Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

What Inclusion Means to Me

what inclusion means to me

By Sue Robins

Recently, I was asked to speak to all the teachers at my son’s high school about “What Inclusion Means to Me.”  There would be about one hundred educators in the audience for their professional development (PD) day.  I sweated out my approach, talking to the special education teacher who had kindly recommended me, the physics teacher who was the organizer, and many families who had kids with differences in schools across the country.  I was desperate to understand my audience, not to misstep, to represent other families well, for I had a lot of skin in the game.  The high school I was speaking at was where my son Aaron would be for the next six years.  I could not screw this up.

I had spoken once before to an audience of parents and teachers on this same subject, almost three years ago in Alberta, Canada.  My stumble then was not to include any research about the other kids in the school – the ‘typically developing’ kids, many of whom were traveling on a strong academic path.  One mom had angrily protested from the back of the room, “your kid is taking away from my kid’s teaching time!”  I have recognized over the years that it is crucial to address barriers and concerns that the audience is holding early on in the presentation, for if you don’t, they hang onto those concerns during the entire talk, and this is a barrier to the listening.

This time I was more grizzled and wiser (but alas, still not perfect – is there such a thing?).  I drew upon others for expertise in my talk.  I don’t know one thing about adapting or modifying curriculum, so I showed Shelley Moore’s excellent bowling video.  I leaned on Ian Brown’s wisdom about the value of people with disabilities.  The moms from my Family Inclusion Group Facebook page kindly offered up some beautiful quotes about our kids being brave and presuming competence. I was very aware of not being self-serving – not only concerning myself with my own son’s experience but with his colleagues’ experiences, too:  those who used wheelchairs, those who were non-verbal, those identified with ‘behavior’ challenges.   I had many people behind me in spirit for this extraordinary opportunity:  for a mom taking up a morning in a high school’s PD day is a rare sight indeed.

And what does inclusion mean to me?  In the end, I talked about our journey with Aaron. I spoke about when he was first diagnosed (the baby we expected was not the baby we got).  I addressed my struggles with my fears about people with disabilities when Aaron was born, embedded in my head from my junior high days in 1974. I acknowledged the good work teachers do – how busy and exhausted they are too and asked them to reflect on why they chose to teach.  I talked about how inclusion was so much more than academic inclusion inside a classroom, how it was about inclusion in the hallways, at lunchtime, at school events, in sports, in extra-curricular activities.  I invited the audience to think of one way educators and the other students could include the kids in special education in the school, no matter how simple:  learning the students’ names, giving high fives, starting up a Buddy program, picking one thing from their class lesson to teach them each day.

My intention was to touch hearts to change minds.  My key messages:

-the value of children with disabilities (the disabled do the work of love, says Ian Brown)

-expanding the definition of diversity to include different abilities

-to point out how we are not preparing the high-achieving students for the real world if they do not know people who are ‘the other.’

I had to pause a few times during the talk to catch myself from crying.  This topic is deeply personal to me, as Aaron’s school experience is everything to us.  We chose to live in our particular school district.  We bought a condo close to the school.  I resigned from my job to be more visible and available to support his school experience.

Scanning the audience, I knew others were crying too.  Maybe they had someone with a difference in their family.  Maybe they were remembering the feeling of being left out.  Maybe they were triggered to recall why they chose to teach.  In the end, the applause was more than polite, and I had a patient line of teachers waiting to chat with me.  It tears me up to think about how much these educators want to reach all children, but sometimes they just don’t know how.  This desire is everything.  Change happens with just one step at a time – the first step is the most important one. This is the beginning of belonging, one high five at a time.

Inclusion to me means finding love + belonging.  It means taking the time to understand another person’s perspective, to feel empathy, to demonstrate compassion.  These are the same messages I share with healthcare audiences, as I’ve realized that these concepts are profoundly universal.

In the end, for me, everything always circles back to Raymond Carver:

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

― Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall

Photo Credit: Bradley Huchteman/Flickr

sue robinsSue Robins is a writer, speaker, and mom of three.  Her youngest son Aaron is 13 years old and has Down syndrome.  Her essays about motherhood have been published in the New York Times, Huffington Post and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.  Sue is passionate about families who have children with differences, coaching families to tell their own stories and nurturing gratitude and compassion in health care (and now education) settings.  She is also a partner in Bird Communications, a health communications company in Vancouver and Edmonton.  She can be found on Twitter and Facebook as @suerobinsyvr and her blog is suerobins.com.

