Do you remember being in school when you and your classmates would gather in the gym for the annual class photo? I remember all of mine (some dreaded, some not) and my son’s. This tradition of capturing the class photo continues throughout most schools today. I haven’t thought much about class photos recently until I read a post titled “The Class Photo that Broke a Mother’s Heart.” Her son, with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and confined to a wheelchair, brought home his photo to show his mom. And, instead of sitting with his class, he is in his wheel chair sitting, as mom describes, “three feet away” from his class. This mattered to his mom…does it matter to you?
We all hear the words: fully inclusive, least restrictive environment, regular education initiative. Children with special needs are enrolled at their neighborhood preschool, grade or high schools. In my experience, I’ve heard many parents share how pleased they are that their child will attend the same school as siblings and friends. But when we consider the day-to-day school social activities, such as lunch, recess and class photos, I wonder: How much inclusion is truly occurring?
This matters to all moms of children with special needs because we want them to have friends, be part of a group and be seen as who they are — not what the disability is, not what the diagnosis projects them to be, or where they “should be” placed…”three feet away.”
Yes, we have come a long way but we need to continue working on increasing understanding and changing attitudes about children and adults with disabilities. That is what I hope that I am accomplishing though my blog and advocacy efforts. Inclusion is not a room, but an understanding and willingness to look at each person as an individual. The child or adult is a person first. Let’s accept and welcome him or her into our communities, school and beyond.