Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

A Proposal to Revolutionize Inclusion


Inclusion RevolutionWhen you hear the term inclusion, certain thoughts will probably come to your mind. These thoughts form your concept or understanding about what inclusion looks like. Whether your concept contains a positive or negative cogitation speaks to your own experiences. This proves especially true when discussing inclusive education.

Personally I did not fully appreciate the inclusion debate’s ramifications until I started writing a lot about disabilities. That might come across as surprising considering my cerebral palsy (CP). However, since my CP proves so mild there existed less barriers to including me within the general education classrooms. Subsequently I ended up taking an inclusive environment for granted.

Still I required special education services. Throughout elementary school I received pull-out services to obtain speech therapy and physical therapy. Meanwhile the school’s occupational therapist came into the general ed classroom in order to work with me.

Once I began attending a school with multiple floors I received elevator access. Additionally upon entering junior high my IEP incorporated physical education accommodations. My accommodation list grew as a high school freshman due to surgery recovery.

Again though, nothing jeopardized my place inside general education classrooms. Yet I bring up my accommodations because they affected me. Rather than an inclusion issue I experienced a confidence issue.

Oh how I desired to blend in with everyone else, to feel “normal”! Anything which worked against my desire, as my accommodations did, caused self-consciousness. Consequently that led to shyness and timid behavior. Perhaps I should provide an example.

Back in elementary school I remember the school physical therapist coming to the classroom to get me. As I packed up my desk and moved to the door my classmate asked “Is that your Grandma?” to which I briskly replied with a stern no. Needing physical therapy made me feel weaker than my “normal” peers so I responded with such a tone to avoid giving any explanation.

Now you may wonder why I keep putting “normal” in quotations. Simply put, these days I see “normal” as a myth. Everyone possesses differentiating characteristics making each person a unique individual and invalidating the “normal” idea. Accepting said premise could revolutionize how to view inclusion.

Insight from Think Inclusive founder Tim Villegas’ post “What Does Full Inclusion Really Mean?” comes to my mind. “Full and authentic inclusion has more to do with complete membership in a community rather than time spent in general education… Membership is about belonging, having full access, being accepted, being supported and having an environment in which every student can learn the best.”

Placing that thought into context with my own education journey, “being accepted” stands out as a key point. Classmates accepted me since I didn’t experience bullying. Teachers accepted me daresay the majority enjoyed my classroom presence. Nonetheless I didn’t accept me because I fixated too much on my differences and not fitting into what I perceived the “normal” boy image.

Curiosity leaves me wondering how inclusion may look if schools established a culture which celebrates differences. For instance, I envision a class assignment where each student identifies something which makes him or her unique and share how that uniqueness provides benefits. Drawing to a close I ask if you hold a position where you can help create a culture celebrating differences, you contemplate doing so.

*Anyone interested in an in-depth take on my journey to self-acceptance should checkout my memoir Off Balanced, available on the Kindle and Nook.

4 Strategies for Accommodating Students with Dyslexia

4 Strategies for Accommodating Students with Dyslexia

A version of the this article was originally published at

By Lisa Friedman

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “Dyslexia is the name for specific learning disabilities in reading… Children and adults with dyslexia simply have a neurological disorder that causes their brains to process and interpret information differently.”

Dyslexia IS NOT
• A sign of poor intelligence or laziness.
• The result of impaired vision.
• Seeing letters or words backward.
• Outgrown

From Edutopia, “Dyslexia is real, occurring in up to 20 percent of the population. That means there is a student in every classroom, in every neighborhood, and in every U.S. school. It also means that every classroom teacher has the opportunity to positively change the life of a student with dyslexia by taking the time to understand what it is and provide accommodations for accessing information that the student is capable of learning through alternate formats.”

When given the appropriate opportunities and support, most students with dyslexia learn to read and write successfully. What’s more, dyslexia itself is NOT an indication of intellectual capacity. And yet, sadly, the place where dyslexics are most often misunderstood is in school.

