One thing that advocates of Inclusive Education always fail to consider in their campaigns is how other students will treat that special needs student. In most cases, that special needs child will be the only special needs student in the entire school. Yes inclusive education is great in that it gives children with disabilities the same playing field in terms of quality of education but at times, it can leave some really nasty scars, scars which may never heal. (One day I write about inclusive education).
A couple of months ago when I came across this story The First Time My Son With Autism Got A Birthday Invite I Didn’t Have To Decline, it reminded me of my “inclusive education” experience. To summarize, the mother of a boy with autism writes a letter to thank the mother of a boy who invited her son to a birthday party. It is really a moving story. I was close to tears reading it and the comments people left on the article. The part that really touched me was when the mother said “Because of your son he is included. Because of your son he feels wanted.” Those two sentences took me back 17 years ago to the year 1998 when I began my “inclusive education” journey.
The year 1998 saw me beginning my inclusive education journey at a local primary school. To say I was not scared would be an understatement. To this day, I do not know how I survived the first term because it was hell to say the very least. You see I had to LEARN every single thing by myself. There was no physiotherapist, no teachers assistant to help me, there was no teacher who understood my specific needs to help me, neither did I have any friends at the school.
One of the things I vividly remember from the first term at this new school is how no-one spoke to me in the first couple of weeks except for the teacher or unless they had to. None of the students I shared a desk with me spoke to me. Break times were the worst. I would sit all alone in the playground eating my lunch whilst I watched the other students with their friends. I won’t lie and say I never cried because it did. Heaven knows how much it hurt being taken out of my comfort zone and being placed in this new environment where I was treated like I was an alien. It did not help that none of the teachers or headmistress bothered to integrate me with the other students. I was just left all alone to figure things out. What was so funny is how when my physiotherapist came to evaluate how I was doing, the teachers were very helpful that day cause of course they wanted the physiotherapist to write a good report.
Overnight I literally went from being in an “normal disability environment” to this place where I was excluded and felt unwanted till one day when I received a special invitation.
I do not remember what day of the week it was but I vividly remember the day like it happened yesterday, in fact I will ALWAYS remember this day. I was sitting alone during break time as per usual when these three or was it four girls who were in the year above waved at me and signaled that I should come over. I gathered my stuff and walked over to where they were sitting. They asked me why I was sitting alone and explained to them I had no friends then they asked if I wanted to sit with them to which I said yes. So every break time I would sit with these girls till I made friends with students in my year group.
To this day words cannot fully articulate how I felt in that moment to receive such a simple invitation to sit with these girls. They had obviously noticed that I had been sitting alone during break times and out of all the kids in the playground, they invited me to sit with them. So I can relate A LOT to the above story and specifically the words ““Because of your son he is included. Because of your son he feels wanted.” A simple gesture had such a huge impact on me which 17 years later I am still talking about. That simple invite told me they thought of me when no-one else did, they included me when no-one else did and they wanted me to sit with them when no-one else did.
When children with disabilities are included, it makes them feel wanted and worthy to sit with other children.
Inclusive education was without a doubt good for me but I cannot deny that it did not leave some scars cause it did. Reason why each time I see a #youcantsitwithus post, my heart breaks because I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of “you can’t sit with us.”
To the girls who invited me to sit with them, I dedicate this post to you and even though you I have told you this story so many times and thanked you before, I will say it again THANK YOU. 🙂