In the debate about whether or not to mainstream your child with special needs, one of the arguments that inevitably comes up is that other children need to be exposed to your special kiddo so that they can learn how to deal with those who are different. It’s never worded “Our children need to learn what it’s like to be around neurotypical people”, it’s always the reverse – “The neurotypical kids should be exposed to those who are differently-abled! It’ll make them more compassionate!”
My problem with this particular stance boils down to the fact that it sort of takes away from the legitimacy of the special student’s learning needs. The fact that they’re to be some sort of social experiment for their typical peers is seen as a legitimate reason for mainstreaming.
I have three other kids, and when placing them in schools, I have never thought “What would be good for the other students?” It has always been “What would be best for my child?”
So why should it be different for Maura?
Let me be blunt –
My job is not to expose your child to different people. My job is not to ensure your child grows up to be a more compassionate human being. The school environment should not be the only way to expose your child to people with special needs. But still, I am told that she should be mainstreamed, so other children can be exposed to her disabilities. It’s as if her disability exposure only happens in the schools. Trust me, we’re out there, in the real world, being all sorts of disabled in stores and coffee shops and movie theaters. We don’t hide Maura at home, we’re right out there, in every conceivable scenario, showing our girl the great big world and teaching her how to live in it. Her life lessons don’t stop at the end of the school day, and neither should your child’s.
Just like any other parent, my job is to help my child reach her full potential. My job is to figure out the best way to do it. Whether or not she’s exposed to her neurotypical peers during school hours shouldn’t matter more than her learning those valuable life skills your child has already mastered. Accepting her differences means accepting that she needs to be taught differently, that she learns differently. My child can’t learn like her typical peers do – her brain doesn’t work that way. So why should she be put in a typical school environment? So she can be a good learning tool for others? Forget that!
Really, the best way for your child to learn how to be a compassionate and accepting human being is for you, the parent, to model the behaviors. That is your job, not my child’s.