Friends are underrated.
For my autistic son feeling included at school began with making friends. Some children need a little bit of support to do that for various reasons. It can be because they struggle with communication.
But communication is a two-way process and the best communication occurs when there is empathy on both sides, so friendship has a chance to develop. If there is pressure on one child to fundamentally change who they are, and the other child doesn’t know how to adapt their communication style then it’s difficult to come to an understanding. However, if the children are supported to be able to understand each other better then empathy and friendship follows.
But it seemed unlikely that after three years of being lonely and without friends the situation could be much improved. Would ANY of the other children even want to be in my son’s circle of friends? What about their parents? I can’t pretend I wasn’t worried about their reaction after all not everyone believes disabled or autistic children should be present in schools and my son had gained a reputation for trouble. The “trouble” really came from his strenuous but unsuccessful attempts to fit in and belong but it had become clear that children had been instructed to stay away from him in the playground and questions about his behaviour had been asked of his teacher. I was worried the situation was too far gone.
However, it turns out ten minute, weekly meetings of a Circle of Friends (by Inclusive Solutions), facilitated by a teacher to discuss what has gone well and what could have gone better is rocket fuel for inclusive relationships! My son has never been happier. The other children who in the recent past were avoiding him seek him out for games in the playground. He has a group of regular friends for the first time and has started to dip in and out of other friendship groups as his confidence grows.I had hoped this would help my son make friends and be happy but I hadn’t realised the effect this inclusive approach would have on the other kids. They seem much happier too. Perhaps the lesson is that children want to be inclusive and sometimes just need a wee bit of help to find ways to make it real. I think all the children in his classroom are benefitting from learning about one another’s differences and similarities together now. As for the parents, they can see that their children are happy and really that’s all they want.
An unexpected side effect is that my son’s learning has taken off too. It seems being included makes him more available for learning. I know his teacher is pleased about that! It’s important that all children get the opportunity to know each other through the shared experience of school. His school is just an average Scottish local primary school with the same social issues and funding problems as all the other schools in the country, but within it the mutual benefits of inclusion have been realised for my son and his classmates.