This is Inclusion

When all students are engaged, beautiful things can happen.

Illustration by James Heimer


My son gets off the school bus into a crowd of students. Kids run in every direction, yelling and laughing, and he chirps nervously in response. His fingers do a quick stim—a fluttering motion in front of his mouth, as if he is playing an invisible trumpet. He takes a deep breath and wades into the stream of activity.

As he walks up the sidewalk to the front doors, someone yells “Watch out!” A football flies by his head and he ducks too quickly and trips. His arms thrash awkwardly as he rights himself. A kid he knows, but is not friends with, runs up to him.

“Are you okay? Sorry, man.”

My son smiles timidly, and the kid gives him a high five before running off.

“Welcome back!” chorus the teachers and office staff as he enters the building, now a third-grader. He nods and gives everyone a thumbs-up.

“Hi!” A first-grader rushes over and hugs him hard. My son normally does not like to be touched unexpectedly, but this is a special buddy. He is much more comfortable with little kids. They are so cute, he says. How can I get mad that they don’t know any better?

He hugs the boy back, and then three other 6-year-olds race over to join in. He laughs, wishing he could escape, but also loving the adoration. He is finally rescued by the assistant principal, who calls out, “You have two minutes to get to class!”

Young children scatter, and my son grins gratefully before moving on.

Boys and girls are everywhere, a diverse snapshot of life—short and tall, every imaginable skin tone, wheelchairs, walkers and plain old feet. They are speaking many languages other than English, though pop culture and slang connect them regardless.

My son sees a girl he knows from second grade. She is wearing a hijab for the first time at school. She smiles at him and points at their matching Minecraft shirts. He smiles shyly back. They continue together to the classroom, both glad to walk through the door with a friend.

My son finds his desk. He stims more noticeably now because he is nervous. He groans rhythmically to himself and punches his forehead three times.

That boy is so weird, thinks your son, who has never met my son before. He heard you discussing my son with another mom in the drop-off lane today. He knows you spoke with the principal about the impact that inclusion has on the “regular” students in the class.

All day, your son is uneasy about what he sees and hears. He feels the urge to mock what he doesn’t understand, but he knows it won’t be tolerated at this school, so he just watches. The next day, his point of view widens just a little.

He’s doing that thing with his fingers. I wonder what that is? Your son notices the difference but isn’t panicked by it anymore. They end up partners in P.E., which is uncomfortable at first, because my son is clumsy at basketball. Your son feels less cool being partnered with mine, but also finds himself rather enjoying the mentor role. He coaches him on how to aim properly, and my son makes a basket. They are both thrilled. Your son forgets, for a moment, about the third-grade social construct, and simply enjoys the connection.


Categories: Education