Two children. Siblings. Same house. Same rules. Different lives.
As a child, I had a great time in my kindergarten. My mom often reminisces about my creative expression in the sandpit and how I would protect my cousin from anyone who would make fun of our suspenders- inside and outside school. She says she knew early on that I wasn’t very “academically inclined.”
I later moved to an all-girls school, playing sports and doing just enough in the classroom to keep my parents and teachers off my back. I wouldn’t call myself a disciplined child, and while I didn’t particularly understand why there were so many do’s and don’ts, I optimised for my freedom; I never broke more rules than I should to keep out of trouble.
All in all, I LOVED school, despite not fitting into a stereotypical “studious student” character! I look back fondly on regular lunch breaks and my medals from our annual sports day.
My brother went to the same kindergarten as I did. Well, er, he did for about four weeks. When the principal reached out to my mom to tell her that he was ‘different’ than other kids, she naively asked for the same freedom and flexibility that allowed me to blossom. “But he rocks and stims and doesn’t do the same things as other kids,” the principal said. To which my hyper-aware mother said ‘well yes, but he’s really happy. And he seems to get along with a few kids quite well. I’m okay if he doesn’t turn out to be an A-grade student!’ It didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was that other parents might have an issue with ‘such a child’ in the classroom. He was asked to leave. And then again from various other schools.
If I had to speak on my brother’s behalf, I’m sure his happiest times from back then would be the three years he went to the same class in a small school where he sat in the last bench, even though he was so much taller than the other kids. But the teachers didn’t seem to care, and the students had grown used to seeing him around him with his shoestring to soothe his sensory needs.
We loved going to the annual fair every year, where my brother would be a tree or butterfly in the theatre group, which allowed him to really blend in while being himself.
My brother was diagnosed with autism when he was about 2 and a half years old. This was the early 2000s, when doctors and parents alike were unfamiliar with the term and were doing their best to hide in the shadows of “you’re reading too much into it.”
While there’s a lot to unpack there, this story was about how something as basic as schools can be largely inaccessible to neurodiverse learners. The irony is that while children with neurodivergent conditions need lots of exposure to their peers and communities to learn social-emotional skills, most of our societal structures, including schools, are designed to isolate them under the pretext of them being ‘different’.
I’m curious if my readers have made it till here, what do you think? Do you think our schools are a safe space for all kids to thrive? Well, let’s reset that expectation–do you think our schools are capable of making all kids feel safe?
And in case I’ve got you thinking, and if you’re wondering if you could actually take small steps towards more inclusive classrooms, here’s how you can start:
If you have any other suggestions that didn’t make it to this list, please share them with us. You can also write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author: Shreya Jain is the Head of Neurodiversity Programme at BYJU’S. She works with neurodiverse communities and has led advocacy groups in India and the United States.
Disclaimer: The views stated in this article are solely those of the author.
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