Special Education Advocate New Jersey
Helping Your Child Reach His or Her Potential

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It's the small things isn't it?

It’s the small things…

This has a little less to do with special education, and more to do about kids being kids. 

My daughter goes to a special education school and although she started mid-year last school year, she was convinced that she didn’t know anyone at the school.  While she did maintain her friendships from her “old” school, my wife and I were concerned that she wasn’t making connections at the “new” high school.

We encouraged her to make friends, but as all parents know, that doesn’t seem to really help. I might suggest that it makes matters worse.

A few weeks ago, my wife, daughter and I visited the boardwalk.  We enjoy going there in the evening when it isn’t so hot, or crowded. 

It was then a very special and very wonderful event unfolded right in front of us.

As we walked, very unexpectedly, some kids looked over at us and yelled hi to my daughter.

We stopped and looked around.  There were a few high school students in a group just past the swings and they recognized my daughter.  She looked at me and my wife and said that she never thought that those other kids knew who she was.

My daughter offered up a quick wave and a “hey,” this I believe is considered quite an exchange of information among high school students.

She looked a little embarrassed, as it is very embarrassing to be seen out with your mom and dad.  She also had a not so well hidden smile.  Kids at her school knew her enough to say hi.  I cannot measure the importance of such an event – to be acknowledged by a group of kids in such an inviting manner.

It’s the little things.  Saying hello, stopping to hold a door, making someone feel welcome.  This is so important, not just for “regular” kids, but for special education kids even more so. 

When I was in high school, there was a classroom in the basement by the boiler room.  That room housed, “those” kids.  When they came into the cafeteria they sat in their own group and never spoke to anyone else.  We never saw those students at specials or in clubs; we only saw them get off their bus in the morning, then at lunch, and then when they left school.  Years later I realized that those were the special education students.

While that was almost 35 years ago, we all must be careful how students with special needs are treated.  The courts have tried to define least restrictive environment and free appropriate public education. But the courts can’t help outside of those areas.  The courts cannot help with making sure everyone in the class gets invited to the birthday party.  The courts can’t dictate who gets picked first for the kickball team and who are the final few standing waiting to be picked last. 

 

That is where we as adults must pick up the cause.  Special needs students have fun and enjoy games and talking about Pokémon and super heroes just as much as any kid.  They sometimes need a little guidance and encouragement to participate, but kids are just kids no matter their ability to read, write, run, sit, stand, eat, speak, see, laugh, and cry.

When you are planning an event, please consider that special needs children just want to be kids.  Invite the whole class, come up with modifications to the event to make special needs kids feel welcome and successful.

Encourage your school to make sure that all events are accessible to every child – no matter the disability. This means that you may have to be the person that speaks up at PTA meetings or at school-based planning committees. 

And always say hello – because it is the smallest of gestures which can make a child smile.