Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Is Inclusion Just an Illusion?

an school age girl sitting at a desk looking out the window

By Karen Copeland

Editor’s Note: This post was originally written for a Canadian audience and reflects small edits in order to clarify the meaning for people in the United States and beyond. You can find the original post here

The Illusion of Inclusion in Public Education

This post is about the challenges families face with their children with disabilities being included in the public education system. Kids who are simply dropped off into regular classrooms without ensuring there are adequate supports in place to experience success. The idea that all kids should be supported while failing to provide enough resources to provide that support. This is the example of the illusion of inclusion in our public education system.

There Is an Illusion of Inclusion in Our Communities as Well

Moreover, this post is not just about the illusion of inclusion in the education system, but in our communities as well. It is about the fact that parents who have children who require extra support continue to have to stand up and make noise to get even the most basic considerations. It is an added insult that the very systems that proudly proclaim they believe in inclusion do not have the courage to step up and defend the rights of the very individuals they say they “include”. Instead, they put parents in the position to have to advocate yet again for awareness, understanding and acceptance of their children in their community. And then, when we do so, we are told we are being “too sensitive”, or that uninformed exclusionary comments are necessary for discussion and debate, further solidifying and entrenching the idea that our kids don’t belong.

All Kids with Disabilities Do Not Need Special Schools

I recently wrote the post, What You Wouldn’t See, in response to some comments that were being made in my community, comments that generalized all kids who have disabilities as less than, as children who did not have the right to access programs and services like all others, but who required special schools. I had a message from a good friend after I wrote the post. In it she shared:

“I hate that we constantly have to defend our kids rights to an education not just to educators but to other parents. Your blog post about what you don’t see struck a nerve and made me mad that you felt you had to even tell people about what they don’t see. It shouldn’t matter! Your son has rights, he’s a human being and a kid. It all just pisses me off.”

Well my friend, I am pissed off too.

Parents Get It… It Isn’t Easy to Teach Our Kids

Looking at comments on articles relating to inclusion, parents often get told we have no understanding of what it is like for the “typical” kids, that we are somehow oblivious to our child’s behavior. We get portrayed as people who simply throw our hands up in the air and rely on others to “raise” our kids. That we are under the illusion that our children should be included in regular classes all day, every day; that we have bought into the fallacy of inclusion. We are provided with condescending tips on how to conduct ourselves in a meeting with professionals, as if any potential success in the meeting is dependent on the behavior of the parent and the professional couldn’t possibly use any of these tips themselves.

You see, many parents are fully aware that their child is struggling and they are trying everything they can to get their child help. Most people won’t see it, but so many parents are trying everything they can, but system navigation is complex and you often end up on wait lists. Or the services your family desperately needs are not accessible because your child doesn’t have the correct diagnosis. And guess what? Most of us have a great amount of empathy for the parents of typical kids, because we know it isn’t easy to have our kids in their class. We KNOW this.

I promise, we don’t send our kids off to school in the morning saying “see who you can disrupt/hit/bother today”. We feel guilt if our children hurt other children. We feel shame. We feel like crap parents too. We don’t need to be told this. We already KNOW. But here’s the thing. We are trying our best to teach our kids what they need to learn, to respect others. We want our kids to succeed too. It will look different from other kids, but it is still very much possible. We believe in possibilities. We are not ready to quickly write off our child when they are six, seven or ten. We know if we do the work, if we get the support that is needed, our child can and will succeed. How many people would write off their own child if they were different?

If You Don’t Know the Whole Story… Just Ask

When a parent is perceived to be indifferent or giving up, perhaps this is the time to start asking some questions about what their journey has been thus far. I wonder how many times they have asked for help and been denied? How may times have they been told their child would be supported, but there is no follow through? How much judgment have they and their child already faced over a period of years? Or perhaps they are new to this journey and don’t know yet all they can do. Perhaps they are grappling with the idea that what they envisioned their life to be is going to look much, much different. You won’t know unless you ask. So ASK.

We’re Tired of Getting Pegged as High-Maintenance Parents

Now let’s talk about how we get to be known as “high-maintenance” parents. We are told we need to stay calm and polite in meetings in order to be respectful. The challenge is that these very systems have set us up and created us to be these “angry parents” by virtue of the fact that we have had to fight so long and so hard to get our children and families even a fraction of the accommodations and support we need.

That moment when you are sitting across from someone, and they tell you how much they appreciate your advocacy, but their actions don’t match their words…this is the illusion of inclusion. Ask any parent of a child who has special needs if they have experienced this. We are told we are valuable partners when it comes to creating plans for our children, and yet how many meetings are held without us, where decisions are made and then simply communicated or reported out. Or not. Oh you will hear there are policies and guidelines in place that ensure parents are included and informed, but honestly? Go ask the parents about their experiences with this. You might be surprised.

Parents Do Not Agree on What Inclusion Should Look Like

In regards to the idea that parents only have one vision for what inclusion is, I say baloney. Talk to any parent who has a child with special needs and I guarantee that inclusion looks different for each and every one of them. In our own family situation, our son now learns at home, repairing the years of damage that have taken place because of the illusion of inclusion in public bricks and mortar schools. I confidently say our son is included in our community more now than he ever was before. He is learning that he can be successful, that he is valued. I don’t have to fight for him anymore, I don’t have to stand up and advocate for his worth. He is more accepted by his friends now than he ever was before. Why? Because they get to see him for who he is, not the behaviors they saw in the classroom.

Meaningful Inclusion Looks Different for Everyone

Meaningful inclusion looks different for everyone. It is about discovering what works best for each child – what are the meaningful and relevant goals to be achieved, then designing and establishing a program to support this. It is about recognizing and honoring the strengths and challenges of the child and family and figuring out what works best for them. Meaningful inclusion requires us to sit down and have a good dialogue about what is needed, instead of simply assuming we already know.

This doesn’t apply just in our education system; it applies in our communities as well. How easily are families who have kids with special needs able to access parks and recreation programming in their community? How do faith communities include and accept families? Do families feel included in our communities? When they read the local paper, do they see support? or derision? Have you asked them?

What Can We Do About It? Find People Who ‘Get It’

As Inclusion Consultant Shelley Moore shared with me, we find the people in our systems who GET IT. We embrace them, learn from them and support them in their efforts. Because goodness knows they need the support too.

It is very often these champions who are in our schools and workplaces every day advocating for our kids by sharing their viewpoints and perspectives with colleagues who may not yet have heard them. They are the teachers who bring forward ideas for change, who encourage different ways of thinking.

I think about Ian Landy, an Administrator who has a child who experiences challenges. He has actively made self regulation and understanding anxiety the main priorities in his school. He shares his learning and experiences freely and openly, so that others may read and begin to think “hey, I never thought of it that way before, maybe I will try that”.

I think about Sarah Garr, who shared her powerful story about her school experiences and how she had teachers who chose not to give up on her. Watch her TEDx Talk What is Success, it is well worth the five minutes of your time.

