Susan's Blog

Friday, October 23, 2015

Inclusion, Shminclusion

All my maternal life (almost 26 years as a mom!) I have been aware of the concept of inclusion. My babies have been the catalyst for my fervor on the subject. Nothing like children to make you see life as it truly is, red in tooth and claw. When Tennyson wrote this, did he have kids? Because in many ways that is me, indeed, as a mom: a hawk, well-bloodied from the fight. (Proud, prominent beak, muscular, and feathers easily ruffled.)

Inclusion is not just an issue for Nat, whose autism has put that topic front and center for me. I have been roused to the fight for inclusion of my other two boys as well, who are neurotypical — though not at all typical. With Max, I despaired of his reluctance to join in with sports, particularly in the tender middle school years when everybody had to be running somewhere with a ball in the air. Not my Max. He was the tall guy walking down the center of the soccer field, while his teammates ran and jumped and butted their heads together. I have to admit that I hated the closed club of boys in team sports because of Max and Ben, not Nat. In middle school Max labelled himself a Floater, neither belonging to the sports lunch table, the drama boys table, or the geek boys table. He would smile his dreamy smile and float along, head and shoulders above it all. He was happiest with a Lego movie camera in his hand.

Oh how I worried. Should I force him to try harder to be a bit like the rest of them? I would wonder. Should I interfere and set up playdates for him? But no, he would just smile and he wouldn’t really have to even say much, his refusal was as hard as steel. By the time he was in 8th grade, he had figured it out, he was simply Max, and just about everyone loved him. He ultimately went to film school. He is now the coolest person in Brooklyn.

So then there was Ben. Ben categorically refused to play in any reindeer games. He didn’t smile about it, either. He always had full critiques on why that life was not for him. Well — not as a 3 year old when he would just sit in my lap like a hard brown walnut, and watch those kids in Boys’ Dance class or soccer. It was not gonna happen. And it did not.

Again, I worried. Was he sad? Angry? What was it? Why was he alone a lot? The answer was staring me in the face, all around me — Ben’s beautiful, brilliant, heartbreaking art. The energy to create like that was being channeled right through him, onto paper, and later, digital tablet. Now, at the high school, he’s not only a artsy kid, he is art himself. He creates himself, works on himself, daily. He wears layers of forest-colored clothes, Celtic-like rings, copper, silver. Plaid high tops. Listens to music that sounds like water droplets on mushrooms.

Nat was not included much with his non-autistic peers, ever. No art classes until last year (at 25). Solitary, not group music lessons. Special Olympics rather than school sports. Special school rather than neighborhood school.

But so what? As his brothers have shown me, being included might be overrated. You hang with whomever walks along with you. If your peeps are all autistic and special needs, why doesn’t that count? Nat’s always hung out with autistic guys. Or other special needs kids. Does he care? Isn’t he smiling at their birthday parties?

Why does it have to be “typical” peers — for any of them? Haven’t they all shown me, each one, over and over again, that it’s okay to be different? It’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to be an odd duck, a black sheep, lone wolf.

If so, however, it’s probably best to have a mother who’s a hawk. But whatever animal spirit inhabits you, I’m sure it works somehow with your little critters.



Susan! I love you, honey…
Write on ?

— added by Dawn on Friday, October 23, 2015 at 2:21 pm

hee hee, thanks, Dawn!

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, October 23, 2015 at 2:21 pm

My hands are shaking. It should say write on ?????????????????????
Because you are right on!

— added by Dawn on Friday, October 23, 2015 at 2:25 pm

No idea where the question marks are coming from…

— added by Dawn on Friday, October 23, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Our Matthew seems to be taking a page out of Max’s playbook. We should be so lucky to have Matthew turn out like Maxey, the King of Flatbush Ave.

— added by Andrew on Friday, October 23, 2015 at 4:28 pm

I love this! Thanks for writing. Inclusion has often been overrated, overused, and even misused in my experience, especially for kids like my Madison who is better served with her own population, her own “peeps.” And yes I hawked every class. Just part of the job.

— added by Becky Galli on Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 8:51 am

Thanks for sharing this! It meant a lot to me – Laura Saunders

— added by Laura Saunders on Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 11:31 am

I so enjoyed your article – I fought for NT peers for my son in his early years, and it was always a battle. My son Jacks actually won the war by loving his classrooms and classmates and I appreciate the reminder.

— added by Laura Saunders on Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 11:32 am

I bought the “inclusion” koolaide until Gr 3. Now, you couldn’t make me put him in with the “regular” kids. He has friends, he laughs, he’s happy and guess what… they are together (all 20 of them) in 2 developmental classrooms in his school.

Yes, they take part in “regular” activities with the rest when they are able. Yes, they have their “Friend’s” club with the “regular” kids…

But inclusion to me is the same as yours… you make your social group to fit you… not everyone else.

— added by farmwifetwo on Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Thank you for another blog entry that hit home. I, too, have 3 boys (middle one has autism). Sometimes it is harder for the neurotypical siblings…having to constantly try to fit the mold.

Keep up the good work :).

— added by Kerry on Monday, October 26, 2015 at 3:26 pm

I wish I could have read this ten years ago. Our eldest child with severe autism is in a private autism school, and I agonized years ago about the fact he wouldn’t have any interaction with typical peers. In the end, it didn’t matter. Justin adores his school, the staff love him. He thrives there, and although he doesn’t interact much with his classmates I am confident he wouldn’t do so if they were NT either. He is happy and productive, and that’s what counts.

— added by kim mccafferty on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at 10:16 am