I have this mental vision of Caila’s days at school - it’s of someone standing on tipped toes and stretching their arms out. The person does this for hours on end. I am pretty sure this describes Caila’s experience trying to keep up in an inclusion environment. Many professionals have told us over the years that Caila should also engage with people who have special needs as well. Twice a week she attends an afternoon program with kids who mainly have Down syndrome. She also has been going to Bnei Akiva youth movement in the special needs group. These groups allow her time to relax and feel successful. However these groups also have their challenges as they are diverse range of ages and functioning making it hard for Caila to find meaningful friendships. I recently had a conversation with Caila that told me so much about what’s going on in her head. The Bnei Akiva youth group in our area recently opened up a regular group for typical kids in her age group and many kids from her school join this program. We asked her if she wanted to try it out and after a couple of meetings I asked her which group she prefers. The typical kids group has over 50 kids with 5 youth leaders aged 15. It’s a fun but unstructured and hectic environment. Imagine 50 plus Israeli kids letting loose..... in contrast the special needs group has 4 counselors for 5 kids and one of them is her brother. Caila told me she prefers to attend the regular group. When I pressed her why she said “Imma I want to go with the real people”. I asked her who the real people were and she replied not like “x” a kid that we know with Down syndrome. In our short conversation she shared with me so much about what’s in her head. Whether it’s our messages or school or society she knows that there are real people or the people she aspires to be with and non real people. It’s also the sign of Caila’s emerging awareness of who she is in the world. For years I always said that one of my saddest days would be the day Caila realizes she is different from others. Until this point not only did she not know she was different I am quite sure she thought she was better than the others. We have just celebrated Tu B'shvat the birthday of the trees a time of planting and renewal and I hope that we can nurture Caila’s identity so that she can be like a tree and feel rooted, strong and happy while able to sway with the winds of life!
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