I look to the many educators and community professionals I have connected with over the years, and how they have not been afraid to stand up and share their belief that ALL children matter. These champions stand alongside families, showing us that we matter too.

That my friends, is no illusion. This is inclusion. In these pockets, it is real, it is happening.

Now let’s get out there, find these champions, embrace them and become stronger as a result.

Photo Credit: Image via Pixabay CC0 Public Doman

the picture is of a women with dark blonde hair smiling at the camera wearing a tourqoise blouse Karen Copeland lives in Abbotsford BC. She has two children and has extensive experience navigating School, Health and Ministry mental health (children and youth) systems to obtain the services her family needs and deserves. Karen shares her experiences with others to create a broader understanding and awareness of the challenges families face when their child has a mental health challenge. She loves creating opportunities for families and professionals to come together to learn from one another, and believes in the importance of honouring the champions who come into our lives to support us on our journey. Karen is passionate about the amazing things that can happen when youth and families are fully included and valued in all aspects of service systems. She writes at her blog, Champions for Community Mental Wellness.

Inclusive Education Is a Civil Rights Issue

Inclusive Education Is a Civil Rights Issue

By Megan

This article was originally published at Our Girl Gwyneth.

For those of you who are parents, I ask you to follow along with a thought exercise. Think of the time when you registered your child for Kindergarten (or imagine doing so if they are still little). Think about the feeling of finding out who their teacher would be and who their classmates would be. Remember how it felt to prepare them for the first day of school; purchasing a backpack or lunch box, finding all of the supplies, and planning how they would be transported to school. You possibly imagined the scene of your child walking into their Kindergarten classroom for the first time and finding their name on a cubby or assigned to a desk. And they would be surrounded by other kids experiencing the same thing. I’m sure many of you worried about certain things, but mostly I believe you were excited for them to accomplish this milestone; this rite of passage from preschooler to Big Kid.

Now imagine someone telling you that your child was not allowed to have this experience. They tell you that your child cannot go to that classroom on that first day of Kindergarten. They don’t tell you this to be mean – oh no – this denial of a basic childhood rite of passage is “for their own good.” It is “what is best.” Your child needs to be in a separate classroom. Your child is different. Your child is special. Your child does not belong with the other children.

I’ve been doing a thought exercise of my own lately. What would happen if I just registered my daughter in our new school district as a typical kid, and didn’t mention a thing about Down syndrome, IEPs, or Special Education? What if she showed up on the first day of school in a typical classroom? Honestly, I imagine that all hell would break loose. They would take one look at her, label her, and freak out. Because she would NOT belong there.

I am tired of thinking about this. I’m tired of society and biases and prejudice and all of the damned “good intentions” that really only add up to segregation. And I’m especially exhausted by all of the people who will judge me as being melodramatic. Because I truly believe school inclusion for my daughter is a civil rights issue.

Discrimination against people with disabilities is so ingrained in all of us (even myself) that we can, at times, think of them as second-class citizens. The best of us will want to help them, but will also pity them. And in the worst minds, they are thought of as burdens to society or even, less than human. Why are medical companies producing multiple prenatal screening tests to detect Down syndrome and other genetic abnormalities? They don’t make money on products that society doesn’t have a need for, and they are making plenty of money on prenatal screening.

Back to the issue at hand…I don’t want to give the impression that I am in denial of my daughter’s ability to perform in a classroom setting with typical children. I know that she won’t be raising her hand to answer every question. I know that her speech pattern will be difficult for most people to understand when they first meet her. I know that she will always need extra tutoring and might not ever catch up to the intellectual level of her classmates. But I also know that she will learn faster – and be a happier person – if she is experiencing school alongside typical kids. I know that she will have friends. I know that she will be proud of herself for the grades that she tries her hardest to earn. I know that if she is segregated into a Special Education classroom with the opportunity to visit a typical classroom at select times, that she is NOT a real member of that class. She is a visitor. She is an outsider. I know that a lot of parents of typical children take for granted the access they have to public education. I have to fight for access for my daughter. And I might not win.

So please: take back your ‘special’ labels. Reevaluate your good intentions. Think about a child being denied a full-time place in a Kindergarten classroom before they are ever given a chance.

Photo Credit: Wokandapix/Pixabay

MeganMegan is mother to three, a writer of speculative fiction, Colorado native transplanted in Georgia and writes for her blog, Our Girl Gwyneth.

 

The Invisible Student – a Poem

Empty School Hallway

by AZ Chapman

I am a child just like you.
I go to school, and think recess is cool.
But there is something different about me.
I have a disability.

I sometimes drool
You sometimes stare.
Many people pretend I am not there
For I am invisible
you can’t see me
I have a disability.

District personnel see my education a joke
so they bus me across town even though the neighborhood school is not broke.
Their system is.
At school I am sent down the hall.
The classroom door closes and that is all.
I am there all day down the hall.
It’s not fair.

It’s not fair
It can’t be
I should be treated fair
as an equal you see
We learn about freedom
we learn about the world, but we are not there.

Left out of pictures
of social life
the websites about the school do not include us.
Why can’t I be in the pictures?
Why do my parents need to fight for me to be seen?
Seen as a disabled person
seen for me.

Inclusive education that is key.
Its time to close separate classroom.
Because Separate is not equal
We learned that in 1954.

It’s time for us to become visible-
for us to be seen.
For us to be in all general education classes
Learning and living about Freedom
Learning how to read.
Learning about Romeo, Juliet, and Huckleberry Finn.
Discovering our past
Exploring through experiments
It’s time for all that
It’s time to presume competence for all kids
Teach us everything so we have a chance at learning about this world.

It’s time to move the desk from down the hall.
Into same-aged classrooms.
Open the classroom
Let me in
Now is a good time to begin.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Rafael Castillo

The Biggest Barriers to Inclusive Education

 

Rainbow of Colored Pencils

Inclusive education does away with the practice of segregating students with learning and/or physical challenges from the rest of the student body. While the practice of inclusion places extra demands on students and facility logistics, there are numerous benefits to all students, both disabled and non-disabled.

Teachers in inclusive classrooms must incorporate a variety of teaching methods in order to best reach students of varying learning abilities. This has benefits even for those students who would be placed in a traditional classroom, as this increases their engagement in the learning process. Even gifted and accelerated learners benefit from an environment that stresses responsiveness from all students.

Perhaps most importantly, inclusive classrooms encourage open and frank dialogue about differences as well as a respect for those with different abilities, cultural backgrounds and needs.

Despite the benefits, there still are many barriers to the implementation of inclusive education. A UNESCO article, “Inclusive Education,” outlined many of them, including:

Attitudes: Societal norms often are the biggest barrier to inclusion. Old attitudes die hard, and many still resist the accommodation of students with disabilities and learning issues, as well as those from minority cultures. Prejudices against those with differences can lead to discrimination, which inhibits the educational process. The challenges of inclusive education might be blamed on the students’ challenges instead of the shortcomings of the educational system.

