“The kids in his class will make fun of him.”
I sat there stunned, until I regained my composure, caught my breath and calmly stated: “then maybe this is not the right school for Jacob.”
The setting: the intake meeting at the new school Jacob is registered to attend in September
the principal of the new school, his teacher for next year, his current teacher, his current nurse, his current speech therapist, several other “officials” from the Toronto District School Board and me, Jacob’s mom.
The question: when Jacob needs a position change, which positions does he like?
The answer: he sometimes likes to sit on an adult’s lap.
The response: middle school kids are a different breed – the kids in his class will make fun of him.
There were so many ways in which I could have responded, including suggesting empathy training for the staff and students and stating my hope that the special education teacher at the new school was underestimating the sensitivity of the children. It took a ton of self-restraint to keep from pounding my fist on the table and demanding,”what type of environment is this if the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear that my son, who has severe scoliosis and frequent back pain, among many other challenges, is that he would be ridiculed for wanting to sit on someone’s lap?”
This conversation happened a few weeks ago and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I’m troubled by the fact that the “powers that be”, nameless, faceless bureaucrats at the TDSB, upon studying my son’s file, recommended this school as the best fit for him. Do they condone this thinking or are they so far removed from the front lines that they do not have a true idea about what goes on in the schools they manage? Or, as I desperately want to believe, was the teacher simply wrong?
The more I ruminate over this, the more agitated I become. As my son’s advocate and his voice, I want to ensure that the transition to his new school is trauma-free and successful. He had the most ideal few years at Elkhorn Public School in an environment that was warm, friendly and productive. It was the textbook-perfect example of inclusion. Unfortunately, Jacob is graduating from Elkhorn in a few weeks and this is what necessitated his move for the next school year.
When I picture his first day in the new school, I imagine how terrified he will be. A new environment, new teachers, new kids, nobody who knows that he loves funny jokes, being pushed in his wheelchair at high speeds and interacting with kids his own age. These images don’t get easier when the teacher’s voice echoes in my mind: the kids will make fun of him.
Jacob has many years of wonderful memories of meaningful interactions with his typically developing peers, at school, at extracurricular programs and over the summer breaks. To my knowledge, he has never experienced any negative comments from kids (I wish I could say the same for comments from adults, but unfortunately that would be a lie).
I’m re-evaluating Jacob’s school placement for September and I need your help: for those of you who have typically developing kids in middle school (grades 6 – 8) do you think your kids would make fun of a child like Jacob because his needs are different? For those of you with kids with special needs in middle school, are your children subject to ridicule by their peers?