I had no idea of the amount of advocacy and work that most special needs parents faced when it comes to the inclusion of their children into mainstream society. I was one of the blissfully ignorant parents of typical children who never had to consider such things. However, the last 2 years have shown me just how much advocating goes into being a special needs parent. The advocating never stops from teaching society about our children, to advocating for their medical tests and needs to figuring out this whole special needs education arena. However, there is one thing that I am at stark odds with and I am the minority in the majority of my special needs parenting peers. In considering inclusion and age, I feel that chronological age does not necesitate age based inclusion. Down Syndrome inclusion and age, let me explain…
My son is now approaching the age when most parents are considering preschool. In the state I reside in (as in most of the 50 states) there is a state based early intervention program that ceases at age 3 years old and transitions children over into the school districts to attend preschool and resume services (physical, occupational and speech therapies) as well as to begin educational services.
Children with Down Syndrome have delays, that is no surprise. They are also usually significantly physically smaller than their typical peers and their growth both developmentally and physically is significantly slower than those in the general population.
So, what am I getting at here? Though I know that most parents would be shouting from the rooftops that age based inclusion needs to be fully incorporated from the earliest age, I wholeheartedly DISAGREE. My son at almost preschool age, is nowhere near ready to be in an inclusive classroom with same chronological aged peers. I want him included with typical peers, but I look at this quite a bit differently.
I feel my child with special needs is better served by being in an inclusive environment based on his developmental age, not his chronological age.
The argument I have heard is that if children who are developmentally delayed are placed with children who are developmentally their level they will not strive to meet the levels of development that are age appropriate. Guess what… my child is not going to meet the developmental levels at the same pace as his typical peers, that is part of what makes Down Syndrome a condition. My son has been around same chronological age typical peers and around peers that are his developmental age. He does better with those who are at his developmental age. For him, that is about 1-1.5 chronological years behind. However, I have noticed that even children who are on his developmental age level can teach him things, and he them.
For example, Cedar is not a fan of crawling, in fact, he hates it. We work on 4 point crawling weekly in physical therapy but he would much prefer his own version of scooting around on his bum than crawling on all fours. Now, developmentally that is a skill mastered by the time a child is less than 1 year old. Children my son’s chronological age have usually mastered walking, jumping, and sometimes even skipping. To put my child in a room full of peers of his own age when he cannot yet walk puts him at a serious disadvantage. On the flipside, to put him in a room full of developmental peers who are crawling, standing, cruising and starting to walk has caused his little wheels to turn and I have seen him attempting to emulate the physical behaviors he is seeing.
I imagine that this will go on with each developmental milestone. I believe that it would set my child up for failure if I pushed to have him included in a chronological age classroom of peers based on his birthday. I also feel that having him sequestered in a special needs classroom would not serve him well either. Our choice has been to homeschool our children, and this choice will remain with Cedar, but even in other arenas, church, clubs, recreational activities, etc. I feel my child is better served to remove the “age” basis for peers and just to put him in a position where he is surrounded by children of varying abilities, but who are closer to where he is developmentally.
Related Post: Homeschooling a child with Down Syndrome
I had a chat with our occupational therapist about just this topic, she actually served in the public school system for years and she stated that she fully agreed with my line of thinking. If my child were going to a school, I would want him placed a grade or so behind, in fact, I wouldn’t even think of preschool until he was probably 4-5 years old. The interesting thing is that most children who have Down Syndrome are physically smaller than their peers so unless everyone was continually checking out the birthdate and year…no one would really be the wiser.
So, for what it is worth…I disagree with the idea that inclusion has to be based on the year a child is born. Inclusion is what we will practice for our entire lives, being included in our community, our place of worship, and our educational choices but this does not need to be dictated by the year we are born.