Physical Barriers: In some districts, students with physical disabilities are expected to attend schools that are inaccessible to them. In economically-deprived school systems, especially those in rural areas, dilapidated and poorly-cared-for buildings can restrict accessibility. Some of these facilities are not safe or healthy for any students. Many schools don’t have the facilities to properly accommodate students with special needs, and local governments lack either the funds or the resolve to provide financial help. Environmental barriers can include doors, passageways, stairs and ramps, and recreational areas. These can create a barrier for some students to simply enter the school building or classroom.

Curriculum: A rigid curriculum that does not allow for experimentation or the use of different teaching methods can be an enormous barrier to inclusion. Study plans that don’t recognize different styles of learning hinder the school experience for all students, even those not traditionally recognized as having physical or mental challenges.

Teachers: Teachers who are not trained or who are unwilling or unenthusiastic about working with differently-abled students are a drawback to successful inclusion. Training often falls short of real effectiveness, and instructors already straining under large workloads may resent the added duties of coming up with different approaches for the same lessons.

Language and communication: Many students are expected to learn while being taught in a language that is new and in some cases unfamiliar to them. This is obviously a significant barrier to successful learning. Too often, these students face discrimination and low expectations.

Socio-economic factors: Areas that are traditionally poor and those with higher-than-average unemployment rates tend to have schools that reflect that environment, such as run-down facilities, students who are unable to afford basic necessities and other barriers to the learning process. Violence, poor health services and other social factors make create barriers even for traditional learners, and these challenges make inclusion all but impossible.

Funding: Adequate funding is a necessity for inclusion and yet it is rare. Schools often lack adequate facilities, qualified and properly-trained teachers and other staff members, educational materials and general support. Sadly, lack of resources is pervasive throughout many educational systems.

Organization of the Education System: Centralized education systems are rarely conducive to positive change and initiative. Decisions come from the school system’s high-level authorities whose initiatives focus on employee compliance more than quality learning. The top levels of the organization may have little or no idea about the realities teachers face on a daily basis.

Policies as Barriers: Many policy makers don’t understand or believe in inclusive education, and these leaders can stonewall efforts to make school policies more inclusive. This can exclude whole groups of learners from the mainstream educational system, thereby preventing them from enjoying the same opportunities for education and employment afforded to traditional students.

Overcoming the many barriers to inclusive education will require additional funding, but even more importantly, it requires the change of old and outdated attitudes. Studies support what many classroom teachers know by experience: that the benefits inclusion provides to all students easily justifies the effort.

Photo Credit: Nicolas Buffler/Flickr

Philip Murphy Headshot

Philip Murphy works at Bisk Education with the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and their department offering Online Teaching Degrees. You can read his tweets by checking out @burgseo.

Macyn’s First Day of First Grade

Macyn
This article was posted with the author’s permission and was originally published on The Lucky Few.

Today Macyn started first grade. Today I walked the three blocks to her school, lingered longer than any other parent there, and walked away leaving one third of my heart behind.

This growing up and getting big and being in someone else’s care for the majority of the day is happening just a bit too fast for this mama bear.

I watched Macyn hang her new sparkly backpack, the one that is almost as big as she is, on the hook outside of her classroom and follow her teachers and new friends inside. I looked through the door, slowly coming toward me until it latched shut and I could no longer see. Then I ran to the window, stood up on my tiptoes, cupped my hands around my eyes and watched as she sat on a green square on the rug. When I turned to walk away, I was crying. My husband asked what was wrong. I told him nothing… and everything. A thousand reasons to be a sobbing mess, yet not one I could articulate.

Macyn is in first grade.

As we start a new school year, we know its unfolding will be different for us than it is for most. I have a daughter who doesn’t fit into the common mold that (unfortunately) has been created for us. She’s a little different. She talks a little funny and doesn’t always know how to make her wants and needs known. She’s a pretty messy eater. Day to day tasks take her a little longer. She’s a little different.

But she’s a lot alike.

She felt the same butterflies your kid felt on the first day of school, and she talked about her teacher and potential new friends all morning as we got ready. Macyn loves to make new friends. She loves music and dancing. She likes watching movies and jumping on her trampoline. Her favorite foods are doughnuts and cake (although her mom and dad don’t let her eat those things very often). She doesn’t like to be alone, and she gets sad when other people are sad and happy when other people are happy. She’s a lot like the rest of us.

The thing that irks me though, the thing that gets my blood boiling is that most people only see the ways she’s different. This is especially obvious when we start a new school year.

And I get it. I think most of us are prone to seek out people who are similar to us. It’s comfortable and predictable and easy. I’ve seen how Macyn gets excited when she meets a friend who is “like her,” another child with Down syndrome.

But I’m learning that I am the best version of myself when I get uncomfortable and seek out relationships with people who are very different than me. People who challenge my thinking. People who look and act differently than me and in so doing open my eyes to the world around me, a world that I’m otherwise prone to ignore or overlook in everyday interactions.

Sure, it’s easy, and oftentimes it’s nice to be with people who are just like us. But life is so much richer when we allow ourselves to be stretched and challenged—when we take the time to learn from one another.

Macyn has taught me so much. She’s opened my eyes to a world I didn’t know, and I would have missed out on it if not for her. She has been my key to the gate of a secret garden, where the beauty of a flower grows from the dirt, where hard work is necessary and growth is slow and the fruit of our labor is so very, very sweet.

But being a parent of a child with Down syndrome has also opened my eyes to weeds and thorns and the occasional bee sting, not because of Macyn, but because of a society only willing to see how she’s different. There is adversity in any garden. There is a struggle happening within every bloom.

Sometimes, school is one of those struggles. School is a tricky part of raising a child with Down syndrome.

You see, she is in a Special Day Class (SDC), a learning environment apart from the other first graders. We would like her to be in a general education class with them, but this is not an option… at least, not without a little fight.

Macyn went through three years of preschool and then a year of kindergarten. In our four years of school, we’ve learned that this little fight for first grade is not going to be easy.

When it comes to our local public schools, I am discovering that when Macyn steps onto the campus, people are not only noticing Macyn’s differences and how they might hinder her education… they’re also worrying about how Macyn’s differences could hinder the education of the other kids. And this, my friends, simply sucks!

It’s such a strange feeling, loving my daughter with every ounce of my being and then feeling the need to convince people of her worth. When we start a new school year, one of the things at the forefront of my mind is the need to prove to the teachers and kids at school that Macyn is worthy of being there.

And she is. All kids with different abilities are worthy of being in class beside your kid(s). All kids with different abilities have great, great worth. And so what if their behavior is not ideal, if they’re in first grade and still learning the alphabet…so what!

As we start this school year I find myself wishing that when I walk into the office, almond-eyed girl in one hand, IEP in the other, people would greet us like this:

“What do you need?”

“We can do that!”

“Let’s get creative here.”

“Nothing is too tricky for us.”

