Today I want to tell you the story about an amazing woman I met a few years ago. She is autistic, has no social skills but she is very articulate.
For most parents she is the poster child of academic success, she went to Harvard to get a PhD. She came to the USA from China when she was 8 years old. In China, kids were expected to be seen and not heard, so the fact she was nonverbal went completely unnoticed.
On arriving in the USA, she entered an ESL program to learn English. It was only then that she made the connection between word and speech and began talking. As fate would have it, her school used a nonverbal visual test.
to evaluate the kids for the gifted program and so she was put into the GATE (Gifted and Talented) program. Her teachers no longer looked at her as disabled but as intelligent and so gave her material to study on her own. The child blossomed as she could learn on her own at her own pace and there was no requirement to communicate other than tests etc.
It was this child who went to Harvard to do a PhD in chemistry. She was still socially awkward but did well academically. All that changed one day when Harvard decided to merge their labs with MIT and moved her from her tiny 2 person lab in the basement to this large modern lab. The lab had floor to ceiling windows, encouraged interaction between its many occupants. It was this lab that caused her to spiral downwards to the point where she dropped out of Harvard and spent the next 4 years at home recovering from sensory overload.
We all want our kids to succeed, we want them to study with the best and the brightest and to give them every opportunity to prosper. This is how the schools are able to sell us on inclusion. Our kids will be exposed to regular kids, they will be able to learn from them and even socialize with them. For a mother of an autistic child, socialization is like winning a lottery ticket to Harvard. But they do not tell us that while our kids are included they will actually be in an environment that is toxic for them. The increase in sensory overload will actually force them to shut down and not learn much. After years, it will also be an emotional train wreck. If they are high functioning, they will begin to see the other kids go out together while they are never included in these social plans. If they were unaware of the outside school social world, it would not be as painful. They will always be the weird one, the social outcast that the “cool” kids will not include.
The decision to put your child into inclusion is a difficult one. There is no right answer as it does work for some kids. However, as this story shows, there is a darker side to inclusion, so take extra care to weigh the pros and cons before deciding.
by Dalia Shkedy – Ethan’s Mom