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What Wasn't Said: Language, Assumptions, and Special Education

We're moving next year. Just for the year while Peter goes back to school. But it still means packing our things and finding new doctors and new friends and, most worrisome to me, a new school for Penny.

So I went online and looked at the website for the school system where we'll be living. Here's what I found:

The Integrated Preschool Program is an inclusive program providing services to children who are three to six years old and are determined to be eligible for special education. The program includes typically developing peers who serve as role models, particularly in language and social skills.

I suddenly couldn't get quite enough air. It wasn't what I read. It was the sentence that never made it into the paragraph. It was the absence of, Children with special needs make valuable contributions to their typically developing peers, particularly through...

Particularly through what exactly? I wouldn't want to say through compassion and kindness and patience, as if every kid with special needs is a poster child of sweetness and light. So what is it? Through breaking down stereotypes before they even begin? Through demonstrating to everyone (adults and kids alike) that they are more similar than different?

It can't really be summed up in words as specific as "language and social skills", but I think what I would want to write is, particularly through friendship.

I don't know whether this statement on the website reflects anything about the school itself. I just know that I want Penny to benefit from her typically developing peers, and I want them to benefit from her as well. I want her to grow up in a matrix of reciprocal relationships, in which she knows what it is to give and to receive. And I–a typically developing adult–want to learn to see my peers with special needs as individuals who have gifts to give me.

I hope I'll report back a year for now with stories of the friends Penny has made at her new school. I hope she'll be going to birthday parties and having playdates and telling me the names of her friends. And I hope she won't have any idea which ones of those friends fall into the category of special and typical. I hope she'll just know they are her friends.

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