“Anything to keep Macyn in our class!”

And then, the parent of a typical child would overhear the conversation and chime in…

“We are so excited for Macyn to be in our class!”

“Look, Sam, a new friend.”

“She can sit by Sam—he’d love to help her with her alphabet.”

“Gosh, this must be difficult. How can I help?”

At the start of a new school year, I feel as though I’m stepping onto a battle field alone with the goal of proving my child’s worth. MY CHILD!

I do think people mean well, and they do the best they can with the systems in place. I’m so thankful for friends sending me texts to say that they’re praying for us as we start school. I have friends who are teachers beside me in this battle. I have countless friends who have a child with Down syndrome; with one glance, they see the worth of my daughter. These people were perfect strangers to me until the day we were crying on each other’s shoulders because we “get it,” and not many people do.

So, today was Macyn’s first day of school.

She put on her new uniform and slung her new sparkly backpack over her shoulders and we walked to school. As I spied on her though the classroom window, I thought of all the times the Lord gently reminded me to hand her over to Him. I thought about a sick five-month-old being carried back for open heart surgery. I thought about a feisty two-year-old learning to walk. I thought about a confident three-year-old running into her preschool classroom, ready to take on the world. And then I watched her today, as she sat down on the rug with the rest of her classmates, and I know God’s got her. God created her, God sees her worth and not only does He have my back on this battlefield—He’s gone before us, as well.

Here’s to a great year—one that will have its fair share of thorns and weeds and lots of hard work, but one full of fragrant flowers and sweet, sweet fruits.

Photo Credit: Heather Avis

Heather AvisHeather Avis is wife to her handsome and hardworking man Josh, and mother to the adorable Macyn, Truly and August. After working as an Education Specialist she found herself as a full-time stay at home mom when she and her husband adopted their first daughter, Macyn, in 2008. Shortly thereafter, in 2011, they adopted their second daughter, Truly. And in 2013, their son August was born and came home to be theirs. Heather currently resides in Southern California where between oatmeal making, diaper changing and dance parties she is writing her first book and using her hit Instagram account @macymakesmyday, to share the awesomeness of all things Down syndrome and adoption.  She cares fiercely for the underdog and believes the beauty of Jesus is found in the most seemingly uncomfortable places. She’s a hugger and would love nothing more than to sit across a table from you sipping an Americano and delving into all things awesome. Heather can be found on her blog, The Lucky Few, and on Instagram.

Autism Didn’t Stop Me from Pursuing Inclusive Education

book-kids
This post was originally published at the Certified Autism Specialist blog.

I remember the spring of 2005 like it was yesterday.  I was very nervous as I headed into my son’s first Individualized Education Program (IEP) planning meeting.  I had been working in the Early Intervention Field (EI) for the past three years and knew what I wanted for my son as he transitioned into the Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) program.  I had made my list of priorities for my son’s educational experience and what was important to us as a family.

My number one priority was to make sure he was going to be receiving an inclusive education and have the same opportunities the other children were going to have, with proper individualized supports.  As we started the meeting many of the educational team members had done their “research” on my son and read through his file and suggested that he be placed in a segregated setting with other students with autism.  I asked how they came to that conclusion since many of them hadn’t even met him as of yet.  The response was shocking to say the least… “Well Mrs. Morgan he has autism and doesn’t know the routine of the classroom so he has to learn this within a small group with one on one supports”.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, how could they just make such a snap decision based on a diagnosis?  My response to them was very straightforward… “What three year old does know the routine of the classroom?  This is, for the majority of them, their first time in a preschool setting.  We should always assume competence and place children in the least restrictive environment, diagnosis does not drive placement.”  I was then told that our son would be educated in an inclusive setting as the whole preschool is set up that way and that they would incorporate times for him to be with “typical peers”.  I thought, do they know what inclusive education is?  It appeared my definition and theirs was very different.  Where was the collaboration and discussions about options?

It felt like it was us against them and my anxiety went through the roof.  I was very upset and didn’t feel heard at all as part of the team.  I truly believe that my son’s educational team were a group of individuals that genuinely cared for my son and the students that they were teaching, but highly misguided on two very important things:  Inclusive Education & Collaboration of ALL IEP team members.

“Inclusion is more than a set of strategies or practices, it is an educational orientation that respects and builds on the uniqueness that each learner brings to the classroom, and supports and benefits all learners”  (Kluth, 2010, p. 23).  Inclusion is not just about sharing space or oxygen with other people but rather engaging ALL students in an educational experience side by side their peers while having access to enriching grade level curriculum.  Anything can be modified and/or adapted for individualized learners.

In my opinion, collaboration is when individuals on a team share their perspectives, strategies and concerns with each other and develop a process, creating a win/win situation for all stakeholders, and is in the best interest of the student.  Barriers that have continued to plague the collaboration among families and professionals were a parental feeling of given menu-driven options, mindset from teachers that they knew best, parental mistrust and a lack of interest by teachers and administration to explore the diverse cultures in schools (Rock, 2000).

Swick & Hooks (2005) suggested that there were four major beliefs that parents expressed regarding inclusive education:  First, there was a desire from the parents for their children to live a comfortable, happy, healthy and normal life.  The second was that the parents were to be an active member on their child’s IEP team and that they felt respected and valued by the professionals.  The third and fourth beliefs focused on how restrictive self-contained classrooms were for their children both academically and with regards to social development.

Smith & Rapport (1999) pointed out how concerning these challenges were, as students who started out at the preschool level in a self-contained or segregated classroom, many times, remain in those placements throughout their educational career.  It is critical to take a closer look at early childhood education and make this a priority.  The law is clear and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) supports inclusive education and least restrictive environment for ALL students.

Through collaboration and many discussions we decided to have our son placed in an inclusive setting and worked together to incorporate push in supports for him within that classroom setting. Today our son is flourishing in general education classes and going into the 8th grade in the fall.  I truly believe that providing an inclusive education for him from the very start (preschool) has provided an educational foundation for him to be successful.

It has not been a success only journey for our family.  As we continue to strive for inclusion and acceptance in all aspects of life, we have hit a few bumps in the road but seem to always find a way to work through it.  Our son is the oldest of four children, and many questions from his siblings friends have emerged.  Due to some concerns my oldest daughter had (2 years younger than our oldest) at school regarding her peer’s lack of knowledge of autism and her brother, we decided to write a children’s book.  Teaching self-determination and advocacy skills to each of my children is very important to me as I won’t always be there.  To learn more about the background story on how Building Forever Friendships – Strategies to Help Your Friend with Autism or Other Special Needs at School came to be, go to: http://www.lindenwood.edu/alumni/connect/publications/docs/connection/2014Fall.pdf (pgs 4-5)

To purchase the book online please go to: http://rosedogbooks-store.stores.yaho.net/bufofr.html

Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and my passion is for ALL children to be given opportunities to share their gifts!  Believe with your heart, not just what you can see, and the skies the limit!

