Today's kids' school experiences are going to be far and away different from ours. You knew that, right, because WE walked 18 miles to school, barefoot through the snow, uphill both ways. Right? Did our homework on the back of a shovel in the barn, with a piece of charcoal? Actually, the hardships and drugery we faced, and how easy kids today have it -- that's something else for another day. That's not what I want you to know about, today.
Back when I was in school, the kids who were in "special ed." were strangers to me. I saw them maybe 4 times in 12 years. We were segregated; I have no idea what they did or where they did it. Their pictures are in all my yearbooks, but I don't know who they are.
Because I was really never anywhere near them growing up, I really have no idea how to act around a mentally disabled person. Sometimes they make me anxious; worried that they'll say or do something that I wouldn't know how to react to. Or that might embarrass me.
By the way, my twin sons turned five last winter, and just started kindergarten. They have crisp new clothes, fresh haircuts, cute backpacks, and desks full of markers, notebooks, folders, sharpened pencils, and glue sticks. Lots and lots of glue sticks.
They also have Fragile X Syndrome (www.fragilex.org) and autism.
They aren't in the classroom for the whole school day, yet. Right now they're just with their kindergarten class for a few minutes a day. Any longer and they get too anxious and overstimulated, and they just can't function. But every day their tolerance will expand and they will be with the other kindergarteners for longer and longer periods of time. They'll be sitting alongside their classmates, listening to the teacher. They'll be in the hallways, and at recess, and at lunch, and in gym class with all the other kids. All the "regular" kids are going to see my twins EVERY SINGLE DAY and have opportunities to interact with them all day long.
What I want you to know is, this generation we are raising is going to grow up knowing how to talk to their special needs classmates, because they won't be educated in separate classrooms. They won't be strangers. All our kids will be together every day, learning how to play with each other and work with each other. My twin sons might not exactly "blend in," but nobody is going to tease them or hurt them out of ignorance or fear. They are going to be a part of the regular world. This generation is going to be more accepting of each other's differences, because the differences won't be so recognizable. Starting with kindergarten.
Bonnie blogs at Korman Five. You can find more information about Fragile X Syndrome at www.fragilex.org and www.fraxa.org.