes is this:
But here's the true heart of the matter: we can't change Ds. We CAN change society - one person at a time.
Down syndrome is part of Sean, part of what makes him who he is. It makes him beautiful and sensitive and loving and precious and stubborn and funny and silly and all kinds of good and bad traits. Yes, it does make some things harder for him, like speaking, motor skills and learning delays. Yes, it stinks that it has affected his heart, hearing, breathing and eating. But you know what? A kid with 46 chromosomes can have all sorts of those problems too. There's no guarantee that just because your child doesn't have Down syndrome that they are going to fulfill every ambition YOU have.
I've become increasing concerned about Sean's school placement next year. Our plan is for him to attend the same school as Aidan, and hopefully be able to spend a larger portion of his day in a typical classroom than out. Of course, as this next year unfolds we will learn more about that process and if that is the right placement for Sean. The school Aidan attends is one of the two schools in our district with a special needs resource room. We have been told he can attend other schools, but that he'd be bussed to this school for services during the day. Since we'd rather not waste so much of his day on a bus, we felt it would be best for him to attend school there all day and have easy access to the resource room. Plus, it's a great school and we are pleased with how Aidan is doing in it.
However, since Aidan has been attending the school we are learning more of an "insider" view on how "integrated" the special needs children are with their peers. And, frankly, I'm worried.
On Thursday, Aidan came home with a note from the school nurse that a playground incident had occurred and Aidan needed her treatment. The story is that a boy in the other first grade class found a piece of sandpaper on the playground (the school is currently under construction while they add on a new music room & library.) The boy rubbed Aidna's cheek with the sandpaper, leaving it red and raw. Aidan said it really hurt and was taken to the nurse who cleaned it & put a cold pack on it. I coated it in Aquafor and asked him to tell me what happened. Why in the world would a child do that to him?
At first he said, "S did it. He's in Miss H's class and he is always mean to everyone." I asked were they playing rough and this happened or did the boy just attack him and do it. Then he said, "No, S didn't do it. The other boy, the second grader that's really little did it. You know, P. He is mean to everyone. He did it."
Sigh. I immediately knew that he was making it up for some reason and was being stubborn about giving me the true story.
P is a special needs child, with a form of dwarfism. I don't personally know him, but Aidan has brought home stories from classmates about how P is mean and hurts other kids on the playground every day. Again, I don't know what is true and what is being spread out of fear of differences. I tend to side on P's end. I've been telling Aidan that P is just like other kids even though he looks different from them and may act different. I remind him that his brother looks and acts a bit different than Aidan's other friends the same age. I've told him that we don't want other kids to think Sean is "mean" or "strange." We need to give all kids like Sean and P a chance to be our friend. If we are gentle and kind to them, they will be gentle and kind to us.
I can clearly see he is having a struggle with this. He knows Sean. He knows that Sean can sometimes play rough (Aidan tends to encourage it) and sometimes does stuff like throw sand willy nilly at a playground. He knows that it is harder to understand Sean than other kids Sean's age. But he loves his brother and loves to play with him and would really not like it if other kids were afraid of him.
But his peers are telling him that P is someone to be afraid of. A child to avoid playing with if you don't want to get hurt. A child that the others will not play with and if you want to be included with them, you better stay away from P also.
Very, very upsetting.
I feel the school is at fault here. Education in acceptance is needed. Encouragement in integration is needed. Possibly a para is needed for P to ensure that he is acting appropriately with his peers and learns to foster friendships. If he truly had a behavior problem that made it unsafe for him to be around other children, he wouldn't be in this placement at school. Therefore, the issue is in the society he is in.
We have to change our society to include and encourage a positive environment for people of all abilities. For P. For Sean. For Aidan! I am trying so hard to raise my children to accept others in ALL forms, regardless of gender, race or ability. I need help. I need other parents to do the same with their children. When they hear their typical child claim that a special needs child is "mean" or "scary", I need them to educate their child on disabilities and teach them to focus on the abilities instead.
Start young. Stay positive. We can do this together.