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Sophie was applying her third layer of mascara (mostly to her lashes) and muttering under her breath.

“I’m taking a big risk today.”

“What?” I asked, looking away from traffic for a second.

“Nothing,” she said quickly.

“No, tell me,” I urged. “Did you say, `I’m taking a big risk today’?”


“Oh, because cheer tryouts begin this afternoon?”

“No, because choir auditions are today at school. Can I put on a song?”

She grabbed my phone and cranked High School Musical, as if on cue.

This is high school — so far, anyway — for Sophie. There’s a lot of good. And there’s some not-so-good. Yesterday I hung up the phone with the director of special ed for the school and wondered, am I doing this even remotely right? Am I asking for enough? Too much? What does this guy think — of me, of Sophie? He laughed a little when I said Sophie was trying out for cheer. What did that mean? Pride? Nerves? Something else?

My current requests: I asked if the speech therapist could work with Sophie on non-verbal social cues, with the hope of limiting what can only be called stalking. If you are the object of Sophie’s affection, watch the fuck out. If you are a teenage boy trying to navigate high school and Sophie simultaneously, I feel for you. But I’m also not your hugest fan when I hear that your phone — texts, Snapchat, Instagram — is suddenly “not working.” I do,  however, get it. But could someone else — like an adult — get it, and try to fix it, or at least smooth it over?

Isn’t there any way for the best buddies group to find Sophie some peers to have meaningful friendships with? I asked the special ed director. He said yes, acting like I hadn’t been begging for this at meetings all year. (To be fair, he’s only been at the school since January, so he’s only heard me beg once or twice. The rest of the team has been hearing it all year.)

We’ll see. Sophie is still happy at school — my main goal. It’s only freshman year. Eventually she’ll make it onto the cast of a school play or even onto the cheer line, right? She’ll make a real friend, yes?

Yesterday a friend of mine posted on Facebook, asking if anyone with a kid at her daughter’s high school would be willing to sit with her kid — who has special needs — at an event for seniors. I saw that and cringed and realized that that “yes” is not a given.

My friend’s post concluded:

I also understand this is your senior’s final hurrah, too. I respect their privilege to enjoy their last few weeks without feeling the need to embrace an outsider. No guilt. No pressure. Truly. I’m so excited for this chapter to close. Cheers, friends. We’ve lived through 4 years.

I hate to think that all Sophie will do is live through the next 3-plus years. But I’m at a loss. What should I expect? What should I do? I need help.

And so, friends, I’m crowdsourcing. Tell me your stories — here in the comments, on Facebook, message me at and I’ll put together a post. What worked for your high school-aged kid? What didn’t work?

What should inclusion in high school look like, anyway?

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10 Responses to “What’s Inclusion Supposed to Look Like in High School, Anyway?”

  1. ahhhhhh how familiar this all sounds . . the reason Detour even began was I was just so tired of hearing my kid didn’t belong . .I thought if I created something fun . . .maybe then it’d work . .maybe then C would have buds . .but it didn’t work . .Sophie is kinder, brighter, glitter through and through . C cusses and flips folks off . .I’ve paid for friends, bribed (almost) for company on adventures and created a whole company so there would be peers . .Who knows what works . . .for any of us . .for so manyof our kids . . .what I know is Sophie is loved to the bottoms of those artsy socks to the very ends of those mascared lashes . .she’s lucky to have you fighting and cheering . .you’re nudging the world awake.

  2. Yep. Lily is boy crazy and obsessive. Stalking is a good way to describe it. Lily calls me “Caleb” and pretends I am this kid she likes. She literally greets me, “Hi Caleb”. It’s exhausting. She also has crushes on a few pop stars and a typical student in her theater class. I remind her not to say “he is my boyfriend” in that class so that she doesn’t embarrass him. I think she is lonely. She’s an introvert, so school is where she is around people, and none of her classes are very good. I only have her go a half day. She won’t be able to graduate technically because she won’t have enough credits, but I honestly don’t care. I hope better things are coming. I can’t wait til summer.

  3. Here’s my take. Change is a slow process…so far the changes I’ve seen::

    - kids are nice to our kids with disabilities (I know…change is slow and this IS a low expectation) but still not calling them on the weekends to do things. That’s why programs like Best Buddies or other “facilitated friendship” programs exist in the first place… because it hasn’t happened naturally. Inclusion has done some great things but natural, true, real friendships, in my experience, has not happened.

    - Our kids are going to school with their peers (I know change is slow and admittedly this is a LOW expectation.) but creativity around curriculum modifications, class options pfft. (In order for Anna to be included with her peers she repeated classes like keyboarding, FACE classes, art, personal training, choir, etc.) There were few options for her.

    What is inclusion supposed to look like? Let Sophie be your guide…..


  4. “Kindness and compassion are integration made visible..” according to Dr. Dan Siegel, M.D. Your questions is a tough one for adults let alone High School students trying to find their way….maybe too much to ask.

    Dr. Siegel, is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, founding co-investigator of the YCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development, and executive director at the Mindsight Institute, an educational center devoted to promoting insight, compassion and empathy in individuals, families, institutions, and communities.

    I’ve read a number of his books and I think he his probably the smartest person I know to answer your question. Also. he has a web-sight at Check.