**References

Kluth, P. (2010). You’re going to love this kid. Baltimore:  Paul H. Brookes.

Rock, M. (2000). Parents as equal partners. Teaching exceptional children, 32(6), 30-37.

Smith, B. J., Rapport, M. J. K. (1999).  Early childhood inclusion policy and systems:  What do we know?  Collaborative Planning Project.  University of Colorado at Denver.

Swick, K. J., Hooks, L. (2005).  Parental experiences and beliefs regarding inclusive placements of their special needs children.  Early Childhood Education Journal, 32(6), 397-402.

rachel-morganAuthor Rachel Morgan, MA, CAS is a wife and mother of four amazing children. Her eldest son’s diagnosis of autism is an attribute. She brings to this work the perspectives of both a parent of a child with autism and an educational professional. Rachel has a Master’s in Education with an emphasis in early intervention in Autism and is a Certified Autism Specialist through the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). Follow her on Twitter: @CFCSpecEd, Facebook, or her website

The Secret to Teach Hard to Reach Students Is in Your Approach

A version of this article was originally published by Shelley Moore at blogsomemoore.wordpress.com.

As an inclusion consultant for school districts and community organizations I ask groups of teachers all the time… “Why inclusion? Why are we doing this? Why are we bending over backwards, spending money, striving to make this happen in our schools? Why? What’s the point?”

Answers range from “because that’s how it works in the real world” to “because it’s the right thing to do.”  And while they aren’t wrong, they’re missing something critical…

Here’s a story about bowling, and if you bear with me, it can teach us a lot about inclusive classrooms. Most of us have experience with the balls, pins, stinky shoes, glowing, garlic fries…

When we go bowling, we want to knock down as many pins as we can. Most of us throw the ball straight down the middle of the aisle. We contort our bodies and limbs into strange positions after we throw the ball because we think it just might help. Sometimes we get gutter balls and that feels bad and sometimes we get a strike, which always feels good!  We aim down the middle, using those little arrows on the floor, and once we release the ball… all we can do is hope as we peer anxiously down the alley.

We listen with trembling anticipation, waiting for the sound of pins as they’re falling, all while we hope to avoid what usually happens to me when I throw the ball down the middle… the split.

The 7-10 split is the most difficult shot for a bowler. It means the only pins left are on either side of the aisle with a big gap in between. Even with the second ball, it’s rare for anyone to knock down both pins. In fact, in the last 50 years of televised professional bowling, a 7-10 split has only been hit 3 times.

Sometimes bowlers have great games, and sometimes we have crappy games. If we practice with a coach, we’ll get better, because bowling takes skill. But even after the skill development, coaching, and practice, a perfect game is very difficult, even for professional bowlers.

My brother and I joined a league once. I liked to ignore all the coaching and whip the ball down the aisle as hard as I could. My brother, on the other hand, slowly positioned his legs on the line. He pulled the ball back between his knees, and with the release, it catapulted down the aisle… The ball moved so slowly, I thought it would come to a full and complete stop. But somehow, he knocked down more pins than I did and more pins than most kids his age. He bowled with both hands and fluorescent pants all the way to a provincial bronze medal one year—that little bugger. Family and friends know how this drove me nuts. My brother knows it, too; he still displays his medal when I come over to his house.

Fluorescent pants weren’t the reason he won, and they won’t help us succeed in life.  But teaching will.  It might take a moment, but I encourage you to think about this question: how is bowling like teaching?

Here are some of the answers I’ve collected over time:

  • The teacher is the ball, the students are the pins
  • Bowling is loud
  • Sometimes my lessons are a strike!
  • Sometimes the ball is so off the mark, I don’t even knock down any pins in the next aisle
  • Teaching takes balls (seriously…this was an answer once!)
  • A perfect lesson is hard to do
  • Teaching takes skill and practice
  • We get more than one chance
  • We get to wear radical shoes

One teacher flipped my whole metaphor around and said, “Well, I see the ball as the students and the pins as teachers.” Think about that one!

After some discussion, we usually come up with something like…we teach as best we can and hope to get to as many kids as we can, but the reality is that there are still kids we can’t reach, even if we really want to reach them all.

Kind of a depressing metaphor, actually.

I thought about this one afternoon. I was cleaning my kitchen and watching the sports channel. I love sports as background noise. Football calls, cheering crowds, skates on ice, car commercials, crashing bowling pins. And then I saw it.

I stopped and watched. Professional bowling. So fast, great outfits, serious faces…and one more thing! I noticed that not a single one of those bowlers threw the ball straight down the middle. I jumped on the computer and did some bowling research, since these are the types of things that keep me awake at night…

Let me tell you what I learned—there is not one professional bowler, not even my brother, who throws the ball down the middle. Professional bowlers throw the ball down the aisle with a curve. The ball spins so close to the edge of the aisle, it seems like it defies the laws of physics. At the last second, however, it curves and… STRIKE! These bowlers aren’t aiming down the middle; they are aiming for the right pocket. (Note: I only know this because there was a professional bowler in one of my sessions who told me!) For those who aren’t up on their bowling lingo, aiming for the right pocket means we aim for the pins on the outside of the lane.

Professional bowlers don’t do the easy or the obvious and aim for the head pin. They aim for the pins that are the hardest to hit. The probability of pins getting knocked over is higher if they aim for the pins on the edges, because these pins help the others fall down, too. If those outside pins weren’t there, it would be much harder to reach all the pins… to knock down the whole set… to reach the whole class. STRIKE!

Teachers are required to teach many different grade levels and different subjects. We are trained to teach to the middle and simplify the material for students who are having difficulty. Pairing up students who need more support with students who need more of a challenge is the limit for many teachers when it comes to differentiation and accommodation strategies. We often teach how we were taught, and in my case, that was during a time of mainstreaming and segregating students with special needs, so they were never a part of my education experience. Classrooms have changed… for the better, I think… but our education system is the same.  We need to teach to diverse learners rather than to a group of students for whom the one commonality is their date of birth.

What if we totally changed how we plan, teach, and assess? What if we started to look at our classes and students as different communities who we also teach differently, even if they’re taking the same course?  Using the same material, we can offer students varying amounts of support. We can give more to any students who need it to succeed, not just because of a certain special needs category or label.

When we teach, we need to focus not on our status quo, the middle of the pack, or the head pin (a shrinking group over the years as more students are receiving special education services).  Instead, on Monday morning, we should look at our kids and think:

“Which of my kids are the hardest to reach? What do I need to do so that THEY get this content?”

So… why inclusion?  Why are we doing this? Yes, it’s true—we need inclusion because kids have a right to learn. And yes, inclusion is a diverse setting that reflects the way of the real world. But here is the answer I want to hear: we also do it because these kids have contributions to make. It’s true whether they have special needs or they didn’t eat breakfast that morning, and whether they’re English language learners or they have a hard time getting to school on time. These kids who are the hardest for us to reach have so much in them that will teach us all, and if we get them when we teach… we can get everyone.  This symbiotic learning environment is important for inclusion to work and sustain itself over time. Inclusion, especially in high school, is often limited to physical and social contexts. In order for inclusion to be effective and efficient for teachers and students, we need to extend this idea beyond the gym and the cafeteria for all students to be contributing members in academic communities. That’s the critical but missing piece, not just for students with special needs but for every one of us.

