A Different Page.

When did you realize your kid was defined by his disability?

For some of you, maybe it has always been that way.  Maybe a wheelchair or an inability to speak has always put what your child can’t do before what he can do. Maybe it was the IEP at school or the extra-curricular activities that aren’t an option.

I realized this today. At 4:13 a.m.

I couldn’t sleep, got out of bed, and because what else do you do at 4am, started cleaning my kitchen. Jax’s backpack had been hanging on a barstool since Friday, and I unzipped it to clean out last week’s paperwork in preparation for the final week of school.

Hoorah! His yearbook was in there! I was so excited about this yearbook. We ordered it at the school’s Fall Carnival months and months ago. We must have been one of the first ten orders. This year, 1st grade, Jax was mainstreamed in a general education class for most of the day. He had an aide with him, but 85% of the time, he was in a typical class. We worked hard for this, we fought hard for this. My son has spent an entire school year talking about these classmates – who made him laugh, who taught him to jump off a swing, who likes Monster High. They learned math, they made paper earths and grew plants in cups.

Every single day, my son took his seat and participated. In this class.

This cheesy, paperback 1st grade yearbook was a symbol for me. In my head, we would look through this yearbook, flip to his class, and remember the little 1st grade faces and the teacher who wrapped him in compassion while she taught. This yearbook was to be the first in line of many school triumphs for my son. Jax clearly wasn’t social chair of his 1st grade class, he wasn’t invited to all the parties or playdates. But he was on the field. He made the game. I flipped to his class to find his school photo, with the alfalfa hair and trademark grin.

They forgot him.

Jax’s picture wasn’t with his class. I didn’t believe it – there was no way – so I checked every single picture like I was looking at a police line-up. There he is in the group snapshot featured in the lower right corner – glasses on, huge smile, right arm raised high into the air – but his school picture isn’t included on the page with his classmates.

I searched the rest of the yearbook. Jax’s school photo is, of course, with the special needs class. Jax is autistic. No matter where he spent the majority of this year, his photo is with the other kids that share this label.

Was this an oversight? I’m sure. But this is the first time I have seen my child as others must see him. This is the first time I have realized that he will be defined by his disability. Jax might be in the typical class, but by definition, he is on a completely different page. He didn’t make the game after all.

Sincerely,
Becca

Yearbook

Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram.

16 Comments

  1. spectrumwarrior

    Pull at my heart strings. Where e live there are no special needs classes. All children are in the general class regardless of their disabilities. I don’t know if this set up is honestly any better. In the younger grades kids are my h less aware of their disabilities, unless of course physical. As they get older though and kids start being more cruel I sort of wishe we had the special needs classroom if anything but to offer a safe haven. It’s hard to say, as a mother, yes my son is different and the world will always see it that way.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Masterson

      The special needs room is definitely a safe haven. Are you a small school?

      Reply
      • spectrumwarrior

        No but we are in Canada and in our province they have made it mandatory for inclusion in all schools. This means no special needs classroom. Children who need EA’s will have EA’s assigned to them. Most schools do have a sensory break room or a quiet room but that is it. Otherwise all kids are schooled in the same class. My son starts school in the fall for the second time. It did not go so well the first time so we keeped him out for an additional year of ABA and then he will try again this year. We will see how it goes but I wish we had a special needs class which would allow a slower gradual transition into the school environment with smaller class sizes and more one on one. Then transition into main stream. In our case they just throw them in a class with 25 or more kids.

        Reply
  2. Mary

    This is heart breaking and seems insensitive. We don’t have a special needs classroom at our school, so all friends are included with their age peers, just as they spend their days with them. I hope you will say something to the school to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Masterson

      Mary, I absolutely will say something. I sleep on these things to make sure I say them in the voice I want. 😉

      Reply
  3. dreamlvr1432

    This breaks my heart! Our current school doesn’t have a special education classroom exactly. They do have one, but they place the kids in their appropriate grades and do pull out services during the day for extra help. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this at first, until I found out that they make accommodations and teach social skills and everything else they would do in the SpEd class, in the GenEd classroom! They include ALL students so nobody is singled out for being different. They only do pull-outs when kids need extra help academically. It is so sad that our school is in the minority while the majority of schools treat our kids differently.

    Reply
  4. sophiestrains

    Im in Canada too (Ontario) and that’s definitely NOT the case here, in fact inclusion is strongly discouraged and aides are next to impossible to obtain. All the special-needs kids are put in small “diagnostic” classes and eventually to a designated autism class.
    Regardless, Becca I’m sorry this happened. I can just imagine the heartbreak 🙁

    Reply
  5. Mary C. Duggan

    Damn. Okay? Just plain dam-nation.

    Reply
  6. Robert Richards

    As far as I am concerned, Jax did make the page. The very fact that he is where he is today is an achievement. There are so many that are left behind. May your son and family continue your journey and please remember you are never alone and nor is Jax.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Masterson

      Thank you. And you’re right, his progress is a tremendous achievement.

      Reply
  7. Frances

    Consider volunteering for the yearbook committee next year. I write this as someone who just got voted in as the new PTA president. If it’s not happening, make it happen. 🙂

    Reply
    • Rebecca Masterson

      I like the way you think. Decided last night that the PTA was getting a new member this fall.

      Reply
  8. Sharon Stanis

    In my son’s kindergarten class yearbook, his picture was with the the rest of the kindergarten class. My son has down syndrome, so it was such a pleasure to see that he was included with all his friends. He is mainstreamed for art, gym, music, lunch and recess. The rest of his day is spent in his special education classroom. His peers love him and accept him just as he is. I pray that as he grows older, society and his peers will continue to embrace him with that same love, understanding, and acceptance. I say prayers every night that all children regardless of their abilities will have that same support. I am sorry to hear your yearbook committee chose to separate your child from his peers in the photos. Especially as I know how hard all parents of special needs children work to see their child or children gets the resources they need to be successful in life. I sense changes in next year’s yearbook by you. Good luck.

    Reply

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