All kinds of brains invited.

When we asked (well, actually, insisted) that Gage be included in a gen-ed classroom, we expected that he would gain a lot of things from it: We expected that he would start to learn how to act in a gen-ed environment; we expected he would have many, many great peer models to help him learn the way; that he would start to learn how to take tests and complete classwork; to follow a schedule that wasn’t based on which child had the most intense needs at the time; we expected that he would start to build a platform of basic social skills upon which he could add more and more skills until one day he is able to be a productive and contributing member of society. We were fairly sure his classmates would be nice to him, because even though he was only allowed to be in the kindergarten classroom for 30 minutes a day last year, those kids were really nice.

What we were not expecting was someone like Iris.

Gage and Iris

I volunteer in the classroom every few weeks. I stay in the common area outside the class and the kids come out and read with me, one by one. They really highlight all of the things that are great about first graders — some shy, some confident, some boisterous, some perfectly behaved and some really trying to be. Most of them pretty funny, as six year olds can be. One of the more hilarious ones is Iris, who has more personality in her little pink fingernail than most people have in their whole bodies. As I got to know all of them, I felt so blessed that these were the kids who Gage was with all day, and so blessed that their teacher had set a tone of understanding, acceptance, and kindness (we really won the teacher lottery with her!). A few of them would always be there to meet Gage on the playground in the morning, including Iris. Pretty sweet.

Then, one day, a little note came home. It was from Iris’ mom.

“Hi there, Would it be possible for Gage to have a playdate with Iris? She has been asking for a playdate for about a month. Here is my number if you are interested…”

Was I interested????? Well of course I was. I mean, Gage had been invited to birthday parties before, but this was different. She wanted to play with him. Alone! She wanted to be…. his friend. I called the mom to set up a time, and tried to explain that if Iris could come for the last hour of Gage’s Saturday tutoring that his tutor could help with play skills to make sure that Gage played with her appropriately, and then she could stay for an hour of free play. And it would help Gage learn to play with peers and it would be great and so helpful to him. I said he wasn’t good at playing with peers and needed guidance until he learned.

This is where it gets good.

I don’t think it had occurred to Iris to tell her mom that Gage was autistic. It was sounding like maybe she didn’t know. When it became clear that Iris’ mom probably didn’t know, I tried to explain what Gage’s autism was like. She wasn’t put off at all. In fact, she wanted to know when they could reciprocate and have Gage over. I nearly dropped my phone.

On Saturday morning, Iris’ dad brought her over, armed with a Candyland game and a big smile. Gage and Iris played, they snacked, they read. Iris was in charge, and Gage was happy to do what she said. Gage, our sometimes solitary guy, wanted to hang out with her. The best part was when they picked out Mo Willems books and read to each other on the couch. They took turns. They alternated pages. And nobody had to use a token board to get Gage to do it. Our Saturday tutor was thrilled, and said that Iris could come back every week if she wanted to.

Reading some Mo Willems

When Iris’ dad came back, he came in for a bit. We watched the kids and chatted a bit, and I commented how neat I thought it was that Iris wasn’t phased by the autism. “We talked about it with Iris last night,” he said. “Iris said she thought that is just the way God made Gage. She said God made him special.”

God made Iris special, too. Hallelujah for that!

Accidentally, Iris left her Candyland game. When I texted her mom to ask how we could get it back to her, she said: “She will just pick it up at their next playdate.” (Got that? The next playdate!)

This inclusion thing just keeps getting better and better.

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Comments on: "What We Didn’t Expect From Inclusion" (17)

  1. Suzi Barnett said:

    I will never ever forget Gage coming over and cuddling me the first time I met him…still brings a tear to my eye…Lots of love Gail…keep fighting xxx

  2. Gail – what a beautiful day. We all have dreams for our kids and are proud when they have great milestones – this is a milestone that adults should embrace for themselves, letting natural friendship HAPPEN! So happy for your family and thank you for sharing this beautiful day with us. Sarah

  3. colinb897 said:

    Some things make you dance and clap. Thank your for telling your story.

  4. What a sweet life gift! : )

  5. Your post brought tears to my eyes. As the mother of a five year old with autism also working hard to navigate a gen ed classroom, I know what a big deal it is for Gage to have a friend, and am so pleased for you, for him and for Iris. Thank you for telling your story and for advocating so well and so fiercely for Gage. There are a lot of parents of autistic kids worrying about and celebrating the same things you are. You are not alone.

  6. Anne Rhu said:

    Love it!

  7. We are one of those families with the exact same experience with a little girl named Alexandra. Alex was our Iris. Our son Mitchell to this day will never forget Alex, his ‘best friend’ from grade 1-3. When she moved to another city, it crushed me as his Mom. Mitchell is now 19 and still talks of her!

  8. lipponati said:

    This is so not our experience with inclusion. SO happy for you and Gage. And also a little jealous.

    • Gage is extremely lucky to have amazing support at school. Both his teacher and support staff are just excellent. We couldn’t ask for better.

  9. Loved this story! We would love to post it as a guest blog on our page at the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education (www.mcie.org). If you would be willing to allow us to do that (with a link back to your site, of course), please e-mail me at marny@mcie.org. Thanks!

  10. We have a son who is somewhat autistic and cannot speak..he functions at a low level academically but loves people and understands much more than we can test. he is now 43yrs old and I can still remember a very good K teacher who wanted him in her classroom and how all the children played with him at outside time. He was so happy that year. After that year there was no more inclusion. It was sad because in those days teachers refused to accept children with any disabilities in the reg. curriculum. John still lives with us and is in a day program for adults with special needs..he is well integrated into our community in a small town in Texas ..so for that we are very thankful. Keep on with your efforts to keep your son in the mainstream of life..cub scouts, swimming lessons, summer camps, church groups, anywhere were there are caring adults…are you aware of the ADA.gov website..it is very important to know about all the ways that persons with any kind of issue are protected under the American Disabilities Act ..it is based on the Olmstead Act which states that persons with disabilities have a constitutional right to live and participate in their communities with services. And the laws that protect his right to be mainstreamed into regular classrooms for all of his school life…keep up with this and know his rights because your family are his advocates and it is important that his rights as a citizen of this country are always known and are extended to him.

  11. Suzanne B. said:

    What a beautiful story of inclusion! Our son has also had wonderful experiences with inclusion, attending public schools with inclusion models since preschool (see http://www.coralwoodschool.com). I’m so committed to the model that I’m part of a founding board of a public charter middle/high school using an inclusion model. We were approved by the Georgia State Board of Education in February 2014 and open initially with grades 6-8 in August 2014. We hope to demonstrate that the benefits of inclusion don’t end with elementary school and show other schools and school districts how to continue the concept into secondary schools. http://www.tapestrycharter.org

  12. I love this!

  13. Love, love, love this story! It’s a testament to the power of inclusive and interdependent communities! Thank you for sharing!

  14. Cynthia Levine said:

    This is what happens when children rise up and teach us adults. Some will say, “Oh they are to young to know better.” I have supported children kindergarten through high school. It’s all the same when we give them the space to be who they really are.

  15. […] weekends, services and grants from the state of Nevada that we had waited years to get, and lots of friends in our community who knew and loved him. We had season passes to a waterpark that all the kids […]

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