Is 100 Percent Inclusion Right for All Students with Disabilities?

100 percent inclusion; green circles overlapping each other

100 Percent Inclusion

Is 100 percent inclusion for students with special needs always possible?

Scrolling through my Facebook feed recently, I came across a post by someone in a group I am in that advocates for the “100% Inclusion for individuals with special educational needs.” The post is as follows:

So I buy the 100% inclusion argument. I have seen the research. I’ve made the argument myself. But sometimes I get this pang, maybe it is from other parents who say that sometimes inclusion is overwhelming for our kiddos. Is there ever a time when 100% inclusion is not right? How would one know? I just want to be sure that I’m not forcing my values and not paying attention to my kiddo. y’know? Thanks for your thoughts!

What if full inclusion is not the right thing to do?

This is a legitimate question. For inclusion advocates, it may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact remains that there are many places in the world that authentic inclusive education is not available. For these students, is it worth pursuing something that may not be right for this particular student?

Let us examine what it means for 100 percent inclusion to be “not the right thing to do.” If a family wants to pursue full-time inclusion for their child and the school and staff are not on board and they do not have the resources to do so are we not setting them up for failure? Although inclusive education as a global concept is right, good and honorable, it may not be the right thing to do for that student at that specific time or place. I do not believe inclusive education advocates lose any credibility in conceding this idea.

What if full inclusion is not what the parents (or the student wants?)

When I have approached certain parents about including their child more in the general education environment, they have balked at the notion. As an advocate, I believe it is important to listen to the wishes of the family when making a placement determination. That is, after all, what the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is supposed to be about, making decisions as a team.

Also, if a student is showing that they are uncomfortable (or even terrified) in the general education setting, we must listen to what their behavior is telling us. The goal, of course, is that we include them as much as possible and that we are actively working toward inclusion.

We need a bigger tent.

I am grateful for the courage of parents who ask hard questions about what the implications are of 100 percent inclusion. We need safe spaces to talk about our concerns without being browbeaten for wanting to have real conversations. For inclusive education to move forward, we need to wrestle with these concerns. There are no easy answers but if we are not afraid to ask the questions we can work together to find answers for all students.

For the record, I still believe that inclusive education for everyone is the best course of action for all students (and the research back it up.)

What would you say to parents who are questioning if 100 percent inclusion is always the right thing to do? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!

Photo Credit: cactusbeetroot/Flickr

A Place for Parents: Autistics and Allies

Sticker of two people holding hands.

By Larkin Taylor-Parker

Disagreements between stakeholders of various kinds are fairly common in the disability community, but conflict plagues autism discourse. The place of parents is particularly contentious. As I prepared for this post, I glanced around the Internet for what had already been said. There are too many existing attempts to fix this with a blog post, or, worse, one that oversimplifies the conflict or makes a straw man of one side. I decided this would not be another iteration of an endemic, useless thing. As I read others’ thoughts on the subject, I happened on a year-old article called Who Should Lead the Autism Rights Movement? Instantly, I knew how to articulate the problem and solution.

The answer to that question is obvious: people whose lives are most shaped by society’s decisions on what to do with autistic people deserve the final say. Social change that undermines oppression has never been ally-led. Agency as charitable donation is a contradiction in terms. We must take it for ourselves, not wait until others deign to bestow it. The thrust of every argument I have seen against our leadership is that we are too disabled to have a say in our future. I see this sentiment often. It comes couched in sympathy, recommended for convenience’s sake, and presented in the tired terminology of a moldy eugenics textbook in my vintage and antiquarian collection. I have never seen these claims hold up to scrutiny. The arguments are full of transparent fallacies. Besides, Autistics and other people with disabilities are challenging notions of our incapacity in numbers hard to dismiss as anecdotal evidence. Given a measure of control over our lives, we usually improve them. We will always know more about how to do that than allistic* people. We know our priorities, experiences, needs.

Parents may not be able to set the agenda, but they have a natural role in neurodiversity and disability rights efforts. It is partly restraint. They can be quiet in our safe spaces and encourage others to do likewise. They can stop calling anyone capable of typing insufficiently disabled to have valid opinions. They can stop speaking for and talking over us. However, not everything we need from them is passivity. There are active roles no one could better fulfill.

