I read a blog a while back that called inclusion a grand social experiment. That idea struck a nerve in me so deep that I’m surprised there wasn’t a loud “CLANG!” when I read it. So, it’s little wonder that I look upon the schoolyard as a giant Petri dish.
(seriously, these kids are germs on wheels)
Anyway, what I mean is each morning when I walk my kid into school and watch him run off to play on the yard, it really does feel like a giant science experiment, and i keep looking around for men in white coats and clipboards and deadpan faces collecting data and making hypotheses.
I’ve mentioned before that Benji has some trouble socializing and playing with other kids. Not a ton of trouble, but he requires a little patience sometimes. He gets super excited around kids, and he doesn’t always know how to play nor know all the social cues the kids are giving him. He tends to forget all the things we work on in this therapy and that. But he tries, people. HE REALLY TRIES.
And as painful and awkward as it can be for him sometimes,I try REALLY HARD not to helicopter too much and let him just go. And most mornings it’s good.
But sometimes its not.
The other morning, he was trying to play basketball with some other boys and there was an “incident”. Benji was trying to pass the ball—but he’s a little unfamiliar with basketballs and passing and the rules in general, and he passed the ball right to another kid’s face. And before I could get over there to stop it, the other kid pummeled Ben with the ball. A few times. Once I was able to break it up and forced apologies out of everyone involved, the bell rang and the event was over.
(well the kid in question dragged his mom over to try to give my son a talking to, but I put the kibosh on that RIGHT quick. Because trust me, Ben was sorry and was very upset that it happened. I know this because after the kid left, Ben told me, tearfully, that he “wanted to be good”—which broke my fucking heart, people.)
Anyway, like most schoolyard incidents, it’s been put aside for other things, and other games, and maybe a little sadly, Ben avoids the basketball court now. Partly because he has fallen in love with handball, but partly because the kids won’t really play with him. And I don’t think it’s grudge holding going on there. I think it’s a simple case of Ben doesn’t know how to play, so they don’t invite him in. Although the fact that he beaned a kid in the nose doesn’t help.
Anyway—I was talking to the resource teacher about this and mentioned that they didn’t play with Ben. And she said—“Well, we can make them play with him”—as if that were the most natural solution.
And it really rubbed me the wrong way.
I get that inclusion means that neurotypical kids are exposed to different need kids in the classroom—and naturally the hope and goal is that not only is the different need kid accepted, but that the neurotypical kids grow in their empathy and compassion. And of course I want that. Who doesn’t?
But is that going to happen when kids are forced to play together? Call me crazy, but I’d rather my kid be the one they “want” to play with and not the kid they “have” to play with. In fact, writing that sentence just made me cry.
I’ve talked a lot about wanting compassion for my kid and others like him, but I cannot help but think this kind of thinking is only going to exacerbate others’ perceptions of his differences. And I’m not saying I want those differences hidden—but you know as well as I that when people are comfortable with one another, the quirks of others melt away because we get used to them and accept them as part of who that person is.
I don’t know what the solution here is. Naturally, I want my kid to be liked simply for who he is—and he does have a handful of boys and girls in his grade that seem to like him just so. Hell, just this morning, one of them (the same one i wrote about here last year) ran up shouting Benji’s name and giving him a hug. And naturally I want a world that will hopefully have just a smidge of patience for my son so that his natural strengths and talents shine through. I suppose I just have the grand idea that this social experiment will make that happen naturally—and I’m afraid I am horribly naive in this belief.
What are your thoughts? Is there a benefit in forcing kids to play together? Or does it just widen the gap and magnify the differences that might later lead to more than simple exclusion? Because that’s where my head naturally goes with this. Is forced compassion just a natural fertilizer for the growth of a bully? I honestly don’t know. And I hate it that it’s MY kid that is the lab rat here.
[UPDATE: Someone asked me on my FB page how the other mom dealt with the incident, and i realized i didn't mention it. She was fine. She asked if my son apologized, and i said yes, and then she told her son to go on with his day, that it was over. She had no issues, as far as i could tell. I was putting the kibosh on having her bring it up again after it had been resolved (so that Benji wouldn't get upset all over again), and she agreed with that. While it was an "incident"--it was pretty much also a "non incident"]