Leading by Example

Harriet McBryde Johnson is a lawyer, activist, and writer. She’s been mentioned in several other blogs recently, but when I read them, I failed to dig deep enough to get to know much about her. While I was not able to attend the public speech she gave last week in the area, an article in the Hartford Courant provided some insight to the person she is and the message she delivered last Monday. She is living her life in a way that leads by example.

I won’t repeat Ms. Johnson’s story. It’s available in the article, in her book and elsewhere. Instead, I’ll share the most compelling aspects of the little I’ve learned about her. Ms. Johnson has dealt with what many would call a disability since birth. She describes to the Courant her experience as a student when she moved from a ‘self contained’ program to a mainstream setting. During this time, she felt that she had strong ties to a peer group in the self contained setting and lost those relationships when she was moved to the mainstream setting. While the mainstream setting provided ‘typical’ peers, it did not provide the peer support she previously had.

The experience carries a powerful message about peers, and how much is given up in the name of mainstreaming. It’s an example that all parents need to consider when making educational choices for our children. We parents, and others involved in planning their programs, must make sure that the educational setting provides the appropriate peer support our children need.

Johnson has written a memoir and recently published a novel, Accidents of Nature. In the novel a teenager with cerebral palsy has some life changing experiences when she attends a camp and meets other disabled teens for the first time. It sounds as if she has drawn on her own experience to present an aspect of living with a ‘disability’ that is often overlooked. Connecting with others that have common experiences is such a fundamental part of human nature, it’s amazing it’s so often over looked when we seek out what’s best for our children.

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