Forced “Inclusion”

I read a blog a while back that called inclusion a grand social experiment.  That idea struck a nerve in me so deep that I’m surprised there wasn’t a loud “CLANG!” when I read it.  So, it’s little wonder that I look upon the schoolyard as a giant Petri dish.

(seriously, these kids are germs on wheels)

Anyway, what I mean is each morning when I walk my kid into school and watch him run off to play on the yard, it really does feel like a giant science experiment, and i keep looking around for men in white coats and clipboards and deadpan faces collecting data and making hypotheses.

I’ve mentioned before that Benji has some trouble socializing and playing with other kids.  Not a ton of trouble, but he requires a little patience sometimes.  He gets super excited around kids, and he doesn’t always know how to play nor know all the social cues the kids are giving him. He tends to forget all the things we work on in this therapy and that.  But he tries, people. HE REALLY TRIES.

And as painful  and awkward as it can be for  him sometimes,I try REALLY HARD not to helicopter too much and let him just go. And most mornings it’s good.

But sometimes its not.

The other morning, he was trying to play basketball with some other boys and there was an “incident”.  Benji was trying to pass the ball—but he’s a little unfamiliar with basketballs and passing and the rules in general, and he passed the ball right to another kid’s face.  And before I could get over there to stop it, the other kid pummeled Ben with the ball.  A few times.   Once I was able to break  it up and forced apologies out of everyone involved, the bell rang and the event was over.

(well the kid in question dragged his mom over to try to give my son a talking to, but I put the kibosh on that RIGHT quick.  Because trust me, Ben was sorry and was very upset that it happened.  I know this because after the kid left, Ben told me, tearfully, that he “wanted to be good”—which broke my fucking heart, people.)

Anyway, like most schoolyard incidents, it’s been put aside for other things, and other games, and maybe a little sadly, Ben avoids the basketball court now.  Partly because he has fallen in love with handball, but partly because the kids won’t really play with him.  And I don’t think it’s grudge holding going on there.  I think it’s a simple case of Ben doesn’t know how to play, so they don’t invite him in. Although the fact that he beaned a kid in the nose doesn’t help.

Anyway—I was talking to the resource teacher about this and mentioned that they didn’t play with Ben. And she said—“Well, we can make them play with him”—as if that were the most natural solution.

And it really rubbed me the wrong way.

I get that inclusion means that neurotypical kids are exposed to different need kids in the classroom—and naturally the hope and goal is that not only is the different need kid accepted, but that the neurotypical kids grow in their empathy and compassion.  And of course I want that.  Who doesn’t?

But is that going to happen when kids are forced to play together? Call me crazy, but I’d rather my kid be the one they “want” to play with and not the kid they “have” to play with.  In fact, writing that sentence just made me cry.

I’ve talked a lot about wanting compassion for my kid and others like him, but I cannot help but think this kind of thinking is only going to exacerbate others’ perceptions of his differences.  And I’m not saying I want those differences hidden—but you know as well as I that when people are comfortable with one another, the quirks of others melt away because we get used to them and accept them as part of who that person is.

I don’t know what the solution here is.  Naturally, I want my kid to be liked simply for who he is—and he does have a handful of boys and girls in his grade that seem to like him just so.  Hell, just this morning, one of them (the same one i wrote about here last year)  ran up shouting Benji’s name and giving him a hug. And naturally I want a world that will hopefully have just a smidge of patience for my son so that his natural strengths and talents shine through.  I suppose I just have the grand idea that this social experiment will make that happen naturally—and I’m afraid I am horribly naive in this belief.

What are your thoughts?  Is there a benefit in forcing kids to play together?  Or does it just widen the gap and magnify the differences that might later lead to more than simple exclusion?  Because that’s where my head naturally goes with this.  Is forced compassion just a natural fertilizer for the growth of a bully?  I honestly don’t know.  And I hate it that it’s MY kid that is the lab rat here.


[UPDATE:  Someone asked me on my FB page how the other mom dealt with the incident, and i realized i didn’t mention it.  She was fine.  She asked if my son apologized, and i said yes, and then she told her son to go on with his day, that it was over.  She had no issues, as far as i could tell. I was putting the kibosh on having her bring it up again after it had been resolved (so that Benji wouldn’t get upset all over again), and she agreed with that.  While it was an “incident”–it was pretty much also a “non incident”]

Categories: Autism, parenting | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Forced “Inclusion”

  1. Tracy

    My son is also the child that does not get chosen or asked to play. He does not get how to partake in games that involve rules and teamwork. He is not the child that other kids would choose to play with. Reading your post opened up some wounds of my own…your words also made me cry. Although I wonder more and more if I am crying for my son, for the son I wish he could be, or for myself. Even though we have been through the ” I want to be good. I tried to be good.” phase, I honestly think my son is most comfortable with how things are and to play doing what he chooses and where he chooses…mainly just needing to please himself. Being around too many kids and too much stimulus overwhelms him, and I do think they figure out what feels best for them as time goes on. ❤

  2. Sandy

    My take, which will not be very popular, is that the other kids are required to be polite to your son and to treat him kindly. Period. This is the bare minimum required by the social contract and it can and should be enforced. The other children aren’t (nor can they be compelled) to like your son. Yes, they should be understanding and gracious and want to befriend him… but, ummm, that is gravy.

