A Taste of Inclusion

stalen 2

Last year my son Stalen went to preschool.

I was so nervous and scared. It’s one thing to send your child off without you but it’s another when they are non-verbal, on the autism spectrum and have a lot of unique challenges.

Stalen has pica so I was worried that he would eat something he shouldn’t.

He also is a runner and elopes so that weighed heavily on my mind.

I was worried about him being accepted, I was worried that he wouldn’t make any friends. I was worried that he would stand out and be labelled because of his constant stimming and need to move.

Would anyone in his class know about autism? Would the kids be nice to him? What if he was bullied?

The first day I was a mess. I cried so hard after I dropped him off. It’s so hard for a Mama’s heart to set their baby off into the world.

But, let me tell you. This sweet little preschool taught me so much. It was more inclusive than I could have ever imagined. It was a rare gem!

My son was invited on every field trip. We got the book orders, the memos about special events and days. There was never any discussion about limits for him in the classroom or on outings.

The kids liked him. They thought he was pretty cool because he had his own iPad. They greeted him and waved at him and spoke to him. Yet, they knew he couldn’t verbally respond. When he looked in their direction they smiled at him. He laughed when they laughed and he played next to them. He watched them and sometimes when they danced, he danced too.

When Stalen was in the hospital, they made him a special feel better book filled with happy faces, special drawings and love.

When they had their Christmas concert, he was front and center . It was so hard not to cry when I saw him up there just like everyone else.

He belonged.

When we went on the field trips it was never just him and I. Other kids always walked with us, they talked to me and asked questions. They sat with him for snack time and they sat at the table with us.

I cried in the car on the way home after one of the field trips because a little boy had asked me what my son’s favorite color was.

No one had ever taken such an interest in Stalen.

All of my unspoken hopes and dreams for Stalen in a fully accepting classroom came true. It was magical!

Stalen received 3 birthday party invitations while at preschool. I cried happy tears over every single one of them.

Those invitations were gold. I’m sure we will keep them forever.

They are a reminder that my son deserves to be included. They are a reminder that inclusion is possible. It is a reminder that parents have so many opportunities to model inclusion. They have the opportunity to influence so many important meaningful moments that matter for other kids and their families. Moments that they will treasure. Moments that will shine bright in their lives forever.

We all have the power to be someone’s sunshine.

This preschool experience taught me that it’s important to be inclusive from the very beginning.

Inclusion starts at home. It is those conversations about kindness and celebrating differences that lay the foundation for inclusion. It is in birthday party invites, play dates, field trips, outings and Christmas concerts.

Children teach us the best lessons.

It is possible for an autistic boy who is always on the move, who flaps and jumps and uses an iPad to communicate to be a part of a community. It is possible to be his friend. It is possible for others not to judge him but to love him. It is possible for him to be viewed as more than a diagnosis or as different. It is possible that anything is possible.

Most importantly, this experience has set the bar so high, as it should be. We know all too well what it feels like to be excluded but after knowing what it’s like to be included, I will never, ever settle for anything less for my son.

Inclusive classrooms support the abilities but also recognize the possibilities of all students.

My name is Chrystal Venator. I am a proud wife, ASD Mom, and Step-Mom. In January 2017, at 21 months my son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and we haven’t looked back! He is five years old and non-verbal. Since his diagnosis, I have become a full time stay at home Mom. I am 1000% focused on raising autism awareness and helping my son live a full and fun life. Follow our journey on Facebook at Stalen’s Way. (www.facebook.com/StalensWay) or on IG @stalensway

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Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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