One of the most powerful motivational speakers on this topic, Jonathan Mooney, shares his own experiences as a dyslexic writer and activist who did not learn to read until he was 12 years old. He went on to graduate from Brown University and a holds an honors degree in English Literature. When he speaks, Jonathan strives to have his audiences understand that it is our own systems and structures that limit those with dyslexia and other disabilities. Read more in Our Children Aren’t Broken.

When we break out of our typical molds of expectation, we will see individuals with dyslexia who thrive intellectually go on to careers in fields such as politics, law, science, entertainment and even education.

So how do we do it?

Here are four practical strategies for accommodating students with dyslexia in a religious school classroom.

1. Enlarge the font – Such manipulations are easier than ever before with the digital resources at our fingertips. But don’t be afraid to go “old school” and enlarge the content on a written page using a good ole’ copy machine.

2. Minimize other distractions on the page – Again, many digital readers have the built in ability to do this, but you can create your own of any size by cutting a “word (or sentence) shaped hole” in the center of a piece of cardstock. This image is only one example. Such a tool is most effective when customized to the individual student.

3. Color coding – Color coding can help with the recall of vowel sounds and/or to distinguish “look alike” letters.

4. Remove time limits – Just as it sounds, students with dyslexia feel anxious and pressure when expected to read at the pace of their peers. Allow students to read at their own pace.

Remember, every student is different and no two students with dyslexia (or any other disability) will learn in the same way. It is important to get to know your students well and tailor strategies to their specific needs. When we move away from viewing learning differences as deficiencies we can find ways to allow each and every student in our classrooms and communities to thrive.

Photo credit: Tim Kwee/Flickr

Additional resources: Dyslexia in the General Education Classroom and What is Dyslexia?

Does Self-Contained Special Education Deliver on Its Promises?

Does Self-Contained Special Education Deliver on Its Promises?

In this 2011 research article, Julie Causton (et al) examined the reality and rationale of separate educational placements by highlighting the experiences of students with disabilities in six self-contained classrooms. Thanks to for making this article available.

According to Dr. Julie Causton:

After examining the social and academic experiences of students who attended these six classrooms, our response is no. The students in these classrooms are not receiving the purported promise of self-contained classrooms. They were not learning in a location with a protective and/or strong community. There were in a much more, not less, distracting settings. Students were not receiving access to the general curriculum in an individualized manner. Teachers and paraprofessionals were not using thoughtful behavioral interventions but were instead using threats, time-outs, and restraints. Given the empirical and legal preference for inclusive schooling stated above, moving students back into the general education classroom with appropriate supports and services should seriously be considered.

You can read the whole article by DOWNLOADING IT HERE.

Download the PDF file .

What do you think? Do self-contained classrooms deliver on their promises? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

Does Self-Contained Special Education Deliver on Its Promises.jpg



Steps to General Education: Developing LRE for Students with the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities


The following is a presentation that I gave a the Emory Autism Center’s Monarch School Inclusion Conference in Atlanta, GA. Click on the links below to see the relevant documents associated with the session.

All documents from the session can be downloaded at  

10 Steps To Include Students With Autism In General Education Classrooms

Ask Cheryl
Cheryl Jorgensen is one of the premier experts on inclusive education. She has a feature on her website called “Ask Cheryl”, where she answers questions that have been emailed to her. She has given me permission to re-post these Q & A’s on our site as a series. You can find the original “Ask Cheryl” page on her website. The best way to contact her is by email:

Dear Cheryl,

Our school is just now beginning to think about including our students with autism in general education classrooms. We have ten students with an autism label in Kindergarten through 5th grade. Where do we start?

Sincerely, An Elementary School Principal,


Dear Principal,

I am so glad to hear from you and to know that you are committed to including students with autism in general education classrooms. This is actually the perfect time of year to begin taking steps toward having all students with autism as welcomed members of age-appropriate general education classes next fall.

Step 1

Bring together a team of folks representing your key stakeholders and designate them as your Inclusive Education Leadership Team. I would suggest including a general education teacher from each grade level, all special education case managers, your speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist who provide services to children with autism, a couple of paraprofessionals, your reading specialist (or a Title I teacher), your building or district special education administrator, and a couple of parents.

