I have always considered myself to be an “out of the box” kind of person. As a very young child I was constantly in the midst of engaging, creative and active play. I never really sat down. I was extremely articulate and talked up a storm. However, when it came to the “Three R’s” (back then known as ‘Reading, ‘Riting, & ‘Rithmetic – not Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) it was a huge struggle. Learning to read and write was challenging for both me and my family. In the early 80’s Dyslexia and ADHD were not in the public lexicon and current inclusion practices did not really exist yet. Then, you were either classified as a “Regular Ed” kid or a “Special Ed” kid. (Let’s not even touch the term “special” since I’m here to talk about inclusive education.)
With the help of my family and professionals too numerous to count, I learned to read, write and do arithmetic (although math is still really hard for me as an adult). I transitioned from being “out of the box” to having one foot in. I was able to survive in a completely mainstream environment with no support during the school day. I survived, and by high school realized that despite my learning challenges, I was smart. Nevertheless, the hyper ADHD thing is much harder to get under control. I always had trouble (and still do) sitting in my chair. Even though I loved afternoon Hebrew School, I spent most of the time in the hall because I was a bit disruptive and couldn’t stop talking and laughing. And there’s also the self-esteem thing – which kind of goes hand in hand with the learning and hyper things – always being “that kid” at birthday parties, playdates, sleepovers, etc. I was lucky to have such an amazing support team that kept me positive. I adopted a “can do” attitude by osmosis. Now, looking back with some age and wisdom, I realize that I am still “that kid”, but can now truly appreciate that this is what makes me a unique human being.
I landed myself in the “Special Ed” field, learning how to teach children who don’t learn in “regular” ways. I advocate for the children who are “that kid”, just like I was. And I’m thrilled to be doing this in a world that is so much more inclusive. Today we are educating and socializing many more of our children with all types of learners. What an AMAZING thing. We are putting our children in classrooms, camp groups, dance classes, (pick an activity) with wonderful diversity. But even when things seem to be going pretty well on the inclusion front, there are bumps in the road.As a parent of two boys, I spend a lot of time talking to my peer group about day to day parenting “stuff”. The simple stuff like: “Should I sign my kid up for this class?” “What camp?” “How much screen time?” “How can I get my kid to dip food in something other than ketchup?” to the more difficult conversations: “My kid was mean on the bus.” “Another child is teasing my child.” “My kid got bit.” and a whole bunch in between.
I often find that parents today are quick to blame other children, parents or teachers for what is or isn’t happening or even what might happen to their child. I get it. I want more than anything for my boys to be well-rounded, creative, polite, out of the box, compliant kids. However, let’s face it. With learning disabilities, ADHD, Autism, speech delays, auditory processing issues and more, nobody is perfectly “regular”- right? So if we, as parents, are committing to putting our children in inclusive environments where all types of learners and behaviors are accepted and embraced, how can we be so upset and frustrated when we hear that a child with ADHD teased our own on the bus? Hmmm…let’s imagine that for a second. Kids of multiple ages on a moving vehicle with no “assignment”, no parents, no teacher and no place to run around. Sitting on a moving bus (let’s hope no kids have vestibular issues here) and one kid says something and a chain reaction starts and – oh yeah – not such nice words are said.
And let’s not even start discussing recess – a time when children are supposed to run around and expend some energy. Children, especially those with learning and attention issues, spend a lot of effort focusing in the classroom. It should come as no surprise that our kids need recess. But then, out on the fields, one kid pushes another in a game of tag and it quickly devolves from there. That kid who pushed another is now labeled and… you know the drill.
Okay, so there are many more inclusive environments since I was a kid, but we are still targeting those who will become “that kid”. We just aren’t educating parents enough about these amazingly inclusive environments. We are actively teaching our children that every person they encounter in the world brings their own unique personality and perspective. And, as a result, our children adapt when socializing or working collaboratively. We are teaching our children to be compassionate and understanding. But we aren’t yet doing enough to educate the parents.
Instead of perpetuating the “what is wrong with that kid” attitude, we must help parents to understand the beauty and value of celebrating differences. Just as we might open doors for people using wheelchairs or help someone who is blind to cross the street, we must also be more cognizant of the child with ADHD who is being impulsive on the soccer field. Don’t turn your back and run the other way. After all, every person in this world brings along their own set of challenges, differences and worldviews. When we can truly understand and accept those differences we will see that there are far more commonalities than differences and “that kid” is pretty darn awesome.
Abra Jacobs Goldemberg is the Assistant Director of the Rosenthal JCC’s Early Childhood Education Program in Plesantville, NY. In this role, Abra supervises all aspects related to the provisions of Early Childhood and Early Intervention Services. She spends her summers at Camp Ramah Nyack as the Rosh Edah for Edat haKochavim. Abra lives in White Plains, NY with her husband and 2 sons.