Blogger's note: This is my opinion. I don't mean to ruffle anyone's feathers or negate anyone's feelings. I applaud all those who come with me, and before me, on this journey through Autism.
Yesterday I went to a conference put on by Autism Resource Center of Central Massachusetts. The information and speakers were amazing. I wish I had this stuff five years ago when I got D's diagnosis and started this crazy journey. Even though I feel I have done pretty well navigating things on my own, it was so rewarding to be surrounded by other parents and professionals facing the same struggles. The networking was wonderful, the break out session I took on helping ASD kids make and keep friendships was something I totally had been looking for. And I was able to share information with my friend who took different break out sessions. We were actually really taken back by the fact the conference was not better attended.
What did strike me as different from my point of view were the attitudes by some of the parents. While I try to find out everything I can and advocate for my son daily, I don't think I need to wear the badge of Autism front and center on my life. ASD is only one thing we face. It does not have to define D or our family. We are so much more than Autism. While I want him to stay who is and celebrate the differences that make him amazing, I don't want to segregate him from the world. I want him to also blend in and learn that the world is not all roses and sunshine. Yes he is going to come across people who think he is odd. Yes he is going to run into some form of discrimination at some point in his life. And yes some kids will tease him. But some will tease his brother also, and he is not on the spectrum. It is a fact of life, people can be mean. Kids and adults.
It is for this reason I feel integrated classrooms and inclusion programs are extremely important. My son is in a regular classroom and gets SPED services 5 days a week for 60 minuets a day. He is in mainstream Cub Scouts and 4H. He has mainstream friends, and spectrum friends. He learns how to deal with rejection and different opinions. This people is growing up. Weather you are on the spectrum or not. I fought for him to be in a social skills group when school resumes in the fall, and he will be. A group that includes mainstream and spectrum children. So it breaks my heart when I hear parents saying they want their high functioning spectrum kids in segregated SPED classrooms, away from "mainstream" kids. They are afraid their children will be teased, or made to feel different. I understand that fear and pain. I know what that feels like. But what service are you doing for them to not expose them to the rest of the world.
You can not hide these children away and not allow them to learn to cope with society. You can not wear your "badge" of Autism and demand to be segregated when millions of us fight for our children to be included. I don't hide his disability, but I don't let it define him. My son's best friend has no clue D is on the spectrum. He is just D. Just his best basketball card trading buddy. The boy he likes to play football with. As my son approaches the upper elementary years I know that the difference will start to be more apparent. But the tools are being taught to deal with those differences. I am blessed with a spectacular school system with awesome teachers. I am blessed to live in Massachusetts which has one of the best Special Ed laws in the country. I am blessed with my son.
Teaching our children to navigate the world and deal with all personality types is one of our challenges as parents. Protecting them from bullies and the monsters that hide in dark allies will always be our main goals. And we are right to fear for our spectrum children. But we do them a disservice when we segregate them. We do them a disservice when we don't prepare them for the fact that not everyone in the world will like them. There are no special needs McDonald's, no special needs grocery stores, and no special needs malls. The real world requires conflict resolution skills. We need to teach them the skills to navigate. Now, when they are little and we are here. Not when they loose us and suddenly find themselves out in the world.
I think that with all things education is key. Educating yourself, your children, and the society as a whole. Schools need to be better at teaching "mainstream" children empathy and inclusion. We all need to be better at teaching and accepting differences. If we are going to wear that badge we need to wear it in the right way and use our passion to teach and inform. Not to demand that things be our way. We need to learn to listen.