Step 2

Develop a plan for keeping all parents of children with and without disabilities informed of your plans as they evolve. This might include giving a monthly update at a PTA meeting, holding special information sessions for parents, and certainly, talking with the parents of the children with autism about the “whys” and “hows” of inclusive education.

Step 3

Identify a few key books, research articles, and videos that everyone on the Leadership Team will read/watch together. I would suggest “You’re Going to Love This Kid!”: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom, Second Edition by Paula Kluth for the book, Including Samuel and We Thought You’d Never Ask for the videos, and a soon-to-be-published booklet I wrote for the National Education Association called Including Students with Autism.

Step 4

Visit an inclusive school. There is no substitute for seeing inclusion in action. Since I know that you live in Wisconsin I would suggest contacting the Fox Prairie Elementary School in Stoughton. They have been designated as a “knowledge development school” by the SWIFT project which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education as a school where all students are included in general education and all “siloed” resources from general and special education and from Title I are deployed to support all students’ academic and behavioral success. The SWIFT project has lots of great resources on their website as well.

Step 5

Identify which general education classroom each student will join in September 2014. Provide monthly professional development workshops for those general education teachers and other members of your students’ educational teams. I would focus these workshops on 7 key topics:

1) the rationale for inclusive education
2) inclusive education best practices
3) collaborative teaming and new roles for special educators as supporters of students’ participation in general education instruction
4) peer supports and cooperative learning
5) universal design for learning and assuring access to all instructional materials
6) planning curricular and instructional adaptations for students with intensive support needs to encourage their full participation, and
7) positive behavior interventions and supports.

If you have students who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), workshops for those students’ teams would be important as well. You might look for online webinars, conferences (one sponsored by the Colorado PEAK Parent Center is super –, workshops offered by the Wisconsin Department of Education, or contact the Wisconsin TASH chapter to get recommendations for great workshop presenters (

Step 6

Plan next year’s school calendar so that each student’s educational team has one hour of common planning time weekly. During these meetings each team will talk about upcoming lessons and units and discuss the supports that the students will need in order to fully participate and learn. You might use the instructional planning forms that I developed that are discussed in this article:

Jorgensen, C.M., & Lambert, L. (2012). Inclusion means more than just being “in:” Planning full participation of students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in the general education classroom. International Journal of Whole Schooling, 8(2), 21-35. (PDF Link Here)

Step 7

Give each student’s team a day’s worth of planning time during the summer to get a head start on instructional planning. It will help all the students start the year off positively if the team feels as if they can “hit the ground running” on Day 1 with a couple of week’s work of materials and other supports already planned.

Step 8

Write each student’s IEP so that his or her goals and objectives are aligned with the Common Core State Standards and so that special education services are delivered within the context of general education instruction in the general education classroom. Go to this website to view a description of a webinar I did on this topic and then contact Cat Jones at the Univ. of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability ( to find out how to access the recorded version.

Step 9

Create your staffing schedule to maximize the time that special education teachers and related service providers are IN the general education classroom co-teaching whole group lessons, working with small groups, or providing side-by-side support to individual students.

Step 10

Encourage each student’s parents to host at least one summer get-together for a few children who will be in their child’s classroom. A low key play date in the backyard with one structured group activity goes a long way to help children feel as if they are “part of the group” even before the new school year begins.

The first few weeks and months will be filled with challenges and daily questions from staff so be sure that you are a daily presence in those classrooms providing leadership, encouragement, and tangible supports so that everyone can have a successful year.

Best of luck!



Dr. Jorgensen is an inclusive education consultant in private practice, after being a Project Director with the Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), and assistant research professor in UNH’s Education Department from 1985 until 2011.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

What We Didn’t Expect From Inclusion


By Gail Pubols

A version of this article was originally published at

When we asked (well, actually, insisted) that Gage be included in a gen-ed classroom, we expected that he would gain a lot of things from it: We expected that he would start to learn how to act in a gen-ed environment; we expected he would have many, many great peer models to help him learn the way; that he would start to learn how to take tests and complete classwork; to follow a schedule that wasn’t based on which child had the most intense needs at the time; we expected that he would start to build a platform of basic social skills upon which he could add more and more skills until one day he is able to be a productive and contributing member of society. We were fairly sure his classmates would be nice to him, because even though he was only allowed to be in the kindergarten classroom for 30 minutes a day last year, those kids were really nice.

