Integration is the new segregation!

So this week my daughters had gymnastics, which they have every week on Thursdays. unfortunately this week it didn’t go so great. I am not going to talk about how the instructors and manager of the gymnastics centre made it such a bad experience because that is not what upset me the most. What upset me was when I found out that the gymnastics centre at the University of Calgary, and their affiliates, do not allow children with any special needs into their “typical” child classes. Well when I heard that, I knew that was not OK.

Yes my son has autism so maybe I am biased but I firmly believe that you should not be allowed to tell my son that he can’t integrate with “typical” children because he was born a little different. It is just autism. It is not a communicable disease, you won’t catch what he has. For example my son goes to an “integrated” school. He has an aide that assists him and his service dog Sergio, but he is given the opportunity to learn and interact with children that sometimes think and act different from him. No he does not always do the same work as the other kids because it takes him a little longer to understand a new concept, but I think that all children should be given the opportunity to learn and develop together no matter how fast or slow that may be. The gymnastics centre’s explanation was first that they are a liability. URGH!!! They said they are more likely to brake their leg or get injured. This is false. The second reason was that a child with special needs distracts the other children and decreases they opportunity to learn.

Ok some of you out there are probably thinking that I am biased but no I have “typical” children as well that have children with special needs in their class. For example my daughter Sarah is in kindergarten and in their class is a little girl. She can’t speak, she can only walk with a walker and she doesn’t participate in any of the class activities. She sits on the side of the carpet and plays with a ball or other objects. Yes you may think this is distracting for 5-6 yr old boys that struggle with sitting still, and maybe it is, but when I watch the kids take turns helping this little girl retrieve her ball or take turns eating with her so she isn’t alone I see so much hope for our future generation. What I see is children being taught compassion for others, and understanding for the struggles that others have. I love hearing my daughter come home excited that she got to be this little girls special helper.

There are also situations where a child may not be able to speak or hear in a class and yes that may be distracting or take away from your childs learning, but instead of looking at the negative, you can look at what your child has to gain from that experience. Look at how by INTEGRATING those children with others could allow your child to learn sign language or maybe even a basic sense of respect for others. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Yes I would love all my children to be highly educated and to conquer the world with all the knowledge they have acquired. But more importantly, I want my children to learn compassion, love, kindness, generosity and selflessness.

No I don’t feel that all special needs kids should be integrated, but not because they are not allowed but because it isn’t what is best for the child. “Special needs” is a very wide spectrum, and saying that none of them can be with “typical” children is wrong. I chose to put my son in a special preschool and kindergarten where they were better equipped to assist him in his needs. But the key is that I chose, as his mother, what was best for him. I know my son better than anyone else and I know that although my son really struggles and has a hard time in most situations, I know that for him being integrated with “typical” children his age helps him so much. He learns so much from the other children in his class and I am so grateful to his school for understanding how important integrating is for someone like Jacob. I am also grateful for the children and their families that are in Jacob’s class. They are all so kind to him and have been wonderful in accepting not only my son but also his special friend Sergio who has become such an essential part of Jacob’s life. I love my son and it saddens, and lets be honest infuriates, me that there are still people and organizations that believe in segregation. Yes sometimes it is frustrating as I frantically search my cupboards for lunch options because I can’t send a peanut butter sandwich, but anything I can do to help that little childs life be a little less difficult I will do. because if we all looked out for one another and had more compassion and understanding for one another the world would be a much better place.

so to quote the awesome musical Hairspray, “I’m all for INTEGRATION!!!”

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