The media asks them about autism before it does us. Parents have the opportunity to amplify our voices where they would otherwise be ignored, redirect questions, challenge purely negative perceptions. Parents can raise money for worthy causes and organizations. The silver lining of the Autism Speaks problem is that many learned fundraising. Parents can raise assertive autistic children with a healthy sense of self-worth. They can bring up kids who carve a place for themselves in the world and understand their right to be here. Parents can stand with autistic children and adults as we demand a fair chance at rich, full, dignified lives.

As parents work to ensure they are on our side, autistics should help. We must find a healthy middle ground between the extremes of ignoring ableism and writing decent people off for one ignorant word. This is more than being humane. It is pragmatism. We need allies more than most groups. At just over one percent of the population, we will never have the numbers to go it alone.

*non-autistic

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated with a new author bio as well as a new featured image. 

Larkin Taylor-Parker is a second-year law student at the University of Georgia. She is interested in disability rights, the experiences of young professionals from historically marginalized groups, and fixing internet culture. She is also an avid recreational tuba player.

A Letter To My Daughter’s Teacher

letter to my daughters teacher; a pad of paper with a pen resting on it
By Ariane Zurcher

Editor’s Note: This version of the essay does not reflect the recent changes made by the author. To read the post as was intended by Ariane Zurcher please visit Emma’s Hope Book | Living Being Autistic.

My daughter, Emma will be in your class this year.  A few days ago, Emma told me she was “scared to go to new school.”  Emma loved her teachers and friends from her old school.  So I want to introduce you to her.  I cannot speak for Emma, I cannot know if everything I write here is completely accurate, but these are things that I have learned over the years, things that are specific to Emma and that may be helpful, at least that is my hope.

Sometimes Emma does not look at you when you are speaking to her, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t hear you.  Her hearing is excellent.  She may not know how to process what you’ve said or she may not know what is expected of her.  Often if you ask Emma a question, especially if it’s a question she knows the answer to she either won’t answer or will say something nonsensical because she isn’t sure what’s expected of her or why the question has been asked.  Sometimes people get nervous and don’t know what to say, so they’ll ask, “Oh Emma, that’s a pretty dress.  What are you wearing?”  or  “What color is that?”  These are questions that aren’t being asked for any real purpose or they are testing questions.  Typically these are the kinds of questions Emma will not answer.

Change is difficult for all of us and Emma is no exception.  Having a written or picture schedule for the day and week will reduce her anxiety.  Like everyone, Emma really appreciates having a say in what happens throughout the day.  Whenever appropriate allowing her to set a timer for a one, two or five-minute warning before a change in activity will go a long way in helping her do what she needs to prepare herself.   Usually Emma will go along with any change if she’s given sufficient warning.

General Disposition:

Emma loves people.  She is gregarious.  Her fall back position is one of happiness.  She is also very sensitive.  She can tell if someone is upset, stressed or angry and can become easily overwhelmed by those feelings.

Particularly good at:

Emma is terrific at leading others.  She can be extremely persuasive and is a great negotiator.    Her negotiating skills are wonderful for math and science and her leadership skills are wonderful motivators.

LOVES:

Emma loves music, dancing, being on stage in front of an audience.  Give Em a microphone and she will sing and dance.  She loves “talent shows.”  She loves any game involving running, swimming, holding her breath under water, laughing and being silly.  She loves playing versions of “Duck, duck, goose” or as Emma would say, “Raincoat, raincoat, umbrella!”  Musical chairs is another favorite, dance parties, hide and seek, dressing up, bouncing, swinging and going to any playground.  Emma is very athletic and very girly.  She likes cooking and while she won’t eat most of what she cooks, unless they’re pancakes, she will enjoy the opportunity to cook.

Does NOT like:

Emma gets upset if she is told not to do something she has just done.  Example:  “You cannot shout!” after she has just shouted is difficult for her.  Obviously she CAN shout, she just did, with you right there watching.  Telling her she “can’t” is not true and it’s confusing.  Instead say, “You mustn’t shout.” Then in a voice that models what you’d like you can say, “Here is how you can speak instead.”  By doing that, you are helping to give her other choices.  If she is not allowed to do something, be sure to tell her what she can do as an alternative.