What we were not expecting was someone like Iris.

Gage and Iris

I volunteer in the classroom every few weeks. I stay in the common area outside the class and the kids come out and read with me, one by one. They really highlight all of the things that are great about first graders — some shy, some confident, some boisterous, some perfectly behaved and some really trying to be. Most of them pretty funny, as six year olds can be. One of the more hilarious ones is Iris, who has more personality in her little pink fingernail than most people have in their whole bodies. As I got to know all of them, I felt so blessed that these were the kids who Gage was with all day, and so blessed that their teacher had set a tone of understanding, acceptance, and kindness (we really won the teacher lottery with her!). A few of them would always be there to meet Gage on the playground in the morning, including Iris. Pretty sweet.

Then, one day, a little note came home. It was from Iris’ mom.

“Hi there, Would it be possible for Gage to have a playdate with Iris? She has been asking for a playdate for about a month. Here is my number if you are interested…”

Was I interested????? Well of course I was. I mean, Gage had been invited to birthday parties before, but this was different. She wanted to play with him. Alone! She wanted to be…. his friend. I called the mom to set up a time, and tried to explain that if Iris could come for the last hour of Gage’s Saturday tutoring that his tutor could help with play skills to make sure that Gage played with her appropriately, and then she could stay for an hour of free play. And it would help Gage learn to play with peers and it would be great and so helpful to him. I said he wasn’t good at playing with peers and needed guidance until he learned.

This is where it gets good.

I don’t think it had occurred to Iris to tell her mom that Gage was autistic. It was sounding like maybe she didn’t know. When it became clear that Iris’ mom probably didn’t know, I tried to explain what Gage’s autism was like. She wasn’t put off at all. In fact, she wanted to know when they could reciprocate and have Gage over. I nearly dropped my phone.

On Saturday morning, Iris’ dad brought her over, armed with a Candyland game and a big smile. Gage and Iris played, they snacked, they read. Iris was in charge, and Gage was happy to do what she said. Gage, our sometimes solitary guy, wanted to hang out with her. The best part was when they picked out Mo Willems books and read to each other on the couch. They took turns. They alternated pages. And nobody had to use a token board to get Gage to do it. Our Saturday tutor was thrilled, and said that Iris could come back every week if she wanted to.

Reading some Mo Willems

When Iris’ dad came back, he came in for a bit. We watched the kids and chatted a bit, and I commented how neat I thought it was that Iris wasn’t phased by the autism. “We talked about it with Iris last night,” he said. “Iris said she thought that is just the way God made Gage. She said God made him special.”

God made Iris special, too. Hallelujah for that!

Accidentally, Iris left her Candyland game. When I texted her mom to ask how we could get it back to her, she said: “She will just pick it up at their next playdate.” (Got that? The next playdate!)

This inclusion thing just keeps getting better and better.

Photo Credit: …matty 

If School Isn’t For Collaborating, Why Does Anyone Come?


By Ira Socal

A version of this article was originally published at SpeEdChange.

If your school, and your school day, is not about students collaborating, connecting, and building knowledge and understandings together, why would anyone come?

Serious question.

If students want to learn in isolation; if they want to sit at a desk and work on their own stuff, occasionally checking in with an “expert,” they have no reason to come to school. They can do a lot better at home, or at their local coffee shop or even the public library, where both the coffee and the WiFi connection will be better.Actually, this isn’t new for most students. For years we’ve talked about (or we may have even been) kids who’ve only come to school because of team sports, or music groups, or theatre, or even hanging out at lunch. But the technologies of our time have made the situation almost universal. If school isn’t about doing things together, just about everyone has better places to spend their day.

