Inclusion: Still Smouldering

Dear Sarah,

I was glad to see the latest issue of DSAU in the store. I buy it as soon as it hits the newsstand. As always, it was very enjoyable reading and it was nice to hear that all is B"H well with your family.

I have sent you the enclosed articles because I think they express the reasons for inclusion far more eloquently than I can.

There are a number of reasons for choosing inclusion:

Some children do better academically in a regular classroom where the expectations for their performance are higher than the expectations might be in an exclusive special education setting.

Some do better socially in the regular classroom because they have better role models for language and behavior skills.

For others, the regular classroom can be the best and sometimes the only opportunity for their becoming an integral part and full-fledged member of the frum Jewish community. That community being the one that they are living in and that they will be part of, when they no longer attend school.

This last reason, in my opinion, is the ultimate one. You expressed your joy in seeing your son, Moishey, so lovingly accepted in the local shul (see ‘Greetings From…'-Issue #9).

In the article "Going Too Far for Disabled Children," an example was given of a child with "infantile behavior" being placed in a third grade class room. Indeed that one example illustrates that rigid adherence to an idea or an ideal without common sense and recognition of the individual differences in people can result in absurdities. Albeit no different than the absurdities found in the rigid belief that all children must master reading Hebrew or English or both by the chronological age of 4 or 5 years old. Yes, it was absurd and one will find absurdities in all aspects of the law. However, to generalize that a placement in a self-contained special education class is the best choice for all disabled children is equally absurd.

I read the book "Delicate Threads" by Debbie Staub, published by Woodbine House (1-800-843-7323). This book talks about friendships between children with and without special needs in an inclusive school setting. It describes the very moving experiences of six pairs of friends. The book eloquently demonstrates that in spite of the challenges inherent in the inclusion process, nevertheless, it succeeded because of a very caring and open-minded school system willing to try something new.

Your readers must keep in mind that New York City is not the only town in America where Yidden live. Perhaps if we lived in New York and Sarale would be in public school with a class full of Jewish children with DS, we might not have made the choices that we did. It definitely would have been much easier, less costly, and less time-consuming. However, the thought of Sarale in a class of children who are of an alien, secular and non-religious culture, who have different slang expressions, modes of dress and alien values, left us no choice. We could not handicap her further by taking her out of her social and cultural element and setting her apart from her peers.

In any case, one should always keep an open mind and remember that each child is different and each situation is different and each community is different.

B"H we live in Baltimore, a city that is known for its warmth, acceptance of Yidden from all backgrounds, and chesed. However, friendships between children rarely cross grade or school boundaries and are often limited to children in the same class. Sarale has been beautifully included in Bais Yaakov for the past two years. While Bais Yaakov has been successful in including physically handicapped children for many years, this was a new undertaking for them. It has not always been easy but we are all working together to learn and do what is necessary to make it successful.

I have contacted people around the country and around the world who have successfully included children with disabilities in Jewish schools. I need to hear and get their chizuk that I am doing the right thing. I wish they would have the time and inclination to share their stories in your magazine.

Sarale just turned seven years old. Next year IY"H Sarale will enter first grade. Sarale ‘bentches' out loud (way past the parts we taught her at home), tells us about the parsha, shows me how she can read some of the aleph-bais with vowels and thinks of Hebrew words that start with that sound. I hear about the special hugs and greetings she gives out to her high school "Friends" as she walks through the long hallways to her classroom. When I am with her in public it never fails to amaze me at how many people (young and old) she knows from school, who warmly call out her name. I feel like her secretary as I try to keep up with social invitations and birthday parties outside of school. I am so grateful that she was born at the right time in the right place. As I stand in my doorway each morning watching her run to join our neighbors as they go off to school, my heart swells with ‘hakoras hatov' to the Ribono Shel Olam. Who would have thought seven years ago that this was possible? However, it's when I open the door to any one of several typical little girls from Bais Yaakov who seriously, but sweetly ask, "Can I play with Sarale?" that I know it was all worth it.

Fondly,

Linda Wagschal
Baltimore, Maryland

This article first appeared in issue #10 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us


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