A couple of months ago I was touring an inclusive charter school that my wife and I want my son to attend for middle school. As we toured the different classrooms I noticed a sign hanging over the blackboard in every class. The sign read, “Fairness is not getting the same thing as everyone else, but getting what you need.” This motto seemed appropriate since the charter’s school inclusion “model allows for the individual needs of each child to be addressed in a manner that enhances each child’s strengths while also addressing learning needs” all within the general education setting.
Being the curious type I snapped a picture of one of the signs and went home to research the individual who came up with this philosophy. After doing some Google searches I found the following YouTube video from Rick Lavoie.
If you don’t know who Rick Lavoie is here is a short snippet from his bio:
Rick Lavoie served as an administrator of residential programs for children with special needs for 30 years. He holds three degrees in Special Education and holds two Honorary Doctorates in Education from the University of Massachusetts (2003) and Mitchell College (CT – 2007). He has served as a visiting lecturer at numerous universities including Syracuse, Harvard, Manhattanville College, University of Alabama, University of Melbourne and Georgetown. His numerous national television appearances include The TODAY Show, CBS Morning Show, Good Morning America, ABC Evening News, and Walt Disney Presents.
As a professional advocate I have spent many Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings discussing how to meet a child’s needs. We write accommodations and goals to help minimize the child’s disability and level the playing field. So while I have lived this philosophy for many years professionally and personally, for my own child, I never once thought of it in this manner. I must admit, that I’m not sure how I missed the Rick Lavoie video since it looks old but I have repeated that saying on almost a daily basis since I saw the sign and then watched the video.
Although I think this is a wonderful philosophy for the classroom, I would like to spend the rest of this blog focusing on the personal side of this philosophy and how it relates to your home life. I will start by telling you that my son is an only child. This was not the original plan; we had originally planned to have two children. What happened was my son had a lot of needs starting at birth and my wife and I decided he would require all of our attention and it would not be “fair” to have another child. Funny, I had been using the word fair for many years when explaining why my son is an only child but still hadn’t put 2 and 2 together. I am also not judging others who decided to have additional children, we all make choices for various reasons and we are all entitled to make our own choices. Also, your child with special needs might not have been your first child.
I can tell you though, that I often hear parents with multiple children tell me how guilty they feel when all their time and energy is spent on the child with special needs and the neurotypical (NT) child gets far less time. That is because Parents are running their families, as Rick Lavoie said, “using the child’s concept of fairness.” I’m not telling you to ignore your NT child but I am telling you to give each child what they need. I think it’s time for parents to release themselves from the guilt. Let me repeat myself, I think it is time for parents to release themselves from the gut wrenching, hand wringing, keep me up at night, guilt. You are not only raising your children with love but you are also raising them with fairness. Just continue to keep in mind, “In order to be fair we have got to treat them different.”