I was like a snarling mama cat, clamouring for full inclusion until just recently. That is, for NOT having Moxie in a “special ed” classroom, in a classroom set aside in which all of the other children therein also have a cognitive disability.
Moxie learns by imitation, I thought, what sense does it make to put her in a room full of kids that are where she is?
Right? I mean, since she really is a learn-by-watching kind of person, how is she going to learn to talk when she is around other kids that are mostly nonverbal?
And that might definitely be so. It very well may be. Because, like I said, she really does learn by watching.
But I applied my own deafness to this picture. I thought about how I felt, being the ONLY DEAF KID in every.single.classroom I have ever been in, bar none. The ONLY KID who couldn’t hear, then the ONLY ADULT who struggled through a thousand class sessions, millions of minutes focusing on lips, lips, lips, zonking out over lips, lips, lips in this endless quest to get it right, get it down, hear through watching.
I’m not going to lie: it SUCKED.
I got a taste of how awesome it can be to have a friend who is the same as me when Katherine came to work for my program at UC Berkeley. She and I were, I’m sure, completely obnoxious at work parties when we would “converse” with one another completely by lip-reading, emitting no sounds whatsoever.
It gets lonely when you are the only kid – or adult for that matter – that sticks out in some way.
You feel your difference. Hence, I suppose, the appeal of all-girls schools. Or black colleges.
And now, I think, for special ed classrooms.
I think for me it’s more important that Moxie has friends and she feels included, confident and strong than it is that she be all academically stimulated. This is surely a luxury on my part, that feeling, since it stems from my training and background as a teacher. I know I can give her at home what a classroom may lack, academically speaking. Even if it’s the learn-by-watching – she has two brothers, remember?
I want Moxie to know deeply and surely that her extra chromosome is a wonderful thing, bringing with it a bunch of uniqueness that is marvelous!
I want her to embrace who she is, love the gift to the world that her presence brings. I feel that pushing her one way or another – into a room with a lot of other kids with an intellectual disability or into a room with a lot of other kids without an intellectual disability – is not what I want to do. Rather, I want to feel out makes the most sense in a given place. Take each school and classroom on a case-by-case basis.
I want to see what she wants to do.
Perhaps that is the sticker; the stone in my wheel. The feeling that a lot of schools would not let Moxie see what she wants to do, or would not value her own opinion. A lot of schools won’t let individuals with a cognitive disability – or their parents for that matter – decide what is best for themselves. Education is not so much about encouraging beautiful minds anymore as much as it is about dollars and scores.
I’m distrustful of any system that wants to segregate anyone. I think the best and most logical conclusion is to integrate everyone. Because really, with all skills present in a class, with all types of individuals, with a full spectrum of intellect and variations in learning styles at play, kids are really going to grow. They’ll be pushed further by helping one another; they’ll see the strengths in those with cognitive disabilities, not just a societal-defined weakness. They’ll learn that Moxie might not talk as much as they do but she can teach them a thing or three about getting what she wants. Like all people – ALL PEOPLE – she has skills and contributions that she is bringing to the table.
The question is simply if she will be allowed to contribute or will she be a token inclusion in her class?
There we go. A flawed system and an imperfect world. What I want does not yet exist and if I choose to send my daughter to school, my choices right here, right now, are a segregated “special needs” classroom or a “mainstream” classroom in which Moxie would need help in the form of aides and such.
I have no answers that are solid but I do know that as much as I loathe segregation, I want my girl to feel accepted and valued. If she found that in a special ed classroom and not in a mainstream one, well, then, I’d think about it.
A special ed classroom is not out of the question anymore.
- originally posted June 18, 2013
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.