First was the fact that because Maura was a special ed student with many needs to be filled, she actually had a busier schedule than her regular ed peers. She transitioned more times per day than the average student. She had more to do, because she had to spend time in regular class settings, but then also go for speech and OT and special ed time.
Maura was exhausted. She’d come home and spend the evening screeching at us if she didn’t get some sort of rest time. I couldn’t take her out in public because she was too tired and would have melt downs. But because she was in an inclusion program, she had all these goals she had to meet. The only way to cut her work load at school was to cut out things like art and music – classes she actually enjoyed and could participate in. So we kept up the pace.
The second problem I discovered was that inclusion didn’t make Maura’s regular peers more understanding of her. Instead, in first grade, it became a “thing” to laugh when a special ed student cried, and call them babies. It happened in front of me once, and it happened in front of my older daughter’s friends, who quickly told her what happened. When I talked to the general ed teacher about it, I was told that this had been an ongoing problem all year. All year. So much for acceptance.
The third problem we discovered was that because Maura had such a full schedule, between regular academics, special ed academics, and therapies, she didn’t have time to learn a lot of what she really needed to learn – life skills. Yes, we would work on these things at home as well, but she spent the majority of her waking hours at school, and was exhausted by the time she got home and not in the mood to learn anything.
By the time we moved to Ireland, I was sort of over the mythical wonders of inclusion.
And yet, we tried to get Maura into a regular school in Dublin as well. Because special schools had the stigma of being for the “worst cases” in our minds. Inclusion was the ideal. Inclusion would help her mature and grow in ways a special school couldn’t. Inclusion was the thing we should fight for, or so every website and article about it told us.
Luckily, the principal at the local school was blunt with us – they didn’t have the resources for a child like Maura. But he got us in touch with the right people, and a spot at a special school was offered.
I’m almost embarrassed by my reaction to the special school the first time I visited it. I looked at the students there, and thought “But Maura is my bright beautiful girl! She doesn’t belong here!” And then I went home and cried a little, because part of me knew that Maura was really actually disabled.
See, inclusion can give this idea that your child, with all their struggles and difficulties, is still somewhat normal. That normal is still within reach. They could learn how to blend. They could be part of that normal group of kids. It’s a false sense of security, even for those of us who are quite aware of our child’s challenges. I also realized that despite being part of the “special needs community”….I hadn’t actually been around that many people with disabilities. Most of us haven’t. And yet there I was, in a sea of varying disabilities, for the first time in my life. It was overwhelming – I was able to admit that.