Sunday, January 16, 2011

Inclusion Attitude: Part of the Dream

"Inclusion is important because children with disabilities gain valuable social and academic skills by interacting with their non-disabled peers."

"It is important to include special education students in the regular education classroom, so they will have non-disabled role models."

"Inclusion helps children with disabilities, because they can interact with regular kids."

It's that little spark of abilism no one seems to notice. The language that hints at something deeper: a sort of slip, if you will. It is always to the advantage of the kids with disabilities to have inclusion programs. We forget there are also advantages to those "non-disabled peers."

A couple years ago now, we had a parent in one of Joey's classrooms complain that one of "those kids" was in their child's classroom. Special ed kids are seen as a burden, a drain on resources and attention for their "regular" and "normal" kid. It is an attitude that must be fought. Until everyone understands the advantage it is for everyone to have inclusion, it will remain a seething issue for the majority of families who do not have kids in special education, who do not understand what special education is or what it is for.

After all, what's in it for their kid?

I know why it is better for Joey to be around his non-disabled peers. Why is it good for those same peers to be around him?

They learn a lot about caring about others. Joey loves the world, and has genuine compassion for others, expressing that freely. If another kid gets hurt, Joey is right there to comfort them.

They learn about accepting differences. This is a vital social skill that often gets pushed aside, especially in middle school, when kids get that urge to be like everybody else. Teach them early. Teach them well. We are all unique, and that is a good thing.

They learn a lot about math. That's right. Remember academics? Joey even helps with academics!

I could go on, but the point is this: inclusion is about sharing strengths in order to meet challenges. Everyone has strengths to share. Everyone has challenges to meet. With inclusion, we all get those strengths, and learn to meet those challenges, often in ways no one expected. We strengthen the content of our characters.

Until everyone understands that, inclusion is under threat, because so many do not understand what inclusion is. They don't see how it is to their advantage, so they assume it is not. That assumption is backed up by media articles on inclusion, which stress the advantages of inclusion to people with disabilities, without noting the advantages to everyone. Inclusion isn't important because children with disabilities gain important social and academic skills. It is important because everyone gains important social and academic skills.


farmwifetwo said...

I'm not convinced that putting a child in a classroom is the best option. Those children are not obligated to teach yours. Those children may choose to ignore yours. They have that right... they do it to their own peers. It is not their duty to raise our children... it is ours.

Also, sitting in a classroom, doing work well below what is being done with the others doesn't teach yours or mine anything. In a regular room mine is expected to be quiet, do the work, get some extra sensory time and generally be left alone all day even in the regular room.

In his current room, he is part of the class. He is in a LD, low behavioural room. He is teaching them to read, they are teaching him to use the words he knows to talk with. He is part of the class. He is expected to be part of the educational and social activities that take place. He has "normal" friends in the playground - they play bleyblades. They actually come and get him for the recesses. He is integrated in music and gym and goes alone with his aide to these classes and out for recess.

A year ago I would have demanded appropriate integration.... the children were taking turns being his recess buddy (had to stay in the primary fence side) and were doing the best they could... but... He's learning more, socialization is improving, learning to make friends... Will I continue after Gr 6... Actually, I'm thinking of homeschooling. I don't want him dumped back into an integrated class in the corner, nor do I want an amalgamated special ed class where there are behavioural and severely disabled children of all kinds and they spend all day dealing with them instead of teaching mine.

Joeymom said...

Nor is it my child's "obligation" to teach theirs. That totally misses the point, and I hope you know that social skills are being "taught" constantly in any situation- not just classrooms. In fact, the kids aren't raising each other in any environment (or shouldn't be).

Inclusion is not "appropriate" for everybody. That is OK. Inclusion that doesn't meet everyone's needs isn't appropriate- so placing a child in an environment where the child is not being properly educated means there is something that needs to be addressed in that classroom, or that is not appropriate. We're not talking about "toss everybody to the wolves and have done."

But just because my child is disabled doesn't mean he should be separated, or that only he gains benefit from including him, and no one else does.

The belief that my child's presence in a classroom is only to his own advantage, and not to everyone's, is not only incorrect, it reveals a level of discrimination that we, as adults, should be aware of and be working to change. Dumping a child into a corner in any situation is wrong. Spending all day "dealing with those kids" is the wrong attitude- from both teachers and parents. When everyone has the support they need, it isn't about "dealing with those kids." It is about learning0 as education should be.

mommy~dearest said...

I do agree that education placement depends on many factors. What is ideal placement for one, is not ideal for another. But I think that's pretty well understood.

That being said, I do agree that if mainstreaming is the path- it is very beneficial, to both sides.

My son has been neglected, ostracised, and segregated from his peers at 2 prior schools. The current public school he is in now (same district mind you), is fabulous. They teach ALL of the children about differences and acceptance. They embrace everyone's individuality, strengths and weaknesses.

Excellent post!

It takes a village...

MyTruth said...

To paraphrase Faulkner: here we ain't been gone but twenty years..." Here in NYC I was very, very involved in development of inclusionary practices. Some memories: Parents back then did not even want "them" in the same building! The students, on the other hand, were not as prejudiced. All the professional seminars STARTed with the premise that NT AB general ed students would benefit, then would list the spec ed population's benefits. One of the other people involved in this revision was an much, much older woman, who had fought tooth and nail for ANY program for her daughter - the only choice was Willowbrook back then - and won an Occupational Training (segregated) school. She was concerned that promoting inclusion would allow the cost-cutting mavins to stop funding specialized programs - and I was afraid her efforts would sing inclusion. It took a while, but we arrived at a detente of sorts: appealing to her Republican ideals, I argued that this was a matter of consumer choice, and working on panels and with parents we repeatedly emphasised the "appropriate" in FAPE.