What does that mean exactly, all inclusive? How do we include every child? I struggle with this as many teachers do. In the classroom, it’s clear how to handle student who have learning differences, especially when they have a diagnosis that can be easily dealt with by modifying their academic load, but how about outside the classroom? I face a unique challenge this year. Maybe you have faced something like this in your work.
I mentor our school robotics team. We have been very successful. Students who are highly motivated, bright, and interested in learning engineering skills always want to join. Most are capable of the high order thinking needed to succeed, and a few take a little more time go grasp it, but do, eventually.
The success of our team is the result of not only intelligent students, but those with mature social skills. They may not be outgoing but typically I find them all to have a common sense about getting along when working through problems. Until now I have never had any issues pop up that weren’t normal for middle school kids. This year I have chosen to invite a student who has Asperger’s, (a form of Autism), onto the team. He asked me two years in a row and is finally old enough to join. He lacks many skills that seem natural to kids who like robotics, but he is willing to learn, and wants to be included.
He is not the first student with Autism I’ve encountered. Several students at our school are diagnosed with Autism, some more significant than others, and plenty of kids drift through without ever being identified, although we all seem to know and do what it takes to help them manage. But knowing why they behave as they do doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t have anything to modify, even if I could. What our kids learn in robotics doesn’t come from a book, or an app, and the only test is the contest itself.
Although I know the work ahead will be challenging, I also know that what our team will learn from his presence is something I couldn’t plan if I tried. Members of our team will learn that we all have something that makes us different, but different isn’t bad. They will discover in themselves how to connect with someone who can’t easily do the same. Their emotional understanding will change, and some will grow in compassion the way the Grinch grew a heart at Christmas.
I can’t help but imagine what his life will be like when he grows up. Will people take the time to understand him? To help him? Many years ago while working at a consulting firm I met a man who managed the company’s technology. He was clearly deeply committed to his job and very skilled. He didn’t recognize when to shower, shave, or clean his clothes, and sometimes came to work without ever changing from day to day. The women in the firm knew he was special and they mothered him. In turn he came to them when he was uncertain, confused or unable to do basic things, like pay his bills on time. He was in his 40s, rode the bus, and lived alone. Twenty years ago we didn’t have a name for it – but we knew it existed.
My hope for this young, willing, mathematical young man is that he feel included. No doubt he will have a lifetime of rejection ahead of him, which we all have from time to time, but maybe feeling included now can possibly help him develop the type of character he’ll need to endure the challenges he will face. And for the rest of the team, maybe as they grow up they ‘ll recognize these special traits in others and remember what it meant to their friend who was included on the team so many years ago.
Coaching. Retrieved from http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com. Creative Commons.
Boy with Asperger’s. Retrieved from en.wkipedia.org. Creative Commons.