“We provide the requisite support.”
This is the statement that the school principal made to me when I expressed concern over my son’s participation in an upcoming school event. Our school does a wonderful, day-long event that involves relays and egg tosses and a multitude of other team-building activities that promote sportsmanship and working cooperatively.
The kids love it, they look forward to it all year. Why wouldn’t they? A day of no classes where they get to run around and play games all day, eat ice pops, and laugh with their friends. A day where they get to feel part of a group and relish in the power of team work. Sounds amazing, right? What child wouldn’t look forward to a day like that?
My son, that’s who. My son doesn’t look forward to this day at all.
Sports and other physical activities are challenging for him. He’s not the fastest, slickest guy on the field. And even when he’s participating in a seemingly innocuous activity like an egg toss, his sensory processing disorder makes it extraordinarily challenging. When kids are running and screaming around him, his body gets overstimulated and basically shuts off. He drops the egg and lets his team down.
This day, though the best day for most kids, is one of the worst days for him.
As his parent, I dress him up, give him a little pep talk and send him on his way to do his best. I think it’s important he learns to participate and that he understands that trying his best is good enough. And who knows, maybe he will find a surge of “sportiness” and help his team to victory.
I also refuse to raise a quitter. Not every activity that he is expected to participate in is going to be his favorite or something he is good at. It’s important for him to understand this early on and learn to try his best to rise to the occasion.
As his parent, I’m also going to do whatever is within my power to advocate for my son’s success. That’s why I emailed the school and asked if there was any way they could create one “non-sports-based activity” for that day. Just one thing that would help a “non-sporty” kid feel like they could contribute to their team in a meaningful way.
I pointed out that teamwork can just as easily be promoted through LEGO tower building or some other less physical event. I highlighted that while I valued their support of my son’s academic success, it seemed that their support of children with special needs did not extend outside the classroom as much as they thought it did.
Not unexpectedly, their answer was no.
We provide the requisite support for your son. That statement was like a bullet to my heart. You see, as many parents of children with special needs can attest to, providing “the requisite support” is not the same as promoting an environment where we let our children shine and thrive for their differences.
Today, with the statistics of children diagnosed with any number of behavioral, learning, and/or emotional disorders rising dramatically from year to year, different is the new same.
I have an expectation, and maybe it’s an unfair one, that my school go beyond just providing what is required of them by law. I have an expectation that they encourage an environment that allows children to be celebrated for their individuality. I have an expectation that they demonstrate how some kids might not excel in one area but might kick butt in another completely different arena.
Teaching teamwork is showing children that they all have something unique to contribute. It’s allowing each team member to be called upon for their strengths and carried by others when they are weak. It’s making sure that every member of that team feels the power of their own personal contribution to that team’s success. It’s not creating an environment where someone feels less than all day, especially a young child.
I want all children, typical and atypical, to feel the glow of success within the walls of their school. I want them all to be celebrated for their assets and to understand that they won’t be defined by their weaknesses. I want schools to go above and beyond what is just legally required of them for the development, success, and benefit of every student that walks through their door.
Who knows, maybe my son will toss the winning ring, or hop across the finish line just in time to win it for his team. Maybe he will have the best day ever. But that doesn’t mean that my expectations of his school will change. It doesn’t mean that I will stop carrying the message and advocating for the support and celebration of his differences.