Academics:

Emma is fairly new to all academics.  Within the past year she has learned to form the letters of the alphabet and is now reading, writing and typing at a 1st – 2nd grade level, likewise with math.   Emma loves the Hubble Imax movie and her favorite museum is the American Natural History Museum.  She is showing interest in learning about our world, the ocean, the moon, other planets and the universe.  She told me last night that she doesn’t want to be an astronaut though, she said she wanted to be a “singer on the stage!”

Needs extra help:

Emma resists academics.  They are hard for her and she becomes upset when she makes a mistake.  She doesn’t like getting anything wrong.  But if you help her succeed, she will flourish.  If she is reading and doesn’t know a word, give it 15 seconds or so to see if she can work it out on her own, (don’t say “sound it out” or “try again” because she didn’t learn to read phonetically and while she is able to sound some words out on her own, it won’t help her with all those exceptions like limb and thought.)   Emma has a strong desire to learn and an even stronger desire to do things independently.  With your help, she can and will succeed.

Frustration and Signs to watch for:

Emma gets a look of panic on her face.  She may begin breathing with short sharp intakes and she will often talk to herself in a high-pitched questioning voice laced with anxiety. When Emma is overwhelmed she may shut down and withdraw.  She may begin scripting, using set phrases she’s heard. Those scripts may be in context with what’s going on or their connection may not be clear to you, but that doesn’t mean there is no connection, it just means you don’t understand or know what it is.  Emma often has trouble processing her feelings and the feelings of others.  Sometimes she needs help identifying those feelings, just as we all do.  Sometimes she will start repeating things other teachers have said to her in the past in a scolding tone, such as, “No Emma!  You may not __________.  If you ____________ we will take ________________ away!”  When Emma is overwhelmed she has to rely on her scripts as all other words have left her. Try to listen even if the words seem meaningless, she is trying to communicate her feelings of distress to you.  Sometimes she might say, “You have to ask for help!”  This is what she says when she needs help, but sadly this can confuse those who do not know Emma well.  She might also say, “Do you want to go swimming?”  Which means she really, really wants to go swimming.  If you show her on the schedule when she’ll be able to go she will usually calm down.

It’s too late, the storm has hit!

This is not the time to engage in a power struggle.  Emma is not trying to manipulate you or upset anyone.  She is simply expressing her frustration in the only way she knows to.  Sometimes if she’s very upset she will bite herself or punch herself, usually on the hand or arm, sometimes if things are very bad, she will punch herself in the face.  Do not exacerbate this challenging time by raising your voice or telling her “You cannot hit!”  or “You cannot bite!”  or even “We don’t bite.”  (See Does not like paragraph above) Restraining her in an attempt to stop her will not prove helpful either.   Emma bites or hits herself because the feelings of frustration are overwhelming her.  The pain she causes herself by biting or hitting is within her control and is therefore preferable.  It things have escalated to the point where Emma is hurting herself, everyone must try to understand what has happened before things became this derailed and try to prevent them.  Sometimes it isn’t possible, but Emma is trying to cope as best she can.  When she is calmer you can work on helping her find alternate ways to cope.

What helps you when you feel overwhelmed?  What things do you do when you feel anxious, scared or upset and no longer feel you’re able to function?  Maybe the things that work for you will help Emma too.  Remember, be patient.  Showing Emma once or twice will not mean she’s learned, she will likely need to be shown numerous times.  Often there is a sensorial component to her upset.  She is overwhelmed with feelings or a sensation or too many sensations.  She may be tired or hungry, too hot, cold or thirsty.  Sometimes a sensory break will do wonders to restore her equilibrium.

Strategies that work well:

Make it into a game!  Music can be incorporated into just about any activity and can change anything.  High affect and silliness can make something that feels difficult seem fun!

Humor:

Emma loves anything silly and ridiculous.  Silly faces, silly dances, playful interactions, games!  She has specific jokes she likes to play with specific people.   Emma loves to laugh.  She loves to make up word games.  She enjoys taking a word like “uncle” and changing it to “Jungle.”  She will happily tell you that she has a “Jungle Andy and a Jungle Victor.”  Come up with silly word games and Emma will join in with glee.

Things that have a tendency to backfire?

