Walking the PlankI have some experience with this kind of intolerance. Schools are not built (but could and should be) to deal with full inclusion. Most parents of autistic kids either get lucky and get a teacher who cares enough to do what's necessary, or end up spending time with their kid in school to make sure things go well. It's a sad commentary on the state of public schools and speaks volumes about how we treat kids generally.
This morning, when J took our boy onto the school yard for morning lineup, he noticed the other kindergartners pointing. He heard them talking about the Rooster as they entered campus. "He is not normal," they said. J held Roo's hand and approached the group, who continued to point and talk animatedly about our boy. "He is not a normal human being," a little girl said, "he spits." Another boy in the throng didn't like my husband telling the kids to back down, telling them to not say that any more. "He is not normal," the boy said, turning his back on my husband and my Roo.
Around 1:15, J called me. He told me what happened, how my son began his Monday morning after our first decent weekend in months. He told me my son did not even react, he simply held firmly to J's hand. "Why did you wait so long to tell me this?" I shouted, looking at the clock, torn between listening further and racing to call the principal before the school day ended. "That was 5 hours ago!" And then my resilient husband's voice broke.
I'm the kind of girl who compulsively asks people, "Are you okay?" I have asked J about a dozen times a day for a decade. It's a reflex; he gives the same honest answer every time except for today. Today he said, "No."
The teachers tell us this: It does not begin with the children. It comes from the parents. Parents who worry that No Child Left Behind means All Kids Left Behind, and think my son will keep their kids from a good education. Parents who know little or nothing about autism. Parents who think inclusion is like a tax they don't want to pay, a charity they don't wish to bestow. Parents who think "those kids" like mine should be in "other" places.
I have to end this post now even though I have so much more to say. I have 20 pirate birthday party invitations to fill out, address, and stuff with treasure maps to our house. I have 20 children to kill with kindness. I have almost 40 parents to think about, long and hard, so I can remember my empathy, my compassion. I have toy eye patches and other booty to buy for a six-year-old Matey who is very much a normal human being, a normal human being who has what is becoming an all too normal challenge: intolerance and discrimination because of his autism.
"He Is Not Normal"
Full inclusion requires that people actually practice the tolerance they preach: