Integrate! Include! Provide Peer Role Models!

One of the comments about the boys riding a tricycle really struck a chord.  Made me think about what we’re all doing here and how we’re trying to get that done.  I am an Inclusionist.  That is, I believe that my children learn best when they are included in the “normal” activities that any other child — with or without special needs — would experience as a function of living fully integrated in our society, attending our public schools and growing up just like everyone else in our town.  And I mean ALL THE WAY INCLUDED with supports added only as needed to achieve success!

My personal philosophy in raising my children with special needs has been developed through my vast (LOL) life experience (friends and family with various special needs), education (BA in Psychology with Minors in Psychology for Exceptional Children and Art), and constant review of best practice research as well as talking to everyone and anyone with a thought on the subject.  I could be wrong… but I like to think I’ve supported my beliefs with scientifically-proven facts.  I’m open-minded such that I continue listening to others’ philosophies and reviewing the research… But so far, nothing flies in the face of the inclusionist philosophy as best practice… for me.  I am also a to-each-his-own Mama.  So, I’m talking about me and mine here.  You do what you want!  BUT….

Back to the Riding-a-Bike comment:

I tried like heck for years and years to teach The Boys — encourage them, reward them — to ride a tricycle.  And my beautiful Little Men, who happened to have been born with an extra 21st chromosome, are only 5-years-old so this amounts to a tad more than half their lives.  I pulled and pushed and dragged and kicked until my back was sore on every different version of every different ride-on toy with pedals — trikes, bikes, big wheels, scooters… you name it, I tried it — to help them learn to ride.  The most I got, independently, was 2 rotations of the pedals… which I was actually OK with… sorta. I figured this would eventually develop into 3 and 4 rotations, then 10 and 100 rotations.  The school Physical Therapists worked on it.  The Teachers Aide worked on it.  I worked on it.  Still, at 5, we were holding steady at 2 rotations with no progress beyond that in sight.

And then, last week, we went camping with about 40 of my cousins and a few friends.  Collectively, there were in excess of 20 youngish children in our group — from 1 to 15-years-of-age — riding bikes of all types and sizes.  More than half of them were near the boys’ age and riding up and down and up and down and up and down the car-less camp road right in front of our camper.  All day long and well into the night, bicycles were the preferred mode of transportation — to the beach, the playground, the camp store, the bathroom, the neighboring tent or camper, around the horn and anywhere else one wanted to get.  And this was the case, not just in our group but throughout Hammonasset’s HUGE campground.  Everywhere The Boys looked, kids rode bicycles, tricycles, big wheels and scooters.  Adults rode bicycles.  Bicycle wracks could be seen on every car.  Bicycles stands graced the outside of every public building.  And bicycle helmets rested on every picnic table.  Bicycles… with “TYPICAL” children riding them…. as far as the eye could see!

So it’s no wonder that just 3 days into the trip, the boys confiscated their cousin’s trike and pedaled like mad men, as you saw in the videos in my last post.  I’d mistakenly thought we were so far from actually riding I did not even bother bringing our latest pair of now too-small-for-the-boys-to-ride tricycles with me on the trip.  Why?  Just more “stuff” they wouldn’t use, I thought.  Well, the trike they confiscated was nearly the same size and type as what we have at home, IN the house and always readily available for riding!  It wasn’t properly fitted.  It wasn’t developed for children with special needs.  But there it was… AVAILABLE when their self determination to ride — teased out by their typical peers — struck them.  And, I’m CERTAIN that the desire hit because they wanted to ride with the other kids, to be just like the other kids.  They wanted to do what the other kids were doing, go where the other kids were going and get there the same way the other kids were getting there… on bicycles!

It wasn’t the little boy in the wheelchair that encouraged them to ride that trike. Shockingly, one doesn’t learn to ride a bike from someone who can’t ride a bike. No more than one learns to talk by being around people who don’t talk. The Boys did it — and so, eventually, can the little boy in the wheelchair once he gets that cast off his leg — because they saw it being done by their peers.  By “typical” children…  And, DARN-IT, they wanted IN!

The research shows that this is how INCLUSION works in every area of life.  The other kids climb the ladder at the playground.  They climb.  The other kids eat their lunch by themselves.  They eat.  The other kids write their names.  They write.  The other kids read the books.  They read.  The other kids talk so everyone understands.  They talk.  I’ve seen it work in my own little family pod over and over again.  How could it work any less in the bigger picture?  In the community?  The school?  The world?

Yeah, I’m an Inclusionist.  If you haven’t tried it yet…. give it a shot.  It might work for you too!  And, as a function of my on-going research in this area, let me know how it goes.

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About Maggie

I'm a stay-at-home mother of 3 children including a 15-year-old daughter, the Old Soul, and 11-year-old identical twin boys who've been blessed with an extra 21st chromosome (aka: Down Syndrome). I happily spend my time doing all that I can do -- breaking the proverbial box wide open -- to foster my children's development and then sharing what I learn with you through this blog.
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4 Responses to Integrate! Include! Provide Peer Role Models!

  1. Jackie says:

    Perfectly spoken! It does make sense and of course it works! Great job Momma Bear…

  2. Sharlene T. says:

    Exactly… and, a perfect example for everyone to follow… when they want to be a part of the gang, they'll follow… what a great time they must have had… hugs to your boys.

  3. starrlife says:

    Totally true! Even if wheelchair bound- being around walkers/mobile folks is inspiring to move and be mobile any which way you can. Wish we had someone to emulate around here- the hills here are intimidating even to me!

  4. hear ye hear ye. For this same reason I wanted the girls to join in their dance studio's Company – not because they are fabulous dancers, but because they are more inspired to learn from their peers and slightly older peers. All the things we worked on over the summer and didn't see a change – BAM the first week of school and they have made huge strides forward. Maybe all our work does pay off with just the right motivation.

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