If you say, “You have to do ________________.  If you don’t, I’m going to take __________________ away” will make her upset and anxious.  She will have a hard time concentrating because she will worry about having something she wants taken from her.  Instead say, “You can ______________, but first you need to __________________.”  That way Emma can concentrate on having/doing something she loves as opposed to taking something away.

Emma’s String:

Emma has a string that she loves.  Please do not take away her string or use it as a form of punishment.  Her string helps her focus and it makes her feel safe.  If you take it away or threaten to she will become completely overwhelmed.  Sometimes, when she is writing or typing and needs both hands to do so, you can ask her to set her string near her or in her lap.  If you allow her to control where she puts her string she will feel safe enough to concentrate and do her work.  Also (a little secret) if you get some string or ribbon and copy her movements in a playful way, you might see and feel for yourself how wonderful it can be and Emma will be delighted that someone wanted to interact with her in a way that she loves.

Food:

Emma does not have any allergies or foods she cannot eat.  However she likes to eat the same food everyday.  Some food looks, tastes and smells strange to Emma.  Please do not make her eat anything she isn’t interested in eating.  Please do not tell her she must finish something in order to have something else.  If Emma shows interest in something someone else has or is eating and it’s appropriate, do allow her to smell, lick, taste or eat it if she wants to.  And please do tell me so that I can find whatever it is and offer it to her at home too.  We will pack Emma’s lunch everyday.

One last thing:

Assume competence and respect Emma’s process.   Emma can and does learn.  She may take longer or less time than another child, but she will learn.  She is extremely independent.  Show her, help her, let her.   You are her role model.  Emma has dreams, just as we all do.  You can help her achieve those dreams by believing in her.

I am available to talk, discuss and strategize.  I am here to help in any way that I can.  Nothing is more important to me than my daughter.  Please keep in touch with me.  Please let me help in any way that I can.  There is no detail about Emma’s day that is too small.  Do not hesitate in emailing me _____________ or calling  _____________. 

 Thank you so much,

Ariane

Young girl standing in front of a classroom holding a microphone singing.

Emma performing at her old school.

 

*The above “letter” was inspired by a form letter Ann sent me by Jene Aviram© http://www.nlconcepts.com

A version of this essay was originally published at Emma’s Hope Book in 2012. 

Photo Credit: Guudmorning!/Flickr; Ariane Zurcher

12 Ways to Think More Inclusively

12 Ways to Think More Inclusively

Embarking on self-improvement requires no celebratory facades. Many people treat a new year or turning a year older as reasons to set goals. Honestly though the reason does not matter. The desire to change for the better proves much more important. Becoming a more inclusive-minded person stands one way to improve. Who better than Think Inclusive then to help you think more inclusive?! Enjoy these 12 ways to think more inclusively.

The following lists only 12 ways to think more inclusive and does not intend to act as a “Top Ways” or “Best Ways” list. Items go in no particular order.

Acknowledge the Individual, Not the Diagnosis

A person becomes forever linked with their diagnosis but remember the person and diagnosis remain two separate entities. So you taught or tutored one autistic student before. That does not mean what spelled success with that one student will work with your next autistic student. Adjust your approach to the individual learner.

Tune into The Inclusive Class Podcast

Parent and teacher Nicole Eredics along with her co-host Terri Mauro produce a great weekly podcast on inclusion. Through their weekly dialogues you will continue to grow your knowledge. Make sure to take time and visit their show archive.

Work as a Team

Author and motivational speaker Brian King recently appeared on The G.I.M.P. (Gifted, Intelligent, Motivating, People) Show Podcast, a podcast for the special needs community hosted by Handicap This Productions’ Tim Wambach and Mike Berkson. During the appearance Brian King dished great insights on how parents can approach teachers to best facilitate teamwork. He also explained how both parents and teachers can learn from a student’s own resourcefulness. Listen by clicking the above link.

Read Books

Read books and not only textbooks! Spending time with memoirs by authors with disabilities can spark ideas. Getting perspective from a person with a disability that lived what you currently experience may cause you to stumble upon an idea otherwise gone unexplored. Plus you can always try to contact the author to get his or her advice on your specific situation. How many reply may surprise you!

Maintain Expectation Levels

While speaking about authors, one specifically shared some great thoughts on inclusion in the following Youtube video.

