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All I Know About Inclusion, I Learned from a Global Pandemic

By: C. W.

When my son entered kindergarten in the fall of 2018, he had no ADHD diagnosis. He was just an energetic kid who struggled with appropriate social behaviour. I figured, “well, he’s only 5, he can’t be expected to sit still all day. This is normal for kindergarten”. While that was partially true, some of the behaviour – pushing in the cubby room, biting, and having zero impulse control, for example, was not. I suddenly found myself getting phone calls a few times a week to come and pick him up early, stories of him not being in class, being asked to come on field trips with the class or he would not be allowed to go. There were several meetings with the principal, and a reward system created, because without a diagnosis everyone thought he was doing all of this on purpose. Reward system did not work. No shock there. The issues continued. Finally, 3 months before kindergarten was over, an IEP was created. It did not have a whole lot in it in the way of academics, or in the way of strategies, plus it was three months before the end of school, but at least it was a step in the right direction. I had to push for it though. We are lucky I know, as ADHD has no official diagnosis in the school system, but my son was able to get an IEP because his designation was “behaviour”. I really, really dislike that word. Behaviour. Blah. Somehow, we made it through kindergarten, but I realized that this was not going to be an easy ride. I would have to advocate for my son every single year and teach him to advocate for himself. With kindergarten done, I thought “it can only go up from here, right?”. Boy, was I wrong? 

It was during the 2019-2020 school year that I really had to grow some thick skin. Grade 1 started out well enough, but the honeymoon phase was short. Soon, the phone calls to pick up started again. They continued almost daily at the start of the year, and he was barely in class at all except for subjects he liked and ones that were more hands on. No academic goals in his IEP. Monthly ‘check in’ meetings with the school team. Essentially, my kid was going to school to be babysat. What was he even learning? They thought he legitimately did not know the material, when in fact it was the way, it was being presented to him that his body had a hard time with. The district was called in to assist – at my insistence as well as the school’s. They made a bit of progress, but by the time we could really implement their strategies, it was after winter break.  I made sure all missed work came home and was done with me, and I documented every minute of missed class on Inclusion BC’s Exclusion Tracker. There was talk of him going down to half days at school after spring break. 

Finally, in January 2020, 2 months before the world shut down because of a global pandemic, the official ADHD diagnosis came. I had hopes that things would change -- movement breaks written into his IEP, outcomes the same as the rest of the class but done in a way his brain could handle, more time in class (as promised if behaviour improved, which it did). Nope. Nothing. He was well behind his classmates in almost all subjects, as he was not given a chance to prove his abilities. Fast forward to spring break 2020 – in person learning had been suspended, and all the kids started remote learning. “This is our chance!” I thought, “our chance to show them exactly how much my child is capable of when given the chance”. I was determined to show the school exactly how smart and competent my child was. We participated in every online class meeting, did every assignment given – and did it happily. He moved up 3 reading levels, finally got to participate in social studies, and we kept our science experiment meal worms well into the next school year! He had no stress of having to comply, and I did not have what I have come to call “phone anxiety”, about the school calling every day. It took a global pandemic, and remote learning, for my son to be included in everything his class did.

You would think that things would continue that way, but when schools were told they could open in June for in class learning again, more disappointment came our way. There was never a question that my son would be going back to in class learning. He missed his friends and needed face-to-face instruction from the teacher. Each child going back, unless essential service or vulnerable learner, would get 2 days a week of face-to-face instruction. That was all fine and good. However, when I got an email from the school saying my son’s 2 days a week would be half days, I was livid. First, I did not consider this to be “after spring break” since going back was voluntary, and we did not know in March if we would even finish out the year in person. Apparently, the half days after spring break that had been discussed, were going to happen. Secondly, I was unaware that my son was entitled to 4 full days, as a vulnerable learner. With the help of a friend, I got in touch with the right people at the district, who got in touch with the school, and ultimately got my son more days. We agreed on 4 half days, which equaled 2 full days. I was happy with this. 

Naturally, when school started in the fall of 2020, all my anxieties about the past 2 years, and inclusion struggles, came back. The year started much the same, with some partial days, the district getting involved, and very little work being done. However, thanks to my bravery in getting the district involved that past June, my developing of thick skin, my son’s maturity & ability to self-advocate, and a most fabulous teacher & support worker, things quickly turned around for the better. I pushed for academic goals in his IEP and got them. And they are followed. Work is sent home willingly, and we are given ample time to complete it. My son adores his teacher. He loves to learn and is learning SO much. He never stops talking about what he has learned and teaching it to me as well. There are no more meltdowns or outbursts. No more reward systems or altered schedules. No more partial days. And perhaps the biggest thing of all for me... NO MORE PHONE CALLS! :-). All because these new adults gave him a chance. My biggest regret is not getting the right people at the district involved sooner. I was intimidated by the school team. I know that advocating for my son in that way was the right thing to do, and while I hope that is the first and last time, I will have to go to them, I am not afraid to do it again if needed.

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