Every parent should hope there’s a student with a disability in their child’s class. Your response to this might be, “Obviously. Being exposed to differences will help my child develop compassion and empathy.”
It’s a no-brainer, I agree. But not all parents feel the same.
Earlier this week I sat on a bench at a playground watching my daughter. At first glance you wouldn’t know she has special needs. It’s not until you hear her speak that her differences are revealed. But while she was running with the other children she blended in and I remained undetected as the special needs mom. This is probably why the woman next to me spoke openly to her friend about her displeasure at having a “special ed kid” in her son’s class. She didn’t name the grade, but I’m assuming by scanning the playground that her kid is in fourth or fifth grade. She complained that this student was disruptive. She said it was unfair that he required so much of the teacher’s attention.
I don’t know the classroom situation so I can’t comment on that except to say that yes, when a child has behavioural challenges, it can be tough for everyone involved. And now larger class sizes are putting extra pressure on teachers. In a perfect world, classrooms are a place where everyone is welcome, everyone is supported, and everyone is free to learn in their own way. But thanks to recent legislation in Ontario, where we live, adequate support is becoming more elusive. And that’s just wrong. And I don’t know what will happen.
But here’s what I do know…
Even with recent cuts, my daughter still has a full-time EA (shared this year, for the first time, between my daughter and another student).
My child having an EA absolutely benefits your child.
Avery’s EA is always there, even when the classroom teacher is not—like during lunch or out at recess. She’s always watching Avery, and in her periphery, your child too. She’s able to support any student in need. EAs open tricky lunch containers, mediate disputes, zip zippers, or do whatever crops up. Teachers may have an extra set of eyes in the back of their heads, but EAs have eyes all over the place.
Having children with a variety of disabilities learning alongside your child benefits everyone. It’s not an inconvenience, it’s a little thing called real life. Classrooms are a microcosm of the society where your child will live and work and play. Inclusion isn’t a one-off lesson taught in order to tick a box on the school board curriculum. Inclusion teaches children how to live knowingly and patiently and kindly, in the real world.
Lady on the park bench, I get that your child is your top priority. I hear your frustration and I wish things looked brighter in education right now. But please, don’t judge too harshly. Give your child a chance to step up and be a leader. Maybe your son will find a way to be a helper. Like Mister Rogers said, “Always look for the helpers. There’s always someone who is trying to help.” The world can absolutely use as many helpers as we can get.