Monday, April 20, 2009

Making Friends / Benefits

We have these friends we always meant to get together with more often. But somehow we just didn't make it happen often enough for my liking. (Perhaps we like them more than they like us but they're too polite to say it. Or perhaps we're all just really busy people with young children.) Whatever the reason, we didn't get quite as close to them as I'd have liked to have done. And then they moved away.

We got to spend an evening together when they were back in town for a visit last month, and I was reminded of how awesome they are and how much I wish we could spend more time together. And not just for me.

They have a daughter, T, who's a year and a half younger than Ellie, very smart, unbelievably precocious. Also absolutely adorable. They have an adorable son just a year younger than Ada, too, but this is about the daughter.

T plays with Ellie. And Ellie loves her. But this little girl, T, really seems to like Ellie, too. In my experience, a lot of typically developing kids treat Ellie one of two ways: they aren't very interesting in playing with her, or they treat her like a pet, a doll, a baby. They talk to her with the same sing-songy voice that adults use to talk to very small children, they try to "help" Ellie do simple things like hanging up her coat when she arrives at school, they might fawn over her but not in the way of equals, of two little kids just playing.

T is a little younger than Ellie, but it's more than that. She just seems comfortable around Ellie. And Ellie comes alive around her. She plays with T for hours and doesn't get overwhelmed and want to go off by herself after a few minutes. She's engaged and happy and fully participatory.

It makes me feel so good and so bad at the same time, seeing the two of them together. I love watching Ellie play so collaboratively and naturally, but it also highlights the contrast between this relationship and the others Ellie has with typically developing peers.

I was raised in an educational environment where kids with disabilities were strictly kept apart from the rest of us - those of us without diagnoses, the temporarily abled - and it's no surprise that I grew up somewhat uncomfortable around people with different types of disabilities. I wonder how the world will change, as children raised in inclusive learning environments increasingly grow up to become managers and leaders. How will Ada be different from me, simply by virtue of having Ellie as her sister and earliest playmate?

If I recall correctly, T's mom was raised by parents who worked in halfway houses for adults with developmental disabilities. She was raised around adults with Down syndrome. And there's something in her personality that's just so . . . comfortable and nonjudgmental. Clearly, her daughter has absorbed some of this.

It's beautiful.

T and her parents are a special case. But being comfortable around people with developmental disabilities is a gift typically developing kids get from being in classes at school with my daughter. She might slow down the pace sometimes, but this insures that everyone learns the material more thoroughly. (Nothing helps a student master the material better than explaining it to someone else.) Having to come up with new ways to teach and describe add to a teacher's toolbox, which helps them with other kids. And when today's inclusion-taught kids graduate and join the workforce, they'll be better equipped to work with people who are different from them in lots of different ways.

But when it comes time to sum all this up with a resonant closing thought about the value of inclusive education, I'm left with nothing but a mother's hopes and fears and pain for her daughter.


Barrie said...

May you find many more friends like T for your daughter.

Sarahlynn said...

So mote it be!

(Even better, may she find these friends on her own . . . and introduce me to their parents!)

elissa said...

as a teacher who has had a lot of kids in my classes with and without disabilities, I know exactly what you mean! Some kids are so amazing at being completely interacting with others as's just terrific. (and you're right; kids of all abilities learning together helps everyone!)

Sarahlynn said...

Thanks, Elissa! It's great to hear that from a teacher. I know some teachers thing of having kids with special needs as "extra" work and those IEP meetings can get . . . unpleasant.

ccw said...

Like you children with any disability were never seen in the regular classrooms. In fact I only remember seeing many of these kids in the halls, occasionally at lunch, and outside of school. There really wasn't any attempt to help them be part of the school.

I was so happy when Teen L started school and her classroom consisted of children at all learning levels with disabilities and without.

I'll never forget her first birthday party with the class invited. There was a blind girl and two with Down Syndrome. I knew about the blind girl and one with Down Syndrome from their parents (one made no mention) but Teen L never ever made mention of any difference. It made me feel good that she only saw these girls as friends and people she wanted at her party.

I'm glad Ellie has a friend like this and I hope that she finds more.

Sarahlynn said...

"It made me feel good that she only saw these girls as friends and people she wanted at her party."

Me, too!