Dear School District Mucky-Mucks:
I appreciate the [City] School District’s effort to offer our Special Education students an opportunity to enjoy a field day. However, as a parent chaperone at the Very Special Olympics at [School], I was distressed by how inappropriate the event seemed to be for many of our young children with special needs.
My son is a first grader with autism. He and all of his classmates experience challenges with sensory integration. For many of these kids, loud sounds can cause them physical pain and can trigger behavioral meltdowns. So I was surprised by the oppressive volume of the sound system. Several teachers told me they had asked the DJ to turn down the music for the kids’ sake, but all their requests were ignored. I also mentioned this to one of the coordinators of the event (I didn’t catch his name) but the music stayed loud enough to make children in my son’s class upset.
While I’m on the subject of music… I’m not at all prudish (I play roller derby and curse like a sailor), but I felt it was incredibly inappropriate to have six-year-olds dancing to “I’m Sexy And I Know It” and the like. Kids with autism often learn language through echolalia; I don’t think they need to repeat the lyrics “marijuana marijuana marijuana marijuana.”
My son does not use a wheelchair, but it was hard not to notice how much trouble the adults had pushing their students’ wheelchairs around the grass. It didn’t help that they had to manhandle the chairs up a curb to get on to the grass in the first place. It seemed like the very least accommodation that could have been made for an event for kids with special needs would have been a small ramp.
Finally, the kids were crowded under a low concrete overhang for lunch. The reverberations of the children’s voices sent several kids in my child’s group into sensory overload. When my son came home from school that afternoon, he was a wreck. He doesn’t have the language to be able to tell me what had upset him, so I was grateful I had witnessed the sensory onslaught he had experienced that morning so I could interpret his distressed behavior.
In short, if you’re going to hold an event for children with special needs, please consider their special needs when planning the event.