She's part of a group called All Aboard and they offer classes and activities for adults with special needs. Art, karaoke, cooking, bowling league, parades, that's her social club. That's where she learns behavior and etiquette and conversation and friendship.
She doesn't have 'typical' friends.
There are women at church who have befriended Beth, who talk to her and give her hugs in the foyer. But most of them are my age or older. There are one or two who are close to her age who will talk to her and ask her about her day but they're married and have kids.
She doesn't have typical friends who hang out with her, invite her to the movies, out to eat, dancing... there just isn't anyone. And there's no one her age that she could invite out. No one typical.
I remember struggling with this when she was growing up. She imitated the behavior of those she was around all the time. Which was her classmates. And they were students who also struggled with social interaction and developmental issues.
She's been secluded. I don't think it's been on purpose. We haven't gone out of our way to keep her separate, but I think I can also say we haven't gone out of our way to integrate her into typical circles either. She's very shy and pushing her into social situations would just terrify her.
When she was growing up she was involved at our church with Missionettes, kids choir, all with typical kids.
Beth in Missionettes - June 1992 - 8 years old
Beth with her Missionettes class on the night of Crowning
(They've completed 6 years of badges and scripture memory and work books and it culminates in a night where they're treated like royalty!)
Beth is 4th from the left
Since then, it's been specialized all the way. And I'm torn because she's so happy! She's very content with her life and she doesn't realize her friends aren't 'typical'. I know there are intense arguments out there for inclusion but I have a difficult time when they insist that is the only option.
I mean, I understand the positive affects of inclusion for everyone and I believe it should be offered or explored in every situation. But I also think there is a place for specialized education or social activities, as long as it's meeting a need for those who desire that. For those students who absolutely have a melt-down with the noise level or the amount of kids in the room. And sometimes I feel like those parents who place their kids in a specialized learning environment are looked down upon for not advocating for inclusion.
I've seen specialized classrooms give one-on-one attention to students who need it and thrive with it. They're able to focus on one person and connect with that person. Something that's almost impossible with 25 other kids in the room. I've seen specialized classrooms give students the time to process the work required and consequently succeed in doing that work.
I think it's just as detrimental to ignore the area of inclusion as it is to keep a student in a typical classroom for the sake of inclusion when a specialized environment would help them thrive.
We should try to provide every type of learning environment so every student, regardless of how fast they learn, can succeed at the task put before them.
Our deepest desire may be for our kids who have special needs to go through their entire school career with their typical developing peers, but at what cost?