She Said My Son's Disabilities Will Create Classroom Managment Issues
I shared on my personal Facebook wall that we received our first rejection notice from a private Christian school for Nathaniel’s enrollment next fall. Someone commented, “I get how the school could make that determination. If they don't have a special education program with self-contained classrooms, then Nathaniel would have to be placed in a regular classroom. His medical needs and communication would most likely create classroom management issues.” The school’s reason "Our methodologies do not allow for a child to have a disability in the area of communication,” was the first hard blow of the day. The comment was a second and harder blow.
“His medical needs and communication would most likely create classroom management issues.” Interpretation – Nathaniel being in a classroom with able students creates problems for other students and teachers. Solution – a special education program with self-contained classrooms. Isolate for the others' benefit, not Nathaniel's.
This “where does my child with disabilities belong” questioning is new to me. I do not know where Nathaniel could or should be placed in an educational setting. But we have experienced one setting that was not a good placement. He briefly attended a group therapy program for children with delayed language development. Like Nathaniel, most of the children were nonverbal. One striking difference between Nathaniel and his classmates was apparent very quickly. The other children were likely nonverbal in connection with another issue. Based on observation and talking with the other parents, I suspect that many fell somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. Nathaniel is nonverbal because his vocal cords are glued closed. Despite (or perhaps because of) using an augmented communication device, he had the highest level of receptive and expressive language in the group. Like able speaking children, he greeted, requested, questioned, answered, gained attention, commented, corrected, directed, negotiated, labeled, and informed. With the aid of his tools, he used language. But in a self-contained classroom created specifically to help nonverbal children develop language, he lacked communication partners, examples of language use, and reasons to advance his skills.
Which is why I had the audacity to think my child might fit better in a regular classroom with speaking children in a small Christian school.
I want warnings for hard days. The emotions of being the mom of a special needs child jump out and startle me like goblins at a haunted house. When in Jr. High, I went through the homespun “Haunted Gym” the upperclassmen created for Halloween. I have not been to a haunted house since, and I dislike surprises of any sort. Which is probably why I am thinking about and pursuing Nathaniel’s school placement early.
“His medical needs and communication would most likely create classroom management issues.” An hasty uninformed judgment by Facebook poster. She has never observed my child with his peers. Actually, I can not remember her ever meeting him, and she knows nothing of his cognitive testing, doctors' and therapists' recommendations. But her comment is now a new goblin that jumps out to produce fear and sadness and anger and distance and hopelessness. The playground rhyme is wrong, words do hurt. Words linger. Words reveal attitudes. The comment and the rejection state loudly how society perceives my son. His communication disability and his medical complexity create a problem for others. Not a problem to be solved. Not a problem to be worked through. But a problem to be eliminated by isolating him. A problem even for Christians. Those who I have the highest expectations will be champions of compassion, kindness, inclusion, and long suffering.
I accept the private Christian school's decision to not enroll Nathaniel. Their vision does not include children with disabilities. I would rather know that now than after they accept my tuition payment. I do not respect the commenter's offered solution - that children like Nathaniel should separated away from able bodied peers because their presence alone is too much to manage. Sequestering the disabled in school trickles out to that preschooler's world. To his church and to the playground and to the birthday parties. It becomes a goblin we all must chase away.
The first through third photos accompanying this post were taken at Nathaniel's weekly playgroup. A huge thanks to the families for sharing our days and allowing me to share photos of their children. The last photo is Nathaniel and his cousin, Viv, who has learned leadership and compassion by being Nathaniel's loyal friend. We have learned much by observing all these children's (and their parents') practice of inclusion.