Photo Credit: Robert Parviainen/Flickr

Based in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, Shelley Moore is an inclusion consultant for school districts and community organizations locally, provincially and beyond. Her presentations include professional development for teachers, educational assistants and administrators in school districts throughout British Columbia, Canada, as well as participating in various leading conferences throughout North America, including CEC, IRA, NCTE and CSSE. Growing up with a learning disability, she has developed a passion for collaborating with school teams through frameworks that integrate theory and effective practices of inclusion, special education, curriculum and technology to support students with the most significant learning needs. With these supports in place for herself, she has successfully completed her undergraduate degree in Special Education at the University of Alberta, her masters degree at Simon Fraser University, and is currently a PhD student at the University of British Columbia

The Reality of Inclusion Is Not as Simple as You Think

Inclusion is the goal.  It’s the ideal way for students to learn, because inclusion seems to be synonymous with equality.  Everyone deserves to access the curriculum.  Everyone deserves to form relationships with people who are outwardly different or invisibly so–that’s how it will be in the real world.  Everyone benefits from the classroom strategies that support students with disabilities.  Those are all true statements… but add a measure of reality, and it’s not that inclusion is no longer good, but the effects for the people involved are not as simple as we want them to be.

I was diagnosed with autism at 21, and it wasn’t a shock for my family nearly so much as a finally!  The issues were not unnoticed–they were only unnamed, and it was very, very hard.  In school, I was way ahead of the game academically, but I often heard that I was “smart enough to know better!”  Know what?  I hated the crowded halls, the lights, the alarms… I actually felt sick from overstimulation but had no way to understand or communicate it.  A “2E” kid (twice exceptional, both gifted and disabled*) with only one E identified has half her educational needs unmet.

Twenty years later, the real world is just as challenging. I’m very verbal with facts and information, but true expression comes through writing far better than speaking.  I’m extremely hypersensitive, and grocery shopping is something I still need direct support to manage; I have trouble making sense of the items on the shelf, because they blend together.  I might as well be looking at a math test or a fish bowl.  The explanation helped others understand, but it took 25 years and maybe awful grocery trips to get there.  Sensory overload impacts my communication, especially when I’m out, so you might get half the correct words, quite a few it’ll-do words, and a lot of pausing… and they go through a blender before I say them, so they might be out of order, too.  I’m often misunderstood and then very frustrated.  Socially, I have little in common with most people my age, unless they like cats, and too much noise or fast-paced conversation are a roadblock to participation.  It’s not that most people want to exclude me.  The barriers aren’t really in their control any more than they are in mine… not unless people stop having multi-person conversations and shoppers stop bumping other people…

Most classrooms have sensory, social, and communication barriers built right into them, too.  Being with a horde of same-age kids who were essentially twice my age socially but half academically and facing changes in schedules and subs who use sarcasm… the lights flickering, the bright posters all over the walls, the hurry-hurry-hurrying, the handwriting… the balls that fly around at recess, the screaming lunchroom with its permanent stink, the bus ride home… even if every student were nothing but kind, there are many reasons that school is inherently exclusive to some kids.  It was much harder to be in the room and look in the right direction than it ever was to get my straight-A grades.

As an adult, having been mis-labeled, mis-understood and just downright baffled long enough, I’ve mostly secluded myself.  Work, leisure, friendships–all based in the autism/disability communities.  I’m involved with an autism nonprofit; it’s both my job and my (only) social outlet. I love that I can mentor instead of being an actress.  I can engage without the fear of a dead end after one question–I still get stuck, but they see the social connection and not the poor delivery.  If things get hectic, I can retreat without being badgered or seen as rude.  I came in late recently and joined the eight other girls at the table.  I was greeted with questions about my cat, how she’s doing, did I have new pictures–my love of cats has typically been cause for a little sarcasm and a chuckle, but these friends, none of whom are all that into cats and with their terrible social skills made me feel like I matter.  I do matter, and I know I do, for the first time in a social setting.  That’s a great feeling, mattering, because they matter to me.

But it definitely doesn’t qualify as an inclusive setting–it exists as a safe space by nature of it being segregated from “everyone else.”  Maybe inclusion isn’t about the other people present or the specific location so much as it’s about the individual’s experience in a setting.  Plopping the autistic person into a group or classroom does not mean it’s inclusive.  The same space, the same information, the same opportunity–they can be even more other-ing by making the differences even more obvious.  True inclusion is a layered, complex thing, but if it’s going to work, the child first and foremost has to feel like a part of things.  Forget jumping into the gen ed class for social studies–the child needs to know what had the class cracking up that morning.  He needs to be a part of the transitions before and after social studies, not inserted into a chair once everyone else is ready.  He needs to be part of the routine, not exempt from it.  He needs responsibility in the classroom, to serve in meaningful ways and not only be served.  He needs to feel free to participate without others staring, to take a guess at the answer without fear of being wrong.  He needs to feel like he can asks questions and respond to other students.  He needs to explore his own strengths and weaknesses. He needs to be treated as a peer; children need to understand disability and capability are not opposites, and that we all show our strengths in different ways.

Inclusion is more about a culture than it is being privy to the same information or experience.  I can sit with my typical peers at a game or go out to dinner and be surrounded by the same conversation… I might hear all the same words, I might see the same plays on the field, I might even have information to contribute… but the sensory, social, and communication barriers in those settings keep me separated.  It feels like their evening wouldn’t change if I poofed into thin air.  If the highest goals of inclusive education are for people to be in the same space for a little while or even for them to be in the same space and attend to the same thing… I think there are better ways to spend our time and effort.  But our goals are much broader, deeper, and worthier than that–we want to foster mutual comfort, connections, and guide students toward seeing past labels to the competence and value in everyone.  When the “included” student is wheeled in and parked on the side of the classroom halfway through the class and the rest of the kids don’t know more than his name and his wheelchair, kids are taught how to tolerate that child in their space for a time. They learn to ignore their curiosity and steal sideways glances to figure it out.  They see that the “included” child must always have an adult right next to him like the baby brother at home.  Not surprisingly, the adult disability community talks about those very same barriers.

In the autism-only spaces of my life, I’ve learned things like reciprocation, when to hold my tongue, and what to do when I don’t have the right words or need a break or need help.  I’ve learned about myself as a friend, an employee, and a leader… that I can ask someone to turn the volume down, that I’d rather be seen as a little odd for being kind than hold back for the sake of being normal.  I was never comfortable with men and feared people who felt authoritative, so I have only ever interacted with other girls and young women.  Finally, I have friends of every sort without fear; I’ve learned that I may have a lot in common with a kid half my age and how to interact with people when there are really no common interests (answer: awkwardly!).  The center is a safe haven, but not because it’s all people just like me.  Familiarity with autism is the only unifying factor there, and that does nothing to make us a uniform crowd. It’s really the culture, one where things like kindness, creativity, and giving someone the benefit of the doubt are the currency–instead of the common currency of impressing other people.