    What sorts of games do you son’s classmates play in the school yard? Are they always playing basketball/handball/whatnot and is he always excluded? If they always play basketball and he’s always excluded, then teaching him to play basketball will probably solve this problem. Heck, if the kids tend to play basketball, handball and soccer, teaching him all three solves the problem.

    How frequently do your son’s well-intentioned but unsuccessful attempts (like this one) to play with his classmates happen? If he’s doing the equivalent of unintentionally bopping a classmate on the nose with a basketball on anything approaching a regular basis, and it kindasorta sounds like he is… well, his classmates have a legitimate reason for not wanting to play with him. Consider the situation in reverse: If some other girl was unintentionally bopping your kid in the nose with a basketball, getting overexcited and poking/pushing said kid, etc on a weekly basis, well, your son would, understandably, not be terribly keen to hang out with that particular girl.

    How big is your son’s class? How many other third grade classes are there at his school and do they all have lunch/recess at the same time? If there’s a critical volume of kids his age (say, 50+) odds are excellent that with a bit of effort he’ll find a kindred spirit. If there isn’t a critical volume, well, that’s a tough one. He can be a sweet kid, his 15 classmates can be sweet kids and he can manage to not hit it off with any of them and there’s nothing wrong with ANY of these children. If you went to, say, a work-related workshop along with 12 other adults you’ve never met, what are the odds that you’d hit it off enough to keep in touch with them after the 3-day workshop was over? Would you consider yourself a social failure if you didn’t? No, of course not. So why would you expect the same of your son?

    The “Circle of Friends” program – if your son’s school is willing – could help your son meet some kids that want to be friends with him. As would a “mentorship” program, if your son’s school already has one, i.e. a 6th grade “big brother/sister” is assigned to each 2nd grader.

    • I’m not asking that all the kids like him. I’m not some pollyanna that thinks he should be friends with everyone. I’m just questioning this method of forced play. He has friends, and at no time would i deem him a social failure–no matter how many or few friends he has nor do i expect him to make friends all the time. I don’t even think i said that. I’m just saying i don’t think we should FORCE other kids to play together because i don’t think it breeds true friendship.

      as to that incident–it happened once. As i mentioned, it’s prolly long forgotten.

  3. We don’t encounter this situation from quite the same angle simply because of the extent of Nik’s communication challenges and disabilities. He is in a school full of children more like him than not. Even so, I find that when we are out at the park, for example, there will be children who will simply accept his awkwardness of using a speech generating device or the way he only wants to clap hands for a while. The ones that don’t either stare from a distance (and I ignore them…now) or they cautiously sidle up to me to ask “What’s wrong with him?” or “Doesn’t he talk?” Those are the kids I will invest energy in describing a bit about how his brain works differently than theirs and mine. Maybe it’s time for that kind of education at your son’s school? At least, at the classroom level. A way to help his classmates understand that his brain works a little differently. (Are you familiar with Mom-NOS’s Toaster/Hairdryer series? It’s AWESOME for this!) Maybe then they can find ways to play together once they understand better? I think time and constant teaching in small bites will beget the acceptance and expand the compassion quotient.

  4. I don’t think kids should be forced to play with others. Basic rules of social interaction should be followed, and kids should always be taught to be polite. But let’s face it, in the real world not everyone is going to like my kid. I want him to have friends, and do the things typical kids do, but I also have to understand he is not a typical kid. we are fortunate to be in a community and a school where my son does feel comfortable and his peers are taught understanding and acceptance. Bottom line if my son grows up to function independently and hold a job and live on his own, then I’ve done my job. If he ends up having friends along with that bonus!!! Don’t get me wrong I don’t want him to feel excluded, but honestly he’s pretty happy being with us or just on his own anyway!

  5. Oh, Dawn, I have nothing. No ideas, no suggestions. I feel the exact same way. It’s like you looked into my heart and wrote what you saw. This could so easily have been a post about Danny. And it breaks my heart for both our boys.

  6. Julia

    Dawn, I too have a child struggling with these issues.
    However, my son is mostly non-verbal and has only rudimentary social skills with other children. Where I live it’s not FORCED inclusion but an option and I’m never sure if forced or having an option is better.

    Life seems to be a lab experiment for all of us, albeit a bigger and higher stakes lab for our children. If the experiment goes wrong, the set-backs are larger, they take more effort to fix. Concerning you conundrum, I think it may help to shift perceptions. My son entered the public school system in Kindergarden a year later than the others. He was still battling sensory issues, little self control over noises and flapping, but he was also thrilled to be with kids; kids that looked like the ones at the park or at the store. I would catch him watching them with excitement, although he was and still is not ever included in a single game. It’s not that he hasn’t been asked, he rebuffs the invitations and I know it’s because he doesn’t have a clue how to do it. We’re working on it.

    So the shift in perception from sadness, isolation and frustration changed recently when I got small. My expectation had to be as small as his ability to achieve. I support and love him with every cell of my body, I love him so much that I must release ideas of what should be and accept what is while never missing the beat as we march toward his self-actualization – what ever that may be. As for what other people think, it’s just none of my business and when and where my son is ready to build relationships I will be there to assist, or, if he chooses, not.

    Your words also made me cry, they are so close to our experience. I am not sure if what I contributed helped you or anyone else, it’s just our story. It’s our journey so far, however these big lab experiments can sure be unpredictable.

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