Greg is 29 now. He was educated with both special children in normal, inclusive classroom settings and children with special needs in life skills and learning support classes. By "special children," I mean children who have that certain "je ne sais quoi" which sets them apart from other normal children, children who are fearless and who jump into new situations, secure in their concept of self.
These special children gave Greg the gift of friendship and unconditional acceptance. He knows what friendship is, thanks to these intrepid souls who spent hours playing with him when he was largely nonverbal, and who helped with speech, movement, arts & crafts and music therapy. They went to Hershey Park, Sesame Place, swimming pools and skating rinks with our family. In fact, they went everywhere with us. Greg learned how to function in society thanks to his friends.
Before I had a son with autism, I never thought about the need to be exposed to special children at a young age. Children only know what they experience. In school, it helps when a teacher can introduce a student's special needs, perhaps teach the class about the challenges faced by that special child. Therefore, was it unfair of me to pose this question to my students? My students are educated in a unique setting, a setting with no wheel chair students, no deaf students, no blind students. How could they answer this one with little to no prior experience?
This question I posed to 110, 8th grade students was, "Would you ever have a relationship/friendship with a special child or adult?" Some heartwarming, some brutally honest and a few well thought out answers convinced me something I always recognized about 8th grade students. They tell the truth.
These responses made me sad.
"No, because I feel weird about it."
"To be completely honest, I don't think I would because I don't have the patience to take care of and be friends with them. "
"No, because I wouldn't know how to act around them and it would be awkward."
On the reverse:
"Yes, I would have a relationship/friendship with a special child or adult because they are normal people, too. There is no difference."
"I would have a relationship/friendship with a special child or adult because they can actually be friendly people."
And even this one, a personal favorite:
"Yes, I would date a kid with problems because people with problems still need love to make up for the disrespect some people give them."
What surprised me, in a positive way, was the number of students who were really comfortable around their special family members. I never anticipated that so many of my students would have personal experience with this question. They described their honest feelings with no embarrassment, just acceptance.
"Of course! My cousin has autism and my "mom" and grandma work with people in need."
"Yes, because my younger cousin has some type of brain disability and he is cool and funny. I treat him like a regular kid..."
These statistics show that society is making progress toward acceptance of people with special needs:
80% responded that they would have a friendship with a special needs person.
15% responded negatively. (Most felt they didn't have the patience or experience and a few even stated that they preferred friendships with kids like themselves.)
5% were "iffy".
These final two journal entries were just perfect. One young man said he would, indeed, have a relationship with a special person. In his own words, "because I'm nice."
The other, the most powerful..."...my friend is color blind, my cousin is autistic, and my other friend is blind, so I'd be a hypocrite to say "Oh, you shouldn't hang out with them because they are retarded or stupid or moronic," but in actuality, they are smarter than most people because they have to look at the world from a different way."
(Note: These opinions are my own and in no way reflect the viewpoint of my school.)
All friendships are special!