Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy to Accommodate

Today's post on Ask Moxie was meant to be a support-fest for parents of kids with special needs. Unfortunately, it got seriously sidetracked into a sort of debate about whether or not the accommodations required for kids with food allergies is too much to ask of parents of "normal" kids. I suspect a lot of things got misinterpreted on both sides, but it is always sad when the discussion on the Moxie site, which is normally so supportive, gets ugly.

I can sort of see both sides of this. I am firmly in favor of making any accommodations necessary to keep a child with a genuine food allergy safe. Pumpkin is a ridiculously picky eater, but even so, if someone in her class had an allergy that meant it wasn't safe for her to have milk (for instance) at day care, we'd adjust. However, I have run across parents who say their kid has a food allergy when really the kid has a food intolerance. An allergy involves the immune system and can cause anaphylaxis, even, in some rare cases, when the child picks up trace amounts of the allergen from his or her environment. I don't think the mechanism of most intolerances is known, but they cannot lead to anaphylaxis. Both are horrible for the kid involved, but an intolerance generally doesn't require that surrounding children avoid the offending food, too. As long as the child with the intolerance doesn't eat the food, he or she will be fine. I suppose that if I suspected the child whose "allergy" was causing me to do snack time contortions was actually suffering from an intolerance, I'd be a little cranky about it. But I hope that I would always give the parents the benefit of the doubt- having any sort of serious issues with the food you feed your child must be so draining. I find it hard to figure out what to feed Pumpkin, and we don't have any foods that we must avoid, just foods that she won't eat.

Anyway, somewhere on the second page of comments, Julie posted a wonderful comment that included a reminder that working to make the accommodations needed to be inclusive in our public schools is worth the effort, and that all kids benefit, not just the "mainstreamed" kids. I really think this is true. Back when I was in kindergarten, there were two "mainstreamed" kids in my class. All these years later, I remember those kids- and not because of any accommodations that were made or issues we had. I don't remember any of those (the adults involved must have done a good job). I just remember the kids. Most of us rarely interact with people of different abilities and with different needs in our day to day lives. I have to think that if we get that chance as children, and it is handled well by the adults around us, we really learn that everyone has something to contribute and that we should not assume that someone who looks different from us will contribute less.

I think I will end this post with a reminder that I finally posted my review of the Baby Signing Time DVDs that I was sent. If the Signing Time story isn't the perfect example of how making "accommodations" for kids with "special needs" can benefit everyone, I don't know what is. A project that started as a way to teach friends and family of one deaf little girl how to communicate with her has grown into something that has helped scores of of kids of all sorts communicate better. I am glad that Rachel decided to try to help the rest of us "accommodate" her daughter. We will almost certainly never meet her daughter, but we have definitely benefited from the DVDs.

2 comments:

  1. I was distressed by the discussion, too, and I too fall on both sides of the issue. I didn't have 'mainstreamed' kids in my classes in school - I think I am a little older than you, or it may just have been chance - and I haven't seen any at my daughter's schools, either. (Her daycare, which had a higher-income population, did have some kids with disabilities.)

    I think the anxiety from the parents of non-special needs children also comes from the sense, in public schools, that there is never enough for everyone already - classes too large, facilities bare bones, even in middle-class suburbs - so anyone who is taking 'more than their share' of resources, be they teacher attention, whatever, is a threat to one's own child's education. And, conversely, the parents of special needs children have to fight like terriers to get pretty basic accommodations, again because they are so costly (and also because of bureaucracy - but the bureaucracy of public school is itself a reaction to underfunding and scarce resources.

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  2. This is the first time I've ever been glad that I didn't have time to read Ask Moxie. I don't think I'll go back and read it either. It's something I just would rather stay out of.

    But you make a really great point about the differences between allergies and intolerances. Schools should be educated on the differences and be sure to find out exactly what the issue is from parents.

    I also love the point you made about Signing Time. I'm excited to read your review, but I'm going to wait until after I do mine. I don't want to be influenced. ;-)

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