Mar 26, 2012 4 Share

Generation Next Question


Teenage boy and girl in school uniforms in front of chalkboard with math.
iStockphoto

I did lunch with ladies who lunch last week. They all have children around Cameron's age. But instead of going to a topnotch private school for children with special needs, their children go to a topnotch private school, period. Wow. It was like our children weren't even the same species. Their upcoming spring breaks consisted of college road trips, and those roads were lined with ivy, if you get my drift. There were lots of congratulations going on around the table for fellowships won, and discussions about travel itineraries for these fellowships—all in Europe, of course. Now, you may be reading this and getting the impression that I am envious. But it's not envy that I feel. It's bewilderment in the vast differences between their 17-year-olds and my 17-year-old. When these women realized that I too have a 17-year-old, their reaction was, "Oh, so you know what it's like to have a teenager." And I would nod, and they would nod, but I have no idea what it’s like to have a teenager like theirs, just as they have no idea what it’s like to have a teenager like mine. 

With the exception of two years in Amsterdam, Cameron has been in a segregated special needs environment for his entire education. Special needs kids really annoy Cameron, so to say that friendships are a challenge for him is a major understatement. I've had this little pie in the sky idea that Cameron could go on to a postsecondary setting in a fully integrated environment. Maybe a community college, or even a four-year school in a small college town, where he could integrate with his neurotypical peers. He wouldn't be a degree seeking candidate, but would experience the "real world," with fewer supports, and possibly fewer annoyances. In addition to developing employable skills, I feel it crucial for Cameron to develop social skills. I don't expect him to rush a fraternity and be the life of every kegger. I just think, after all these years in a segregated setting, he really needs to be in the "real world." And when I talk about social skills, I mean that I'm more interested that Cameron is able to blend in than I am interested in the number of Facebook friends he acquires. 

So now I come back to my first paragraph and try to reconcile what I want with what is reality. Am I just smoking from the wrong end of the bong to think that Cameron will ever integrate with that aforementioned "other species"? Am I expecting too much from both sides to expect everyone to get along, side by side, even if just in parallel play? If this integration isn't possible, what then? I guess it's a case of “be careful what you wish for.” Some of those things that I should be familiar with as a parent of a typical 17-year-old may well slap me in the face as my son starts to integrate with his neurotypical peers. Or maybe it will be reality that slaps me in the face if Cameron struggles mightily in the general population setting. We'll never know unless we try. Either that, or I’ve got to really find that crystal ball.



Comment Options

What does Cameron want?

In my earlier column "The Interview" I wrote about what Cameron wants. He wants to own a pizza restaurant, and he's ready to do whatever it takes to reach that dream.

Anonymous

Gosh, I felt like I was

Gosh, I felt like I was reading my own words. My son, Kevin, almost 15, has been at a private special education school for the past 4 years. He also wishes he could be with the "typical" kids, and has a really hard time seeing the very obvious similarities amongst himself and his peers at school. We have a 17-year-old, so we're going throught he college process and Kevin often asks "what school will I go to". With a very low IQ, borderline MR, he won't be experience college in the typical fashion. However, we are thinking the same, what about life at college to explore the real world, to be able to take classes in a non-degreed program. I try to tell Kevin that just like we are researching options for your sister, we'll do the same for you. Kelsey can't get into every school out there, and neither will you. We'll find the right fit. BTW, I have heard that both George Mason University and East Stroudsburg University offer one year non-degreed programs for students like our children. Hoping as time passes there will be more options. Thanks for your story, it is always nice to connect with other parents in the same boat. This website has been very valuable.

Anonymous

I am so glad to hear that my

I am so glad to hear that my son isn't the only kid who is annoyed by special needs kids (considering he is one as well...ironic, isn't it?).  Mine is in public school, as we coud never afford to send him or any of his siblings to private anything, but I have the same concerns as you about the socialization since even in 4th grade, and living in a houseful of siblings, he has a lot of trouble with it.

Anonymous

I wonder...

What does Cameron want?