Finally (and cautiously…), it doesn’t quite sit right with me that spending time “included” with everybody is automatically valued over spending time in a segregated setting.  In school, many of us get hung up like pinatas while some “typical” peers take daily strikes for years–and yet this is the social scene where we’re encouraged to learn to belong?  I had some experiences like that, but even more, I ran into situations where I would ask if there were issues between a friend and I, knowing that I don’t pick up on them, and the friend would say no and then later tell me I should have known she meant yes.  I like my friends who use words that mean what they say.  I don’t worry about every chuckle being at my expense.  They aren’t my last-chance friends; they’re the people who are fun and supportive, ones who share my interests and make me feel like I’m valued as a person.  A disability alone should not disqualify a kid or a group as first choice friends.

A setting is considered more or less restrictive because of the people in it.  If we had a self-contained room and a general ed one and switched the kids, we’d have switched the level of restriction.  While a separate class might feel like accepting defeat after a series of failures in less restrictive settings, consider the people who define that setting and how tied up in the “last option” concept their identities come to be.  I think about the sad fact that if we were all the same age, my closest friends and I would have never even known each other existed if we attended the same school.  We pull kids out of the general ed classroom for being disruptive or needing sensory breaks or taking too long to learn to read, but the kids who bully or manipulate others even to an extreme aren’t pulled to a restrictive social environment.  After years with those kids (and adults), I was having a tough time, so I focused on the healthy friendships in my life and the places I liked to be.  For now, I’m staying right here, where I’m challenged and amused and supported and needed–I’m exactly who I am, and I’m happy.

We get a lot of promises from people who have just the thing–books, games, apps, plans, curriculum sets, charts, devices, diets, programs– to teach us how to act more like them so that maybe someday we just might be “included” in their world.  But it’s funny… they never ask how they can learn to be more like us…

Photo Credit: Bust it Away Photography/Flickr

Lydia Wayman is an autistic young adult and advocate. She has her B.S. in Elementary Education and MFA in English and Creative Writing. Lydia combines professional knowledge with personal experience to reach parents and professionals through her blog, books, articles, and speaking engagements. She also works part-time at a nonprofit autism resource center and enjoys mentoring girls on the spectrum. Her message is that people are awesome not despite their differences but precisely because of them.

Your School Might Be the Biggest Barrier to Inclusive Education

Melody Musgrove, the director of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, once said, “The smallest meaningful unit of inclusion is the school.”  I understand the logic of this statement to mean that inclusive education involves a common set of practices and beliefs that must be a part of a school’s culture, rather than something that one person can do as a part of a special “inclusion” classroom––an island in the sea of an exclusionary school.  An experience with a friend and her daughter highlights the importance of a whole-school inclusive culture and its benefit for all students.

Danielle was in the “inclusive” kindergarten class when her mom was informed that the “inclusive” first grade Danielle would not be “a good fit” next year; instead, she needed to move to the self-contained classroom, because the teachers would not be able to meet her needs in a less restrictive setting. I was floored. Danielle is a sweet person who loves to laugh; she also happens to have a label of ADHD and an IEP for language and articulation. At the time, she was reading a little below grade level, but she was building her vocabulary through sight words as well as strategies for decoding unknown words. She understood basic math concepts, although she sometimes needed reminding about how to approach a problem. So, Danielle was a little below grade level but certainly making progress. And now she was being told that she was not “able enough” to be in the “inclusive class” in her school?

Two years later, Danielle is the same happy kid and doing quite well in school. The IEP team even determined that since she is doing so well, she can be “included” in some of the general education classes once again. I am not going to delve into the myriad of decisions and pressures that led to this current position; instead, I want to focus on Danielle’s IEP as an artifact of why Dr. Musgrove’s statement is so true and an example of why inclusion as a place is a limited and ultimately dangerous construct.

Danielle’s latest IEP began with a summary of her present level of performance as well as results from her recent cognitive assessments. The first thing I noticed about this summary was the fact that it was not a strengths-based review of the findings at all. Even though Danielle scored in the average range throughout some of the sub-tests, the focus was on how “low” her performance was. In fact, the word “low” was used in seven of the eight sentences, with each area of “low performance” specifically highlighted and the three areas of strength combined into a single sentence. I understand that some people will say I am being picky, but this linguistic choice hides the strengths and focuses all attention on a deficit-based construct of the student.

The next important flag in the IEP was the list of supplementary aids and services. Here were Danielle’s recommended supplementary aids and services:

  • Use of a graphic organizer
  • Check for understanding
  • Refocusing and redirection
  • Will receive simplified complex directions
  • Will have initial work closely monitored to assure understanding

I am trying to understand what a classroom typically looks like if these are considered “supplementary.” Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a vital component of all teaching practices, but especially inclusive practices. UDL was sparked by work in architecture that found that if spaces were designed to be accessible for a particular need (e.g., curb cuts for people who use wheelchairs), then those accessibility components were helpful to others who had not been considered In the original design (e.g., parents with strollers, people using canes or with sore legs, etc.). David Rose with CAST, a clear leader in UDL research and design, states, “Barriers to learning are not, in fact, inherent in the capacities of learners, but instead arise in learners’ interactions with inflexible educational goals, materials, methods, and assessments” (Rose & Meyer, 2002 pg. iv). The fact that Danielle’s school sees these strategies as supplementary rather than a universal expectation for all students is potentially the largest barrier to inclusive practices.  If these strategies are only provided to students who have a specific IEP requirement or who are in a specific classroom, then it is highly likely that many students in this school are needlessly struggling.

Two important foundational principles for inclusive schools include a strengths-based focus and using UDL principles to make instruction accessible for all students. These are not beliefs and practices that only support students with IEPs. Nor is it possible for a single teacher in a single classroom to implement these principles in an effective, meaningful way because no matter how segregated a classroom is, students, teachers, related service providers, and families will be working within a larger community of the school.  To create inclusive practices, we need to leave behind the idea of inclusion as a place and, thus, the misconception that a school may have both inclusion classrooms and segregated classrooms. The overarching structure and beliefs of that structure are not inclusive; they are ablest and ultimately detrimental to students building on their strengths and reducing barriers. By having a set of “inclusion classrooms,” the school creates the idea that here––and only here––is where all students are welcome. Here and only here is where we expect student variability to be present.