But today, far more classrooms, far more school schedules, far more assessment systems, and far, far more assignments, mimic the office in the picture above. It is 1960 and everyone is reduced to doing duplicative tasks because individual work cells and career competition prevent any reasonable sharing or building of community cognition.

The world of work has moved on, but the educational structure, despite the efforts of many individual teachers and administrators, crawls along, hoping the big Nixon-Kennedy TV debate will help them decide on who should be the next president.

Companies of today are “wall-less”.

It really doesn’t matter what a company makes or does any more. Could be the world’s biggest information provider, or a mortgage bank, or a manufacturer, the workplaces are now open, transparent, and places of continuous collaboration. They are also “wall-less” by nature, with employees and consultants communicating from wherever on the planet they might be at the moment in question. And, naturally, collaborating with customers and clients synchronously and asynchronously across 24+ time zones in many, many different languages and dialects.

Somehow though, a vast assortment of educators, from that crusty old mathematics teacher proud that she has been “teaching the same way for thirty years,” to Bill Gates favorite boy Salman Khan, believe that kids sitting alone, working by themselves, with canned, inflexible data in front of them, is the best preparation for life in the present and future.

Somehow, these educators think the information of the world still moves via paper and pencil, that there are “correct answers” to everything, and that there is a structured cultural norm of learning behavior, best exemplified by the silent child bent over a wooden desk with a thick physical book, which must be duplicated if a student is to succeed in their learning spaces.

No wonder nobody wants to come.

4 things your students need.

So here is what your classroom, and your school, needs to offer kids:

  1.  A learning environment in which students make most decisions. Where will I work? What devices will I use? How will I use my time? How will I get help? How will I work with others? How will I be comfortable? This doesn’t mean a situation without guidance or mentoring, but it does mean that if your students are not continually moving your students toward self-determination and control, the school and the teachers are failing. (Key: No higher grade classroom should ever look more structured than the kindergarten rooms in your school, district, division, LEA…)
  2.  A time environment in which students learn and work along a schedule which makes sense to them. Every time a bell rings, or classes “change” according to your pre-set ideas, you are stopping students from learning, pursuing, accomplishing. “Sure you are interested in this bit of history, but its time to memorize equations now…” – could you possibly do more harm to the learning process? You have to create schools based in Project-Based Learning where students can work toward their goals in a “natural” human learning environment. (Key: Your school should look more like a studio than a factory…)
  3. A technological environment which supports collaboration across every barrier. Sorry, if you have purchased a single device for all of your students – you’ve made a major mistake. If you don’t have open internet access in every room (OK, you can filter for true pornography if you must) – you are denying your students basic tools. If you prohibit student-owned devices or block social networking, you are failing your students in the most basic ways. Students need to learn how to function in this world, not the one your grandma grew up in. Every place they go, people will be using a flood of differing devices. Every place they work people will be Skyping, Twittering, Chatting, Texting, working together in Google Docs, translating, searching for information and data, and building social networks. If they are not learning the best ways to do all this, your school is a failure, because your students will lack essential knowledge and social skills. (Key: If you can walk into a classroom and see a bunch of kids doing the same thing in the same way on the same device, you still have a 19th Century school.)
  4. A social environment where adults do not rank students according to their oppressive standards. Honor Rolls, adult-determined awards, published class ranks, treating one sport as more important than another, these acts all stratify the social environment, create bullying, and prevent students from recognizing talents among their peers – which is an essential skill. You and your fellow educators and your community must back off and let kids build their own social networks without your inherited prejudices. Every time you post an honor roll or 5,000 people attend a Friday night “American Football” game while 50 show up for a Wednesday night “Soccer” game, you are sending destructive messages. (Key: If students are not all known for what they are good at, there is a problem.)

So, take a look around at the learning environment your students enter. Is there any reason for them to be there? Tell us about what your learning environment looks like in the comments section below!

Photo Adapted from  mark sebastian.

