While I could spend some time castigating the Israeli education system for its failures regarding inclusion, I must linger for a while longer in the happy afterglow of success and let it be a reminder that inclusion is worth the grueling effort.
We encountered a mountain of challenges this past year after our decision to mainstream our son in a municipal preschool. The first month is still a fog in my mind. Daniel was not assigned a personal aide for two weeks and so the school’s manager, who himself is responsible for the three classrooms on the premises and several others around the city, took responsibility for my son until he received a shadow two weeks into the school year.
Daniel had at least one apocalyptic meltdown per day. Without fail, he passed out for hours in the corner while the other children carried on with their day and learned as they were supposed to. And he came down with a tricky form of pneumonia – in other words, none of the symptoms but all of the pain, so we had no idea at the outset. It was a nightmare.
This went on for about a month until slowly the issues started to peel away and he (and we) adjusted to this new routine. But the initial shock still feels like yesterday.
So you can imagine our elation when, at Daniel’s end-of-the-year party last week, we saw displayed before our astonished eyes, the long awaited rewards of inclusion: Daniel participated in all of the choreography in the hour-long show. He knew exactly when he should sit, stand or wave his prop. He was on rhythm with the music and mouthed the words to all the songs.
He did every single thing he was supposed to do, when he was supposed to do it. At 4 that’s not a small feat for any child.
And best of all, after every song, he turned to face the audience and cheered “Yea! Yea! Yea!” and gave an enormous fist pump to celebrate his exploits.
You see, the most important lesson Daniel learned this year was recognizing and relishing his accomplishments. He knew how far he had come. He knew he accomplished something colossal. He knew he nailed it – and that was more important than actually nailing it. And it meant more to him, because it had come harder to him. Thus his theatrical cheering after each song.
Daniel has Down syndrome, meaning an extra chromosome presents more challenges to him in the physical and mental arenas of life. He was in a fantastic special education daycare and preschool before we moved him. Our goal in mainstreaming was to provide a normative environment that would challenge him socially and academically.
With a supportive approach from the school’s manager, who took Daniel’s case personally, Daniel’s teacher, his aide, the surrounding staff and his fellow students, this experiment succeeded. This team effort – and Daniel’s performance at the party – give us hope for next year and motivation for the inevitable fight that lies ahead. Every single year.
We were easily the proudest parents in the room if not in the country on that day. Daniel’s performance made every tear, every battle and every agonizing day along the journey of inclusion worth it.
The price of inclusion is high. But its rewards are priceless.