First things first – Kids are funny and it’s hard not to laugh at the things they do.
Jay participated in a karate workshop his school hosted. At the end of it, there was a graduation of sorts where the kids demonstrated what they had learned during the program. They blocked and punched and kicked and did endurance exercises while us parents watched and filmed in admiration.
One little kindergartener spent the entire time dabbing. I don’t know what the point of dabbing is, but it was pretty funny watching this pint-sized girl dab over and over and over and then look at her parents each time to see if they were laughing with her.
Second and more importantly, Jay is a nice kid. He can be moody and he struggles to contain his frustration when it’s Ace’s turn to use the laptop but he really is a sweetheart. This was on full display at the karate graduation.
There were times the sensei asked for volunteers to demonstrate skills that he had taught them.
At one point a little girl was supposed to kick a plastic sheet that her partner was holding and she missed. All the other kids began laughing. Not my Jay. He encouraged her by saying “That’s ok. You can do it. Try again.”
Another time a little boy was showing us his horse stance (or whatever they called it) and Jay made sure to tell him he was doing a “great job.”
When the sensei needed a volunteer to show how to do push ups, I was pleasantly surprised to see Jays hand shoot up enthusiastically. The sensei let everyone know that they would all do push ups until Jay got tired. After a few he asked “Are you tired yet?” Jay said “Nope.” Everyone groaned but kept pushing up. Sensei asked again, “Are you tired yet?” Jay said yes. So everyone flopped to the floor; only for Jay to recant, saying: “Just kidding” and everyone groaned but laughed. It was a simple thing … But my God … this child.
This child had a one-on-one speech therapist quit on him several years earlier due to his uncontrollable behaviours and this child had been kicked out of a couple different social skills groups because he just would not/could not keep up with the group and this child was expelled from a summer program (for special needs kids) because the staff could not manage him. This childs parents were told when he was 2 years old to expect and plan for a painful life – Full of medications to “zombie-fy” him and institutional living.
We never for a second thought that was the way. We never for a second accepted that sentence or gave up on pushing him and trying new things and new places. Thank the heavens we found teachers who also never gave up and who also pushed him and together we got to where we are now. We got to where he makes jokes with peers and where he sits and follows teacher instructions and where he shakes hands to introduce himself and where he didn’t lose his shit when he was admonished in front of the entire class for coming there with chewing gum.
These things don’t happen by accident. These things happen when children, like my son, who struggle with social skills and communication are given the chance to engage with typically developing peers. It happens when children, like my son, are afforded the opportunity to play with and learn with a variety of other children. It happens when you find a team of people who see the full potential of your child and who give you the tools you need to make the best of things; and who damn sure don’t quit on you when it gets hard. It happens when you know your child is worth celebrating and you know he has a lot to offer the world and you only allow people into his life who also see the sparkle behind his eyes.
At karate, when they needed to pair up for an exercise, my son was quickly approached by another boy and asked if he wanted to be his partner. Without making eye contact, he happily accepted and they did a great job together. Just this morning when I dropped him off at his school, he was met by a friend who wanted to share with him that new (toy) foods had been added to their basket. I don’t think it was random that this other student was excited to share the news with Jay. Jay enjoys playing with fake food and it’s probably well-known among the kids. Jay didn’t disappoint … He said “Really? That’s so cool” and the 2 of them ran off together.
School serves a lot of purposes and mastering academics is up there among the most important. Time tables are to be memorized and spelling tests are to be administered but Holy Jesus, the social aspect is right up there too. Inclusion is important.
Jay is learning how to be nice and how to take turns and how to be a supportive team-mate and how to appreciate kindness that is shown to him.
Other students are learning patience and acceptance and that just because someone may speak differently than you or act differently than you or like different things than you doesn’t mean you can’t be great friends.
*Ed Note: I know very well that inclusion is not appropriate for all students. I know very well that not all kids will make the kinds of advances that my son has made no matter how hard they work or how diligently the parents push or how much support the school provides. This is just OUR story.