About Ira
Linking conceptual and historical research with real, on-the-ground, investigation and trial of best practices, allows me to create a unique way of looking at our educational systems, both formal and informal. I believe in engagement, in reaching out globally, in participating in all possible conversations. I believe that engagement strengthens my ability to assist both pre-service and in-service teachers in reaching their goals, so that they can enable all of their students. Find me on Twitter @irasocol and my blog SpeEdChange.

Think Inclusive Podcast #008: How Do We Reform Our Schools For Inclusion? with Julie Causton, PHD

Podcast #008 Graphic

Although our little podcast is relatively new, this conversation is one of the most compelling ones we have had to date. Dr. Causton, who is a prolific writer and expert in the field of inclusive education, gives us a roadmap for school districts who are interested in becoming more inclusive. In this interview you will hear how Julie and her colleagues have been able to replicate the success that she had with the Schools of Promise research with schools all over the country. This is one interview you are not going to want to miss.

Recording from my living room in beautiful Marietta, GA…you are listening to the Think Inclusive Podcast Episode (008). I am your host Tim Villegas. Today I will be speaking with Dr. Julie N Causton, an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Leadership at Syracuse University and creator of the website Inspire Inclusion which includes a ten-part video series about inclusion for parents of children with disabilities. I had the pleasure of visiting with her one evening in November of last year. Julie and I discuss what the necessary steps for schools to become more inclusive which include, professional development, re-imagining school district’s service delivery model, and using the law as leverage for systems change. This is one of the most interesting conversations on the podcast to date so please (if you can) listen to the entire episode. So without further ado…Let’s get to the Think Inclusive Podcast…Thanks for listening.

Download Dr. Causton’s checklist of sample supplemental supports, aids & services:


What did you think of the interview? Did you find it as engaging as promised? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

These 12 Self-Advocates Make Some Of The Strongest Arguments For Inclusive Education

End Segregation End Stigma Full inclusion Now! - YouTube.clipular

Amidst the Dylan-esque ballad, this 10 minute video highlights 12 self-advocates as they make the case for ending segregated special education classrooms. Please take the time to watch and share this powerful video produced by the Coalition of Inclusion Advocates.

Only 13% of students with intellectual disabilities are included in regular education more than 80% of the school day

Take The “I” Out Of Special Education


By MsSpEducate NYC

It must be my old age. But many years into teaching, the things that stressed me most my first few years just seem so minuscule now. It pains me to watch younger teachers learning the lesson that not everything is in your control and you need to accept the things you cannot change right at that moment. Even in special education, it’s rarely the kids that send a teacher home crying, it’s unsupportive co-workers. Now that I can navigate the always shifting personalities of a school better, I still don’t understand why elders in our profession make it so difficult for new teachers.

But I fear they are sucking the life out of everyone around them before they go.

If you’re truly here for the kids, don’t you want to see this teacher succeed, along with all her students?

If you’re here for the kids,
why do you let old school policies and outdated thinking dictate how your school is run?

If you’re here for the kids,
why do you keep telling me how busy YOU are?

And it trickles down to all staff members who are suppose to be collaborating in classrooms.

If you’re here for the kids,
why are you talking about YOUR report?

If you’re here for the kids,
why ignore a teacher who asks you about how you’re working with a student?

If you’re here for the kids,
why are you talking about YOUR feelings and your supervisor?

If you’re here for the kids,
why are you talking about YOUR schedule?

During my undergraduate student teaching in general education, I had a funny moment where I was caught off guard by my clinical supervisor’s criticism. My supervising teacher continually gave me nothing but praise. After keeping a running record of my comments during an observation, the clinical supervisor pointed out that I used a lot of “I” statements. Like, “I need your homework handed in” or “I need you to do this task for me and then come back to me.” I had never realized this. It was something I was naturally doing. It sparked an interesting discussion about how you want students to do things, but not because they’re just doing it FOR the teacher. They should be doing things for themselves, not for YOU.

A version of this post was originally published at MsSpEducate NYC is a special ed teacher in NYC, supporting students with multiple disabilities by day, plotting to support teachers by night. Follow MsSpEducate NYC on Twitter.

Photo Adapted From: Karin Dalziel

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