The way John W. Quinn (Someone Like Me: An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy) defines inclusion addresses a huge misconception. Inclusion involves lowering standards. If anything, that proves detrimental to the process! An interview I did with intervention specialist Kelsey Kimmel for The Mobility Resource demonstrated this in an educational setting. During the interview Kimmel described how by maintaining expectation levels, her students felt challenged, leaving them to reach new milestones academically.

Gain Experience

Can you find a better teacher than experience? Positioning yourself in situations to gain said experience will make you more inclusive-minded. Allow me to give you a personal example. I volunteer weekly at the Euclid Adult Activities Center, a Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities facility. Through my interactions with their clients there I gain experience working with individuals with intellectual disabilities. Simply put I know how to interact with such individuals now where before I admittedly would feel unsure.

Implement Multiple Mediums into Lesson Plans

Even individuals without IEPs learn differently. Some prefer visuals while others thrive off audio cues and others by writing. Combining multiple channels into one lesson makes lessons more inclusive for all.

Learn How Each Student Learns Best

A tip intervention specialist Anshawn Ivery mentioned when I interviewed him for The Mobility Resource will assist in formulating the most effective lesson plans. At the start to each school year he meets with his students to learn about them, asking questions like “What do you hope to get out of this class?” and “How do you learn best?” He suggested doing this for all students, not just ones with IEPs.

Encourage Common Interests

Inclusion starts with integrating students with disabilities into the general education classroom. However inclusion excels after a belonging environment emerges. Common interests help to lay a foundation for this. Seek extra-curricular activities which can bring common interests to the forefront. As a result you will find whatever differences exist between the student and her peers will fade to the background.

Hang Anti-Bullying Messages Around the Classroom

A belonging environment means a bully-free environment. Back when I interviewed anti-bullying speaker Tony Bartoli for Think Inclusive he advised hanging student made anti-bullying posters around the classroom. Such posters provide dual purpose. First they allow students to consume the anti-bullying message. Secondly, the posters constantly remind students to treat peers with respect.

Practice Social Situations

Many people take with ease the ability to navigate different social situations, albeit in the cafeteria at lunch or moving around the hallways before or after school. Certain disabilities can make what many take with ease extra challenging. Rehearsing such situations works to make these situations easier for everyone. Louisiana Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders (LASARD) Project coordinator Julie D. Riley delved into the rehearsal strategy in the Think Inclusive piece I wrote based off an interview with her.

Become a Think Inclusive Member

If you enjoy the Think Inclusive website, know the experience gets even better by becoming a Think Inclusive member! Membership perks include exclusive content from our sponsor Brookes Publishing Company, a 30-minute consultation with our founder Tim Villegas (either by Skype, phone, or email), ad-free browsing, complete access to the Think Inclusive archives (three years and counting), and a curated online newsletter. Membership perks will only grow too. For instance, sometime this year Kids Included Together (KIT) will start providing membership exclusive content too. Click here to learn more about becoming a Think Inclusive member.

4 Strategies for Parenting Children with Special Needs in a Digital World

parenting special needs

It seems that everywhere we turn, there is another article written about children and their use of social media. Conversations swirl about what we, as parents, should or shouldn’t let our children do and see. It’s challenging, to be sure, and we worry about our kids. We worry about what seems to be their inability to sustain real conversations. We worry about their use of correct grammar, spelling and punctuation in a world that increasingly recognizes texts and tweets as valid forms of communication. And we worry that this digital world is not preparing our children to have significant and lasting social relationships.

To complicate matters further, most parents are “digital immigrants” (people who were born before the existence and/or widespread adoption of digital technologies) raising “digital natives” (people who have known such technologies since birth). Many of us are doing our best to immerse ourselves in the online world so that we can guide our children through its complexities; but we are learning as we go, and the world continues to change rapidly.

So what happens when you add a child’s learning issues or disabilities into this mix?

 A fifteen-year-old young man with Aspergers syndrome shared with me that Facebook helped him to improve his social skills. This platform eliminated the challenges that he faces in trying to read facial expressions or body language and it gives him the time needed to think through an appropriate response. (Interesting, this is the exact reason why he does NOT like the fast pace of Twitter.) Facebook allows him to engage at his own pace, reducing his anxiety and enabling him to enjoy the benefits of social relationships, a challenging arena for many children and teens with autism spectrum disorders.  

