The other day, someone asked me if Janey gets teased at school. I was actually surprised at the question---thinking "Of course she doesn't!" But I realized that back in the day, when I went to school, or at many schools today, I bet she would be. She cries, she yells, she can't talk much, she waves her arms around strangely, she sings random songs, she wears pullups...plenty of teasing fodder there. And at some point in her life, she probably will be teased, although thankfully (or not) she won't understand what is happening. But at her school, the whole culture is one that would abhor teasing.
I saw a beautiful example of inclusion at work this morning. We got to school a little early, which I love to do now and then, just to get to see Janey with other kids and to have a minute to talk with people. We were outside, waiting for the bell to ring, and Janey ran away from me a bit. I went to go get her, but before I did, two of the boys in her class, who were previously heavily involved in a game of tag, ran after her and took her hand and brought her back. They did it without being asked, without making a big deal of it, without interrupting their game for more than a minute. They did it because it came naturally to do it. And it made me almost cry. They are learning far more at school than academics. They are learning that we are indeed our brother's (and our sister's) keepers. They are learning to care for those that can't care for themselves. They are learning to be good citizens, to be good parents some day, to be just plain good people.
And does all this caring for other come at a cost academically? No. In a word, no. Janey's school, the Henderson Inclusion School, was the top elementary school in Boston last year when judged by test scores. The inclusion HELPS academically. Part of this is because each classroom has two teachers, and usually an aide or two, which is possible because of the kids with special needs. The funds that would otherwise pay for separate classrooms or schools for them allow for staff that help ALL the kids. But I think it's more than that. I think an atmosphere of love and understanding and caring is one where it's far easier to learn than it is in a atmosphere of competitiveness, self-centeredness and "let's not let the weird special needs kids disrupt our budding geniuses" type feeling.
I say this not just as a parent of a child with special needs, but a parent of two other children that went to the same school---one with no special needs, one with mild special needs that did not affect his academics. They are both fine students, and more importantly to me, they both understand that there is more to life than that.
I know inclusion isn't perfect. I am aware of its limitations. I know there are cases where it just doesn't work, and I know in some ways Janey might achieve more in a classroom with only other autistic kids. But I say, only half tongue in cheek, why should I be so selfish as to deny the "normal" kids in her class the chance to get to know her?