Friend, I Understand You May be Scared

It’s the end of the school year and administrators are sitting with teachers working to create the best classes for the coming year. I understand it’s not an easy task.

This year, I sit on the other side of the table as the parent who understands that my autistic child may be placed in your class. I have even heard that a few of my ‘friends’ have requested that their children not be in my child’s class. I want you to know, I understand.

Really. I do.

Friend, I remember being in your shoes, when my typical first born daughter was placed in the inclusion class. I worried about her. I worried she may say the wrong thing. I worried she may not get the attention she needed. I worried that the child with disabilities may impact my child negatively, and I sat back and watched that year as she lived and learned through being in the that class. That class that had kids with identified needs and children whose needs were identified through the year.

I can tell you that she was not the only one who learned…I learned too.

I learned that having a child in an inclusion class CAN and will mean that my child may have to wait a little longer, they may have to progress a little slower and they may struggle with frustration at times but I learned how these lessons can be valuable.

I learned that sometimes I would be in the classroom for parties or to help out (I was the room mom that year) and I may be scared or overwhelmed at times with other children’s behaviors or lack of self control. But I also learned that it made me a better mother.

I learned to have more understanding and empathy for what that parent was going through.

I also learned how lucky I was to have a fairly typical child.

My oldest child took away valuable lessons that she continues to carry with her today. She is often looked to as a partner or a leader because of her ability to work with children who are differently abled. And what an honor it is to have a parent of a special needs child email, call or stop me and thank me for her kindness because truly, that first school year, that year with the inclusion class, is the reason she is who she is today.

Since that time, we have had numerous experiences of both inclusion classes as well as classes that primarily only had neurotypical children. As my youngest entered our lives and was diagnosed with autism, my personal views, beliefs and awareness changed. I am no longer just the mom of typical children but of a neurodiverse family that includes a child that has been our greatest teacher in her young life.

Recently, I have learned of more than one of my “friends” who doesn’t want their children in an inclusion class. Perhaps it’s for similar reasons that I held in my heart in the past. Perhaps they have their own reasons.

Either way, I want you to know I don’t judge. I live with my daughter and I know just how hard it is to be with her. I know how scary it is when she’s having a difficult melt down and that she can overwhelm other children and adults when she loses self-control.

I get it but I do want to tell you a little about her.

Like you carried your child, I carried her. I was blessed to carry her full term. Like you, I rocked her, nursed her and held her close. Like you, I had my own dreams and hopes for her. I had ideas for who she was and what she was going to be.

Like you, I imagined that she would be amazing. She would obviously dance at age two, play soccer at age four and would be smart just like her father.

Sadly, my dreams were not realized as easily as I had hoped.  But what I will also tell you is living the last four years with my child has made me a better person than I ever was before having her. I have become a better mother, wife and friend.

Her struggles and her issues have made me a better daughter, teacher and supporter. I have become a better coach. I have become a better person. All because of her and mostly because of her disability.

I will also tell you about her siblings. They have learned to be selfless-because of her. They have learned not to fear children unlike themselves and how to embrace them. They are the first kids to comfort, console or CHOOSE to be with children with disabilities. I get calls, emails and have face to face conversations with teachers, therapists and parents that thank me and it was nothing I taught them, it was their sister.

Those calls, those emails and those conversations are so much more valuable to me than grades on a piece of paper that mean nothing after school concludes and they become the leaders of tomorrow.

So friend, I understand.

I understand that if you learn your child has been placed in my daughter’s class you may be scared or even worse, you may call and ask that your child be placed differently. I get it. It’s scary. I don’t judge you.

That being said, I will tell you, if you choose to pull your child from that class, you will be missing out. You will be missing out on your child learning valuable life lessons that will not only impact them during the coming school year but you will be missing out on your child learning valuable lessons that they will carry with them long after we are no longer walking this earth.

If I were you, I would take the opportunity that the inclusion class offers. The opportunity to grow, the opportunity to flourish, and the opportunity to live a better life for having a disabled child in it.

Still, if you choose that that class is not right for you or your child, I understand. I get it. I don’t judge you but I do urge you to take a moment to teach your child compassion, empathy and understanding because you see, school isn’t just about books or tests as much as the outside world would like you to believe.

School is about growing in knowledge that is both academic and empathetic and what better way to learn than to practice it each day?

Written by, Elizabeth North

Elizabeth North is a stay at home mother of 5. She enjoys parenting her uniquely different children and also works to advocate for autism acceptance. Elizabeth is currently working to amend state laws in New Jersey to support better services for autism. She also enjoys fitness, nutrition and writing. You can follow her blog at Behind the Face of Autism.

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter.

This post originally appeared on Behind the Face of Autism.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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