I read with interest today that the number of children excluded from English schools has increased dramatically. We know what this exclusion looks like. We can envisage classrooms where children’s behaviour is affecting the learning of others and the school is left with no choice. (Although I would argue that there is always another solution within a school to change the behaviour of a disruptive child, but I’ll leave that argument for another day….)
But what about the other type of exclusion:
Where our special children are excluded from Sports Day because they may ’cause a scene’.
Where our special children are excluded from taking part in an assembly because it may be too overwhelming.
Where our special children are excluded from playground games as their social skills are lacking.
Where our special children are excluded from after-school clubs because there is no funding for a support assistant.
Where our special children are excluded from even attending school because their anxiety levels are through the roof.
And then there is this type of exclusion:
Where our special children are excluded from being invited to birthday parties because they don’t fit in.
Where our special children are excluded from playdates and sleepovers because the parents are unaware just how heartbreaking this can feel.
Where our special children are excluded from Facebook graduation pictures because they were unable to go to university.
Now none of these examples of exclusion are intentional (I would hope). They are just thoughtless, show lack of awareness or understanding of our special children’s difficulties.
So what do we do about it?
We make a noise.
Never let an equality or injustice go unchallenged.
Let’s start with school.
The Equality Act 2010 “prohibits discrimination in the provision of education on the grounds of disability”. Schools are now looking carefully at how our special children learn. Many schools are now realising that for some of our children the curriculum needs to be delivered in a different way. We’re making progress.
But what about the other areas around the school that focus on the emotional well-being of our special children? How great to be given an important role in an assembly. How easy to be given a special job so he feels important. How simple to allow a child to have time out and a safe space if it gets too overwhelming. Promote strengths, talents and natural interests. Make playtime fun by providing engaging equipment to play with. Easy peasy to change an expectation so that our special children feel like they’ve achieved.
And guess what? They will feel included not excluded.
Ask your class teacher or SENCO what opportunities your child has to shine and be included. Exclusion of our special children should not be happening in our schools any shape or form.
But what about the other type of exclusion that happens outside school. What on earth can we do about it?
We can’t force classmates to socialise with our special children. The summer holidays are long and can be lonely.
Make a noise.
I believe we can make other parents aware of the difficulties. It may be just a question of using the label and explaining what the challenges are. Don’t beg for an invite (we’re better than that) but suggest that maybe just once in the holidays a date is arranged where (depending on age) mums and children get together at a park, restaurant, cinema, bowling, soft play – somewhere you know for sure that your child could handle.
Then for the rest of the time, find some suitable and accepting places to go. Google special needs activities in your area. I live near the amazing Chicken Shed which is inclusive theatre and Penniwells where children with all sorts of difficulties can horse ride.
But we have to accept that our life isn’t what we had hoped it would be. No we can’t display graduation pictures nor can we expect the birthday invitations to flow in. But these are our disappointments and expectations. Often our special children are not even aware.
I think we need to pat ourselves firmly on the back at what an incredible, amazing, difficult job we are doing. Provide our special children with plenty of opportunities for success to raise their self-esteem and mental well-being.
But keep making that noise as loud as you can.
Inclusion not exclusion.