Last week I only touched the surface of the benefits my own children have gotten from participating in the inclusive pod. Shortly after I wrote we experienced this moment, which confirmed everything I believe in the value of inclusive settings.
During one of our evening sessions I called my daughter and Joey over to work in a small guided math group. They had previously been together working with the speech pathologist on identifying and exploring emotions, and after that they had sat through a whole group twenty minute lesson on the first Thanksgiving. My daughter, who does not do a great job when I am a teacher and not her mom, cracked. She said she had a stomach ache and was tired, but regardless of what caused it, she just lost it. She refused to come and lay on the floor and cried while I muttered unpleasant teacher-mom directives at her like “GET UP NOW’ through my gritted teeth. (It wasn’t any of our best moments.)
To wait for her to join us, I went and sat with Joey, noting that his eyes were full of concern and confusion. “She’s feeling frustrated, isn’t she?” I asked, using some of the words he had just discussed with the speech pathologist. “Oh man, she is frustrated.” Understanding and empathy registered in his face as he put together the lesson he’d just had, his own experiences and what he was witnessing. He kept his eyes on her as she slowly brought herself over to our side of the room and climbed into my lap.
As she settled in, Joey turned to her with concern and slowly reached his arm out to pat her shoulder. Motor control is not easy for him, and I could see in his eyes how hard he was working on carefully and gently rubbing her shoulder. She noticed it as well. She looked up at him and they locked eyes. For a moment neither of them made a sound, they just connected in that first grade understanding of having big feelings and not being understood. Finally she nodded at him and buried her head into my shoulder for a moment before sitting up and saying “OK, I’m ready for math.”
The moment she and Joey had was a pure friendship moment of empathy, co-regulation, and compassion – and it had nothing to do with the fact that one of them was in a wheelchair or needed a device to speak. She did not stop crying to please him, but because her friend had reached out and wordlessly asked if she was OK. Her friend had breathed with her and held her silently in his caring eyes.
This is what this inclusive pod has become. Mutual friendship. Everyone’s needs being supported and held. Togetherness.