Several bloggers such as “Welcome to Illinois”,
“ Girl in a Party Hat”,
and Mothering By the Seat of my Pants (love that title…LOL) have posted comments on situations where teens with Down syndrome were given their “moment to shine”. In these cases the child with Down syndrome is voted prom queen, given ten minutes on the basketball court, and the like. And their (the posters) feelings were very mixed. I understand that.
First, let us face reality. The basketball team is NOT going to put him on their regular lineup, unless he is VERY able. Basketball involves more than shooting hoops-- defense strategy, offensive plays.... and if he is not able to do that, and do it as well as the other boys on the team, you can't expect him to be on the regular lineup. IF he really can’t do it well.
Just because we want our children to be included does not mean that other people who have worked hard to achieve a goal, need to sacrifice their right to success because a person with Down syndrome wants to be like everyone else. Because he is NOT like everyone else. I hate to say that. But it is the terrible truth. He may have the same hopes and ambitions. But hopes and ambition is not what counts on the team. A clumsy teen without Down syndrome, full of love for basketball, would not be included on the team either, on sole basis of his desire to be so. In a case like this, if the team has the opportunity to put him on, in a way that the child with Down syndrome will be happy with it, why not? (Although I would argue that surely an opportunity could arise more than once every nine years…..)
In a case where the opportunity is given “gratis”, as a gift, it may be a bittersweet moment for the parents. I can live with that. Even when my daughter participated very well in class productions, it was bittersweet. It was still oh so very obvious to me how far she was behind her classmates. But she enjoys the productions. Should I deny her of it because she is not perfect, or doesn’t have a “part” well beyond her capabilities? I think not.
But when the schoolgirls at the production “cheered” her on (in a way not done for other performers), [Note: this was done by girls NOT in HER class. They, I think, would never act so patronizingly….] I asked them to stop.
I think that we have to carefully see and evaluate (as parents, when it affects our child) each case. For example, in searching for a school program for Ricki in high school, I investigated a program in a city about an hour’s drive away. In the end, I decided to not pursue this option. Why? The actual program was not much better than that in my city. It is true that the special-ed students have much more contact with “normal” classes than our local special-ed class. But it is, I heard, a rather “mascot-y” type of contact. And that is not worth traveling two hours daily. I do hope to convince our local high schools to work on establishing a contact between their students and the special-education classes.
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Perhaps the biggest qualm I have about “mascot” programs is that it allows the “normal” students to feel that they have given the student with Down syndrome what is “due” him. Sometimes I suspect that this blocks the attempt to stop and make a clear evaluation of what contribution the child or teen with Down syndrome REALLY CAN DO, without needing charity handouts. With a little bit of extra teaching, coaching, practice…. I suspect that there are many things our “special education” students can do on the regular terms of society. And I would like that evaluation to be done more often.