My son has lots of difficulties in life. He can not talk, he can not read, he can not write. He struggles to join in anything others are doing, preferring instead to flap at lift doors opening and closing or turning hand dryers on and off repeatedly. There is a long list of things I would love him to be able to do including communicate his needs, be more independent, understand what people are saying to him or even use cutlery.
Yet two days ago a photograph sent home in his school bag made me suddenly realise that all I really want for my son is one thing: to be included.
My son attends a school for children with severe and complex needs. Many of his ‘friends’ are wheelchair users, or non verbal or perhaps require to be fed differently via a tube. Some have behaviour challenges and others have genetic conditions or learning delays, but they all have unique and wonderful personalities. The small class sizes and increased staffing are necessary for all of the children, most, if not all, of whom will require support all of their lives.
However his school building is modern and custom build. One of the most remarkable things about the building is that it is shared with another school. This is a new and innovative idea where I live but one that seems to have huge benefits not just for complex needs schools and mainstreams but for schools of different faiths too. The building announces proudly to the community that we are all one and we are all the same even if we appear to others as different.
I have to be honest and say I would rather my son did not have some of the physical and cognitive challenges he faces daily. I wish he could speak, I wish he could read and write not because it would make me feel proud as a parent, but more so because it would benefit him so much. I wish he could attend mainstream school like his sister does because he would be known in the community and have friends locally he could play with, not because I have any issues at all with the challenges he faces. He is loved immensely for who he is but it would be beautiful if he was with his peers much more rather than separated and educated so far from home.
So getting the photograph sent home with him spoke so much to me. The photograph shows my son with children from a mainstream school playing a game. He is being supported not by specialist trained teachers or support staff but by another child. He is being included.
That is what I want above anything else for my son. I want him included as equal in society.
I don’t want him pitied.
I don’t want him ignored.
I don’t want him excluded.
I don’t want him mocked.
He has had enough of those things already.
Yes there are things my child can’t do, but there are things every one of us can’t do either!
The children in the photograph had no need to know the list of diagnosis my son has. They didn’t need trained in the latest model of therapy for those with autism or have to have hours of training in physical therapy. They didn’t see a child who can not speak or who is unable to read. They saw a child called Isaac and did what they could to have him join in to the best of his ability.
See my child. See him for who he is and not all the things he can not do. See him as a child who is worthy just as every other child is. See him as a peer.
Please let this photograph help change society. Please let this be the generation who sees people as equal.
Please give me hope that the one thing I want for my autistic son may actually happen one day.
Maybe you can’t include MY son but you won’t have to look far for a child who may also have autism, or a genetic condition or who struggles. Send them that party invite. Encourage them to join in the game. Offer to push them on the swing at the park.
Every act of inclusion is an act of love. I promise you it is worth it. I promise you everyone will gain from this.