“They asked us to speak today on what we are passionate about. I’m eager to listen to the causes and issues that are deeply engraved on your hearts. And while there are a number of causes I’m dedicated to: epilepsy awareness, disability rights, and care for caregivers among them; the one that’s most dear to me is inclusion. My son, Chase, is severely affected by his numerous disabilities. He went straight out of the NICU into Early Intervention, and has been in special therapies and classes every since. Those interventions have been tremendously helpful for Chase to learn and gain skills he desperately needed, but so often it resulted in pulling him from a regular classroom and typical peers, separating him from the community at large that he was meant to be a part of.
One of our local agencies dedicated to inclusion posted the following quote that sums it up perfectly:
“A child with ‘special needs’ catches the ‘special bus’ to receive ‘special assistance’ in a ‘special school’ from ‘special education teachers’ to prepare them for a ‘special’ future living in a ‘special home’ and working in a ‘special workshop’ for ‘special wages’.”
Is that segregated ‘special’ story really “special”? I think most of us would agree that it’s time to change the story.
So what does that look like?
First, it means equipping our teachers to teach all kids the same curriculum, no matter the content. So often our children in special needs programs are stuck learning the same skills year after year. They are capable of learning the same ideas as their fellow students. Will my son ever be able to memorize the parts of a cell, probably not. But can he learn that we have cells in our body and make a model to show the different parts and move parts in and out of the model to show cell transport. Sure!
Second, we need to prepare our kids to learn and work well with students of all ability levels. We can help our kids identify both strengths and weakness in themselves and in others. Kids are smart, they quickly pick up on the fact that all of us do best when we work together to complement our differences.
Finally, as parents we need to be aware of our attitudes towards those with differing ability levels. Do we pity the disabled we see out and about? Or do we refer to them and respect them as an individual with their own interests, likes, dreams, and strengths? I’ll leave you with a story from our personal experience with Chase. At my son’s school they have peer partners, kids who volunteer with the students with significant disabilities. They help them with their school work or get to class. The relationships formed are sweet and genuine. Last week one of the peers, Izzy, was walking out with Chase to my car. A parent called out to Izzy to say hi. As she walked over to her, I heard the parent ask who my son was. She replied, “That’s my friend, Chase. He’s in 7th grade.” That was it, no labels or qualifiers, just “my friend”. “
Nicole Gross is the mom for her 2 boys, Zach and Chase in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her youngest son Chase was born with a number of severe medical conditions, and Nicole has used her prior life as a forensic biologist to seek out multiple rare diagnoses and work toward the best treatments possible. She is the winner of the Chicago Epilepsy Foundation Hero’s Award for her successful legislative work in obtaining access to medical cannabis for children with no other options. Following a move to Colorado, she has gone all in with the special needs community, working as an advocate for Chase and many other families in the 25,000 student school district. Sensing a larger need, she founded a district wide support group for special needs families. She is also a fibrosarcoma cancer survivor and created an online support group for patients worldwide who share her rare condition.