Speaking out about Special Education in America

An editorial written in honor of Autism Awareness Month

Symbol+for+Autism+Awareness+Month%2C+which+takes+place+in+April++

Photo courtesy of Commons Wikimedia

Symbol for Autism Awareness Month, which takes place in April

By Aivry Zamora, Clear Creek High School

Over the course of my life I have been repeatedly asked the same question: “What was it like to grow up with a sibling who has special needs?” Despite what many would like to believe, my younger sister and I are no different than any other sibling pair; we argue over pointless matters for the sake of arguing, we throw each other under the bus in hopes of favor from our mom, we act as if we cannot stand each other, when in reality, we truly love each other. Her disability has brought challenges that my mother I have had to adapt to over the years, but with every hardship we have always persevered through.

My family is extremely lucky as despite having a genetic abnormality, my sister is on the high functioning end of the spectrum of others with her same disability. She has what is called Dup15q syndrome which is a duplication of her 15 chromosome. Other children and adults with this syndrome can be non-verbal, have chronic seizures, hypotonia, various forms of autism and low gross and motor development. My sister is extremely lucky to have milder symptoms than the majority of her peers as she is able to walk, carry a conversation and perform basic tasks that we usually would learn in elementary school.

Because she is so high functioning, she has the ability to participate in school activities but throughout her school career, she has been deprived of numerous experiences under the justification that she is not suit for certain extracurriculars. While yes, her disability renders some things more challenging for her than the average student, her ability to learn skills is not non-existent.

The treatment of children with special needs as inferior has been an ongoing issue ever since the first child was diagnosed. While every student is unique, each having a multitude of different needs individual to themselves, most special needs kids have one thing in common: they want to be included.

Despite the abilities of each student ranging in complexity, clubs, electives and extracurriculars should not be out of the question. When she was an elementary school student, my sister was given dozens of opportunities to participate in school activities such as being an extra in the school musical, running a booth during the annual carnival and greeting students exiting their bus from inside the school store. The faculty and staff were enthusiastic about furthering her educational career even from a very early age and made it their mission to provide her with whatever resources and opportunities she needed to give her and other Special Ed, AA, SD or Pass students the best school experience possible.

Once she made the transition into middle school, the treatment of her and her peers drastically changed for the worse. With each year she spent in intermediate, the amount of classwork lessened, and the time spent on her school tablet/laptop increased. The students in her class were barely receiving any instruction and were essentially being babysat by the paras (teaching aids) and teacher.

By the time she reached eighth grade, she was leaving the classroom twice during a school day; once to attend adapted PE and another to go to one elective with every student in her “homeroom” class. There was no personalization of her schedule or other student’s schedules and when it was requested that instead of attending an art class with all of her classmates, she utilized the period to attend a beginner band class with the general student population, she was never taken.

When it was revealed that she was not attending band under the pretense that she was “unsuited for such a difficult task” my mother and I were appalled. A conference with the band teacher or her classroom teacher could have been made to devise a solution but instead, we were not made aware that she was not attending the class until nearly the end of the school year. Though my sister’s dilemma has been solved, it is not the first time a student with special needs has been denied an opportunity due to their disability.

Across the country, students are being kept in significantly worse circumstances than she was, some classrooms physically abusing their students into complacency. While it is understandable that managing a wide range of different specifics for each child in a classroom is difficult, hurting them in any way or denying them inclusion with their typical peers is against what a free education should be.

The inclusion of special needs kids into regular classrooms should be automatic as not only is it benefitting the Special Ed students by giving them a chance to interact with their typical peers, it allows the general student population to be exposed to and befriend those different than them. While not every special needs child is as fortunate as my sister to be able to actively participate in a variety of endeavors, pushing the academic and social boundaries of these children should be equally as important as challenging regular students in school.

Education is not an exclusive concept and while the American school system is notorious for being unjust, topics such as this are what can push executives into improving the educational experience of future generations of students.

This story was originally published on Creek HiLife on April 9, 2020.