Recently I have read a few parent concerns about their sons and daughters with Down syndrome or other disabilities being isolated, lonely and friendless in their high school years following socially and academically successful years in inclusive classrooms from kindergarten on up. They may have heard persuasive arguments from administrators about segregated placements in distant schools where life skills and vocational training opportunities are described in glowing terms. It has been my experience that mainstream high schools offer a more diverse set of options for all students than any school year since kindergarten.
It is not a well-kept secret that high school can be a lonely experience for many students, even those who have several friends to sit with at lunch and to spend time with outside of school. Those with Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities who are included in mainstream classrooms from kindergarten or preschool through graduation have the same struggles as their peers, often with additional challenges related more to low expectations, inadequate support, or fewer opportunities than to disability.
Students with Down syndrome and their mainstream classmates are fortunate to have continue their relationships in high school because there are so many obstacles in the path of every teenager in school. They may all find unsympathetic administrators, school policies with no exceptions, family and relationship problems to be nearly insurmountable obstacles.
Most high schools who are receptive to Circles of Friends clubs report significant benefits for all students involved. Some families are frustrated when they seek permission from their principal or school board due to the perception that peer support groups are helpful only for students with disabilities and too much responsibility is put on mainstream participants. Occasionally, other parents of students with IEPs voice concerns about their son or daughter participating that persuade administrators to decline permission for the program.
Often, parents of mainstream students are more enthusiastic about their teens committing to a peer support program for students with developmental disabilities because aside from providing a positive source of activities, they want their children to understand and live up to their own potential. Students who have grown up in inclusive classrooms understand it means as much if not more to them as it does for a classmate with Down syndrome.
It breaks my heart when I hear of teens who feel so lonely and unnoticed that school is miserable for them; and it is even more tragic for those who are bullied for their own differences and so demoralized that they take their own lives without finding out that life can be better and does get so much better after school. When diversity, acceptance, friendship and inclusion are discussed openly in inclusive classrooms and peer buddy programs, every child and teen can hear the positive message and find a way to express their own individuality.
Students in inclusive classrooms and those who participate in groups like Circles of Friends learn how to support one another and to accept the support and friendship of others. Students with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities have the potential to be supportive, encouraging advisors and friends just like their mainstream peers.
Browse at your public library, local bookstore or online retailer for books like: How to Make & Keep Friends: Tips for Kids to Overcome 50 Common Social Challenges or Person Centered Planning.
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One last hoorah - Leavenworth, KS - The Leavenworth Times
Leavenworth football’s First Downs for Down Syndrome program.