Sustainable inclusive practices need to be:

  1. focused on strength-based paradigms for students and educators
  2. school-wide (at a minimum)
  3. premised with the idea that variability is an expectation rather than an aberration and, thus, all learning needs to begin with UDL

Rose, DH, & Meyer, A (2002) Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Photo Credit: hjl/Flickr

Debbie TaubDr. Deborah Taub is the Director of Research and Programs at Keystone Assessment. In this role, she provides research and professional development assistance for states, territories, and other entities working to develop and sustain best practice. She has assisted states in building and evaluating systemic programs, especially around issues of inclusive practice for students with complex instructional needs, such as those with low incidence disabilities or who are dually identified as having a disability and ELL. Dr. Taub has designed, implemented, and evaluated alternate assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities, developed UDL and standards-based curricula and instruction, and conducted validity and alignment evaluations. This work is informed by her experiences as a classroom teacher and school reform specialist. She has experience building curriculum that is universally designed and accessible for all students, helping schools and district meet state and federal requirements through teacher and student centered reform, and supporting educators as they make grade level content accessible for students with complex needs. She has contributed journal articles, book chapters, and numerous professional development trainings to the field of educating children with complex needs, and has presented internationally on working with students who have autism. She believes strongly that all students deserve equal opportunities and is an advisory member of the Council to Promote Self-Determination education and workforce committee, National Center for Universal Design for Learning’s UDL Taskforce, and an active member of the TASH inclusive education committee. In addition, she is a member of the Council for Exceptional Children’s CCSS Advisory Group.

5 Essential Actions To Help Your Child Be Included

5 Essential Actions To Help Your Child Be Included

Parents contact us asking for advice on how they can convince, persuade, or argue with their school district to include their child in general education all the time. The fact of the matter is that there is no guarantee that your school district is going to listen to you or take you seriously. But there are a few things you can do to help prepare yourself for when administrators do push back. Here is a list of five essential actions that will get you well on your way to including your child in whatever context you and your family find yourself in. Please note: Some of the links are to paid products or services but we do not receive any commission or kickback from them.

1. Download the iAdvocate app on your iPhone or iPad.

iadvocatescreens

iAdvocate was created by the wonderful people over at Syracuse University. Their goal in creating the app was to “share and develop specific strategies with parents for working collaboratively with a school team to improve their children’s education. iAdvocate uses problem-based learning strategies, simulations, and provides contextual access resources to build parental advocacy skills and knowledge.” It features a list of journal articles that are required reading for any inclusion advocate, what to say when your school district gives you a reason why they “can’t” include your child, and strategies on how to work with the school district to ensure the success for your student. This is one app that your school district does not want you knowing about.

Download iAdvocate for iPhone and iPad here. 

2. Do your research and read “Does Self-Contained Special Education Deliver on Its Promises?” and share with your administration (or anyone else).

Does Self-Contained Special Education Deliver on Its Promises?

It is a common argument that self-contained classrooms prepare children with disabilities better for their future than the general education environment. This of course is because special education is a self-perpetuating system that requires for certain students to have “specialized instruction” which in turn means that some with have “specialized environments”. In addition, self-contained classroom are supposed to be where students can learn in a “less distracting” environment. While this is nice in theory, how it is played out in real life is far from perfect. Self-contained classrooms tend to be one of the most distracting learning environments of all. This is one of the best research articles to have in your back pocket as you advocate for your child to be included in general education.

Click here to read the article. 

Also check out our 10 Essential Articles on Inclusive Education for more information. 

3. Get trained as an advocate. Listen to our interviews with Dr. Julie Causton and Dr. Cheryl Jorgensen to get more information about how to become one.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrikmoen/128870862/sizes/z/in/photostream/

We have referred several people to listen to these interviews because they are chalk full of information on the philosophy of inclusive education and what we need to do to change how inclusion is done. One of the biggest things that we have learned from both of these talks is that real and lasting systems change needs to come from the top-down (from the district or administrative level). It is virtually impossible to make changes to a system as entrenched as education from the inside out. While that realization is harsh, it should focus us on what we can do to make a difference. Outlined in these interviews are ways how you can be trained as an advocate that can immediately help your child or anyone else that needs assistance in this area.

To listen to our interview with Julie Causton click here. 

To listen to our interview with Cheryl Jorgenen click here.

For more information on how to become an Inspired Advocate (a web series on how to advocate for your child/student) made by Julie Causton click here. 

For more information of registering for the Partners in Policymaking online courses click here. 

 4. Join your local PTA or PTO.

PTA-logo

While Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) vary in their scope of advocacy, the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has always had a particular focus in diversity and inclusion. Here is an excerpt from the National PTA’s website:

PTAs everywhere must understand and embrace the uniqueness of all individuals, appreciating that each contributes a diversity of views, experiences, cultural heritage/traditions, skills/abilities, values and preferences. When PTAs respect differences yet acknowledge shared commonalities uniting their communities, and then develop meaningful priorities based upon their knowledge, they genuinely represent their communities. When PTAs represent their communities, they gain strength and effectiveness through increased volunteer and resource support.

The recognition of diversity within organizations is valuing differences and similarities in people through actions and accountability. These differences and similarities include age, ethnicity, language and culture, economic status, educational background, gender, geographic location, marital status, mental ability, national origin, organizational position and tenure, parental status, physical ability, political philosophy, race, religion, sexual orientation, and work experience.

We encourage all the parents who contact us to make an effort to join the Patent Teacher Association to fully experience what their school community has to offer. Many times the school doesn’t think to plan for the inclusion of students with disabilities because the don’t have any parents with children with special needs on committees or the board. This is will undoubtedly make it easier for your child to be included.

5. Hire a professional advocate or special education lawyer.

COPAA

Sometimes it is necessary to bring in professional help when your family and the school district are not seeing eye to eye on matters of inclusion and inclusive best practices. While we are not in the business of recommending specific advocates or lawyers, we do highly recommend becoming a member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). You can’t do this alone and COPAA is the perfect place to start to connect with people who have done it before. Here is a list of the some of the things they value taken from their website:

COPAA works to:

  • Enable parents to work more effectively with school personnel to plan and obtain effective educational programs for their children with disabilities;
  • Encourage more attorneys and advocates to undertake representation of parents of children with disabilities in their efforts to plan and obtain effective educational programs;
  • Provide advocate, attorney, parent and other professional COPAA members with the practical resources and information they need to obtain effective educational programs for students with disabilities;
  • Enable members to network and share information and legal resources;
  • Provide training for special education advocates on all aspects of special education advocacy and informal conflict resolution;
  • Provide training for attorneys on legal practice: including due process, litigation, and informal conflict resolution;
  • Enable parents to locate advocates, attorneys, and related professionals through COPAA’s website directory;
  • File amicus curiae briefs in cases of national significance.

You can also find specific legal advice for your state at the Wrightslaw Yellow Pages For Kids. This is another fantastic resource to find attorneys, advocacy groups and other resources that are geared toward your area.

We hope that these five action steps have given you a little bit of hope as you plan for inclusion for your child. If there is anything we can do to help we would be happy to point you in the right direction. Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: Aurélien aka ores/Flickr

Five Essential Actions To Help Your Child Be Included

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