By Lori Burnshire
Each day at 3:10, Peytn would emerge from the front doors of the middle school with a smile on his face and something to fidget with in his hand. And, each day he would find me standing under the large tree to meet him. From there we would walk together along the row of buses rapidly filling with students. The roar of the bus engines was overwhelming. Yet, still smiling, Peytn would use his thumbs to gently push the underside of each earlobe until the lobes covered the openings to his ears as we walked on.
It was usual to hear an occasional “Hi Peytn” or “See you tomorrow Peytn” from students on the bus. However, on this day I noticed an arm, stretching out of the very back window on the very last bus and frantically waving a white envelope. As we get closer a girl’s voice yells out over the hum of the engine “Peytn! Peytn! Here, it’s an invitation to my birthday party, I hope you can come!” Without missing a beat, Peytn slid his thumb from his ear, raising his shoulder to takes its place and retrieved the envelope.
As we settle in the car and Peytn opens his invitation, I can’t help but reflect on his school experience. Even before Peytn started preschool, our family knew we wanted him to be included with all kids. We felt strongly about the benefits of inclusion but mostly we felt it’s what was right for Peytn. Despite our best efforts, our preschool and elementary road to inclusion had a number of speed bumps. It was a good lesson in what worked and what didn’t work. By the time middle school rolled around it seemed we had finally found that winning combination for inclusion; a dedicated team of teachers, para’s and related service staff; a school principal who had high expectations for all students; and a circle of middle school friends who welcomed Peytn in school and extracurricular activities. At home we hoped to enhance that experience by continuing to include Peytn in family and community activities. Whether it was cheering for his brother at a baseball game, shopping at the local grocery store, or getting to know the neighbors during evening walks through the neighborhood, we encouraged Peytn’s participation whenever possible. It wasn’t long before folks in the community began to know Peytn by name. It also wasn’t long before we noticed marked improvements in Peytn’s social, behavioral and academic skills.
Peytn is now a junior in high school where his inclusionary education continues. He continually surprises so many with his abilities. He has demonstrated talents which may have remained hidden had he not had an opportunity to be included in regular classes. He recently received an award for a self portrait painted in art class. During his sophomore year, in computer class, he developed an autism awareness presentation which played on the school’s big screen TV during National Autism Awareness Month. All created while learning side by side with his typical peers. The next exciting event on the high school horizon is planning for prom!
As we plan for Peytn’s future after high school we celebrate the benefits of his inclusion more than ever. Together, school, home and community have helped prepare Peytn for his journey into adulthood, along side everyone else, right where he belongs.