During the school year, my girl is included. For the last 2 years Addie has learned with everybody else in her junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten classrooms. Fully included means to me that she has the support, accommodations and modifications she needs to access the same curriculum at the same time and in the same place as the rest of her grade AND (!) that the teacher(s) set a tone of social expectation for her that is on par with the rest of the kids. This has been largely the case for her with a few missteps that were quickly corrected. Hand in hand with this has been a relatively steady social life for her – play dates, friends, parties, scouts, shouts of hello from moving cars and bikes...
But the bottom drops out in the summer. All the other kids nurture their connections through adventure and playground camps, through sports workshops and group Red Cross swimming instruction. But not for Addie, as she only has access to separate and special programming in the summer. She disappears from her friends’ radars as they are busy with their activities and each other while she does a little bit of music therapy and adaptive swim. I have gone the route of signing her up for a few regular recreational offerings and then paying double the fee or more to find and send 1:1 support for her, but she was never included in these activities – simply allowed to remain present. There was no one of authority who expected her, nor the other kids to work with Addie’s communicative and cognitive differences to forge teamwork, partnerships or even simple civil exchanges between kids. Because of the example set by the administrators/instructors/coaches/leaders of these programs, she was ignored by all people other than her 1:1. Needless to say, that was not what we had in mind.
I have an older daughter which is mostly a blessing, but sometimes it wreaks havoc with my expectations. If Cate got to do something at a certain age, I expect Addie to have the option to do it, too. Cate has had action-packed summers all her life in our community – camps, classes, open swim at the high school pool. She’s made friends that have lasted for years, she has memories from back when she was 5 that she still giggles about with her friends 6 years later. It has entrenched her here, solidified her citizenship - she owns a piece of this community. Addie needs a piece, too. She deserves a nice chunk like everyone else.
I wasn’t going to let another summer slip by for my almost 7 year old. Myself and 2 other parents who make it a priority to orchestrate environments wherein their child with differences has opportunity to contribute to socially; to learn from and teach other kids about what it means to be human, to be a member of a community - we decided to roll our sleeves up and create, find funding and staff for, and run an inclusive playground camp. The playground camp itself has existed for years; our kids just haven’t been welcome. Until these 4 weeks in 2010, when we hired staff and volunteers to help all kids learn how to extend creative inclusive thinking and execution beyond the classroom, out onto the field, playground and craft table.
This week Addie has played field games with old classmates and new friends. She has shimmied on the playground with some kids in her music therapy class, as well as some kids from her Girl Scout troop. Addie’s been pushed on the swing by high schoolers, middle schoolers and grade schoolers. She’s pushed a few in return. An old friend of hers from her Early Childhood Special Ed program came over for lunch. She went to another friends’ house to play on the slip and slide – a friendship born of the other girl’s interest in seeing Addie using sign language. A classmate from last year asked if I could bring Addie to see one of his pee wee games this summer and inquired what sports Addie plays that he could come and cheer for.
And tomorrow, I will get a tangible reminder of these weeks – something I can look back at for years to come. I will get what I looked forward to for my older daughter, something I saw as a flag signaling connection, young life with its own momentum - not dependent upon my presence, heralding friendships and fun and being a part of something. I will see other kids waving this same flag around town and at school. I will know that they too, were a part of Addie’s experience this summer, that they have it in common, a memory shared.
For tomorrow is tie dye shirt day at camp. Addie will make her own alongside her fellow campers. I already know I will find ways to work it into any outfit summer or winter, wash and fold it carefully for as long as it is wearable. When it is worn beyond use, I will arrange the remaining shreds in Addie’s treasure box as I did for her sister Cate. We will take it out every so often and talk about fun, friendships and new interests that all started that summer back in 2010.