Special needs mum shares powerful message about inclusion: 'I'm raising him to leave me'

Photo: Jillian and her son, Anderson. Instagram
Photo: Jillian and her son, Anderson. Instagram 

Jillian Benfield knows how overwhelming it can be to have a child with a disability.

The former journalist and mum-of-three has one child, Anderson, who 'rocks an extra chromosome' - also known as Down syndrome. 

And now, after making the difficult choice of when to start Anderson at school, she is sharing a powerful message about the importance of inclusion

Photo: Jillian Benfield
Photo: Jillian Benfield 

"I'm raising him to leave me", the US mum begins her post on social media. "He was taking steps, but not consistently walking. But when he got around his typically developing peers, he walked more and more."

Benfield said it was a 'light bulb moment' and she decided to start the inclusion process immediately. 

"I cried and cried and cried when I dropped him off at his little school," she continued. "I thought I was ready. My actions matched my vision for his life. So, I resisted the urge to go scoop him up and bring him home."

That's why, Benfield explains, the fact that 78 per cent of adults with intellectual disabilities are unemployed 'hit her hard' - even though she wasn't surprised.

"Only 18 per cent of high schoolers with intellectual disabilities are included in general education classrooms. How can we expect companies to hire individuals with disabilities if their leaders do not know them?" she pleads.

Benfield firmly believes kids with disabilities have to grow up alongside their typically developing peers if we want them to be included in the workplace. She has also just released a free eBook 'Disability Advocacy 101 - A Parent's Guide' to help assist parents advocate for their child through the early years.

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"Inclusion starts at school," she asserts. "That's not just a nice ideal from a mum of a child with an intellectual disability - it's backed by research."

Benfield then cites special education professor and researcher Erik Carter who said: 'Early segregation does not merely predict later segregation; it almost ensures it'.

"The trajectory we establish in school is quite likely to continue after graduation," she adds. "Location matters. Inclusion matters. Not just right now, but for his future, for his peers' futures."

"I'm raising him to leave me. But he will only get that chance if he is first granted it by his school."

Parents loved Benfield's message and praised her for raising awareness about inclusion. 

"Thank you for your beautifully written words," said one. "We will be having a meeting soon to determine whether my daughter with Down Syndrome goes to her home school or a school a few miles away in a special needs classroom. So frustrating that each school can't provide the support they need."

"I knew the day my son was born it was my job to educate and advocate for him so he could have all the possibilities possible out in the world," said another.

"This is amazing! So many of my families have no idea where to start and what questions to ask when it comes to advocating for their child."

Jillian Benfield is author of the free e-book Disability Advocacy 101 - A Parent's Guide. You can find her writings at JillianBenfield.comFacebook and Instagram.