    If you are interested you can check out his books on Amazon or TEDx

  5. High school was such a… difficult? Perplexing? time for us. But probably not why you’d think. Beth was content and happy to be with her friends in the special ed class. I was the one angry that her school didn’t include them in any activities. An assembly in the gym, class events like spirit week, senior class group photo, etc. Her specialized class just wasn’t invited. Did the teachers not think the students would WANT to participate? I’ll never know. Beth is in her 30s now but it still breaks my heart that she missed out on so much. But you know what? Beth was completely happy at school! She loved her friends in her class and didn’t know that she was missing out on the assembly. She was content and I had to learn to be content too. It wasn’t easy! I hope your daughter has a very fun and successful time in high school.

  6. Hi, Amy. My name is Morgan. I am the 27 year old sister of a developmentally disabled brother (29) hoping to lend some insight from a different POV.

    It was pretty hard being the sibling of a disabled teen, whilst also experiencing the generally terrible nature of teen-hood. In the school setting, this was especially difficult, as I saw firsthand how high school works for disabled teens.

    As frustrating and heartbreaking as it is to witness, high school is where the divides between disabled teens and their neurotypical peers widen. It’s where it’s largely no longer fair to expect that our disabled brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters will be welcomed with the same level of social inclusion as their neurotypical peers, and that hurts. A lot.

    As for Austin, he was never bullied, at least not that I saw. Most people treated him with a great deal of kindness, in fact: high fives in the hallway, cheering him on when he did something truly great, etc. In lots of ways, they were nicer to him than they were to their other peers.

    But did he have true and genuine friendships with typical students? A firm no. Relationships in the sense that he knew people and they certainly knew him, but not friendships.

    And to be honest, while that stung immensely, I got it: why would any other 16 or 17 year old kid navigating the world of sex and driving and parties and social media have the interest in or ability to relate to someone who was so much “younger” than themselves?

    Again, I got it: but it hurt. Period.

    However, he did have friends: other disabled kids like him with whom he had more in common.

    I was always able to make peace with it for the fact that he was truly happy, and if he was able to find people he related to and enjoyed spending time with, perhaps it was my grief, not his.

    Always interested to talk about special needs and teen-young adult years. My mother now owns a 501(c)3 supported living nonprofit for adults with disabilities.

    What I can tell you is that it does feel better with time. The next few years are a really hard period for everyone involved, but you guys will get through it. Once you start navigating adulthood feel free to reach out- or any time between then.

  7. Freshman year BLOWS. For every student! For some students high school is minimally painful at best. Sure, there were fun times, fun events~ but each person has a different definition of that. What was fun for you, was different for me. So~ there’s a whole lotta grey area trying to decide if what you are doing is right or wrong. For us~huge gains have been made socially for my son. Academics, not so much. He still loves school and he’s learning independence. We’ll call it a win. I know next year will be better, with one year under his belt. Sophie’s got this. She’s one amazing kid. She’s got an amazing mom and family. She’s got this❤️❤️❤️

  8. So much to say. Rachel has always been boy crazy. I was never boy crazy so I so feel your pain. Rachel is a senior. There have been ups and downs with the boy craziness and I have noticed that as the students have gotten older, they are more patient and understanding of her infatuations. My Jesus-loving, rule-following, moral compass of Jesus girl once told a boy’s girlfriend that she was going to take her out. Wouldn’t have believed it if not for a good friend (student) having witnessed it. She got some consequences at home for that. She came home once all upset and said “I was planning my wedding with xxx. He didn’t tell me he had a girlfriend.” I began to try to reason with her. It was to no avail. Her dad came home and she told him and my usually calm, funny husband said, “That is the stupidest thing you have ever said.” Parent of the year? I don’t know but sometimes you gotta just say it. I called my friend Terri when this boy craziness really shifted into gear in middle school. She has an adult daughter. She laughed. I said why are you laughing at me, and she confessed it was laughter at her own reminiscing. Her daughter was quite clever. She told me this too shall pass just like it does with typical kids. BUT (this is big): It will last a lot longer. Plan for six years. I think she is right. Rachel didn’t get to cheer but she did make a school play and she’s done lots of other things that lots of typical kids never get to do. .Do I wish there were kids who called her just to hang out? Yes. I still have to plant the seeds for her to be in the group, most of the time. They aren’t bad kids. They are teenagers who are caught up in a world that is all about them. I’ve seen how fiercely protective they are of Rachel and how much joy they find in her accomplishments. Yep, they are seniors but sometimes they have sacrificed to see Rachel be the star. See my blog “Powderpuff. Inclusion. Joy.” But yes, Amy- I do think Sophie will have a real friend or real friends. It may not look exactly like you and I think it should but my friends don’t all look alike either. All that to just say, we are all in this together. Your village gets it. With the great joys that have come, my heart has hurt of more than one occasion. Like Rachel, I get back up and try again. As we come to the end of 16 years in the public school system and making inclusion work I will leave you with this: it has been worth it. I would do it again.

  9. My cousin has 2 sons on the spectrum and she has worked hard to create full experiences for them both. Hats off to you it is a lot of work, but worth it.

  10. By the way, at her boys’ HS, there is a unified basketball team that allows typical students to work with kids with special needs. Here is the take away of one such student.

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