My daughter, Yi Ran, has autism. When she reached school age, my husband and I brought her to a regular school. The school leaders and teachers had never interacted with children with autism before and were very reluctant to accept my daughter. They kept telling me that their school was not a special school and asked us to contact the local Disabled Persons Federation or other places for possible solutions. We fell into despair because there was no organization in the whole city that would accept children with autism at that time. We begged the school principal to give my daughter a chance. Because I was also a teacher, the school decided to help us. They asked us to hire someone to come to school with my daughter to assist her and told us to first try this arrangement for one month.
Begging a Way in and through a Regular School
My daughter had all kinds of issues in the class. We were called constantly to the principal’s office for these issues. The principal and teachers kept asking us to let our daughter drop off. We begged them again and again to let my daughter stay. Over the years, as we begged for one more try after another, our daughter eventually finished her nine-year compulsory education in this regular school. Throughout these nine years, we experienced endless worry, anxiety, pain, and stress, day and night. Yet we also felt very grateful to the principal, teachers, and classmates in the school for their increasing understanding and acceptance of our daughter and her special needs.
After middle school, as a courtesy to me because I was a high school teacher, my school leader offered help for my daughter to study in our school as an auditor without official registration status. Although perhaps not ideal, we felt very grateful for this opportunity and support. Before school started, my daughter’s teachers and classmates communicated with one another and prepared for daughter’s arrival. My daughter entered an inclusive and welcoming new environment in high school.
Surprising Outcomes for All
My daughter’s educational experience was both positive and fortunate, but unfortunately not all too common for children with autism in this area. Currently, meaningful inclusive education for children with autism has a long way to go, but this doesn’t mean that we should give up. On the contrary, we should strive to make a change.
I want to share what I have learned from my daughter’s experience. I believe that the most important thing is to nurture good relationships with teachers. Many parents of children with autism do not want to tell teachers that their children have autism. They fear that their children might be denied enrollment, discriminated against at school, rejected, or totally ignored. But I think that it is important to communicate with teachers about the child’s disability and special needs. I think it is especially important to discuss tasks and things that the child cannot do, and ask teachers to teach him/her differently. Before school started, we gave each teacher and the principal a copy of a book about autism. We told the school that we understood if the school could not include my daughter’s academic performance in the class report. We tried our best to participate in all school activities, including fundraising for the school.
Through a process of interaction, teachers began to understand that Yi Ran was not necessarily disruptive in the class as they imagined and feared she might be, but rather she changed the class gradually. For example, Yi Ran was very sensitive to the environment. Whenever an angry teacher was criticizing students in the class, Yi Ran would become scared, and sometimes, spoke up and asked the teacher to stop being angry. Although embarrassed, the teacher began to consciously control his/her anger in the class.
There used to be some students in the class who liked to act up and make fun of Yi Ran. As time went by, they changed their attitudes and behavior and began to help Yi Ran in the class. When Yi Ran ran in the hallway, her classmates would come to look after her and protect her.
During holidays, Yi Ran always received many gifts. Teachers and students realized that the class became very special because of Yi Ran’s presence. The special feeling motivated everyone to love and support each other. Inclusive education is a significant challenge for both parents and teachers, but, in so many ways, it’s worth putting forth the extra effort. Every special child, while making efforts to adjust in an open environment, announces to the world his/her existence and value.
Our Hope for Meaningful Inclusion
We long for real equality with more in-school support so that all children with special needs can experience meaningful inclusion. We shouldn’t have to rely on parents begging schools to provide an opportunity for children with special needs. We also shouldn’t have to rely on the sympathy of school principals and teachers.
We hope that in the near future, all school principals and teachers will come to understand the true value of inclusive education. We hope that all students will respect and accept students with different abilities, behaviors, and challenges and learn how to get along with and help each other. Our hope is that every child with special needs not only has a seat in a regular classroom, but also has friends. Inclusive education is no longer a new, foreign concept, but a civilized destination.
The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.