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Thursday, September 22, 2011

An eye-opening experience

Yesterday, when I took Janey to school, I saw a tour bus parked outside the school. I thought perhaps some class was going on a field trip, although it seemed kind of early in the year for that. As I was waiting with Janey outside the school, I saw what was up. A big crowd of people with nametags were also waiting outside the school. They were speaking what I think to be a Nordic language, as they all looked pretty Nordic. They had tags on that said "Harvard Graduate School of Education" I figured out (I'm pretty quick on the uptake!) that they were there for a tour of the school.

The time while I waited with them all right next to Janey and me was a little surreal. I think I understand how zoo animals feel now! I'm not saying that in a mean way or saying I minded them being there at all, because I didn't, but it did feel a good deal like the kids were on display, based on how many of the people were taking pictures, and waving as you would to a animal in a cage, without talking to the kids (although they might not have spoken English). Janey was putting on a good show for them, being very autistic acting, and they watched her as well as some children who use wheelchairs or walkers, and some kids with Down Syndrome and various other special needs.

The reason I talk about this is that the whole experience made me realize anew how unusual Janey's school is. The fact that people would come from other countries to see it (and that has happened other times, just not quite so big a crowd) makes me see that what is happening at the Henderson School isn't happening a lot of places. It's true inclusion. I think a lot of schools say they have inclusion, but they are more like the school I looked at briefly for Janey, where the principal asked me anxiously "Does she follow classroom routines?" They don't take EVERYONE. They take kids who will fit in fairly well, the easy kids. Janey's school takes everyone, everyone that can get in, that is. And they take their brothers and sisters, too, so the children aren't isolated.

But does inclusion work? I am not always sure. I do feel sure it's a model that should be aimed for, but I am not always sure how it works for Janey specifically, or for the other kids in her classes. Janey is upset a good deal of the time---crying, making sad noises, being loud in her unhappiness. This is I am sure hard for any classroom teacher. She also has a very tough time learning academic things. I'm basing that on this being her 5th year in school, and I can't name much of anything she's learned, academically. She's learned social skills, she's been loved and cared for and has made progress in ways that can't be measured, but she hasn't learned letters or numbers or writing or colors too well, or reading or math or science. Is this because of inclusion---because she is always in a classroom that is moving too fast for her, that is full of talk she doesn't understand? Would she do better if the other kids were at her level? Her classes have always had a special ed teacher in them, who modifies the curriculum for her, but she is not their only student, and the other 4 or 5 kids they help have significant needs too. It's a question I just can't answer. I haven't had a lot of luck teaching Janey skills at home either. She learns some things very easily. She knows each of her DVDs and tapes by sight, she's figured out pretty much how to navigate the complicated series of buttons and remotes we have, she knows the name of every type of food she's ever had, including things like cabbage, she learns songs easily---but she doesn't seem able at this point to learn to write letters, or recognize them.

Aside from that, yesterday reminded me how lucky I am. To have Janey in a school that is internationally known---just pretty much by chance, because we live in the right city and the right zone and Freddy got in there by lottery years ago---that's luck.

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