It’s fascinating to consider that the very tools which we worry will interfere with our children’s ability to develop interpersonal relationships may, in fact, help those who otherwise struggle in conventional social settings. There are many other advantages, too. However, we must be prepared to guide our children’s use of social media thoughtfully and intentionally.

1. Diligently monitor content

All children need supervision; no matter their age, no matter their need. I learned some great advice from a veteran teacher: “This is middle school. You may think your children are ready to be independent, but they need you now more than ever. Resist the urge to let them go.” This applies all the more to social media. Know where your kids are, who they are interacting with and do not be afraid to connect with them in these same spaces. You are still the parent. You are not spying.  It is your responsibility to watch your children.

2.  Make your children aware of dangers

Talk to your children about online predators. Talk to them about online bullying.  Open the lines of communication. Encourage them to talk to you about anything suspicious they encounter and do not be afraid to cut them off if you notice something inappropriate. You are still the parent. It is your responsibility to watch your children.

3.  Set limits

Even if these tools help your child to socialize and/or build relationships, it is not healthy to spend hours upon hours a day staring at a screen.  Just as you might limit the amount of television your child watches or the amount of video games he or she plays, you should also establish limits on the use of social media. It’s ok, you are still the parent.

4. Trust your gut

You know your child best. If something feels off, it probably is.  Trust your instincts and don’t second-guess yourself. You have to decide if an online presence is safe and beneficial for your child. And you have to decide when it ceases to be. You are your child’s greatest advocate and it is your responsibility to guide, support and teach your child to advocate for him or herself.  If social media can help, use it.  If not, avoid it. You are still the parent.

Photo Credit: Paul Walsh

Do you have any suggestions to this list? Tell us about them in the comments section below!

Achieving Inclusion: What Every Parent Should Know When Advocating For Their Child

Achieving InclusionThe following is a PDF article that Julie Causton and Christi Kasi wrote which was produced with funds from the PA Developmental Disabilities Council (PA DDC) Educational Rights Grant.

ONE FAMILY’S EXPERIENCE

“The family’s vision was clear. Nate would go to school in his neighborhood with the same friends with whom he ran through the sprinklers. Nate’s family wanted him to learn to read, make friends, and love school. The IEP team supported this vision until Nate entered high school. During his transition meeting from middle to high school, the principal informed Nate’s parents that he would now be attending the “life skills program.” This information shocked the family; why should Nate’s placement be changed when he had done so well in the general education classroom? The principal responded, “This is where students with Down syndrome are most successful. We focus on navigating the community and learning functional skills…” Dissatisfied with these reasons, Nate’s parents began learning how they could work with the IEP team to continue to support Nate’s successful participation in the inclusive classroom. Over a series of IEP meetings, the family carefully laid out their vision for Nate’s high school education, his desire to attend college, and the successful modifications from his middle school years. The team was reluctant, but after several hours of discussion about the importance of Nate receiving his education in the general education classroom, they agreed to support his inclusion. Nate is now a junior taking biology, creative writing, home economics, and world history alongside his peers.”

Click here to DOWNLOAD “Achieving Inclusion: What Every Parent Should Know When Advocating For Their Child” (PDF).

Download the PDF file .

For more from Julie Causton, visit her website, Inspire Inclusion. For more from Christi Kasi, visit her website, Inclusion University.

Anti-Bullying from the Parent’s Perspective

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A mom and/or dad concerned about bullying at local schools should know she and/or he can take action to help resolve said issues. On Thursday we at Think Inclusive published insights from anti-bullying speaker Tony Bartoli regarding how educators can work to promote an anti-bullying message (“Anti-Bullying from the Teacher’s Perspective”). Today we examine Bartoli’s advice for parents.

Anti-bullying strategies for parentsBuilding Community

Asked how parents could work to prevent bullying Tony Bartoli stated “Parents can develop support groups and community activities that foster bullying awareness.” He added “Definitely try to involve the school,” warning against inadvertently developing an atmosphere pitting parents versus educators and administrators.

Bartoli certainly sees bullying awareness as a communal endeavor. “Bullying has to be something that is addressed from at times all hands on deck approach, to where parents can connect with other parents. Schools can connect with other schools.”

When building community Bartoli reminds to not forget about the relationship closest to you. “Parents, communicate with your son or daughter. What you do is set the tone ahead of time that we understand bullying is a big issue.” Communication proves vital. “Keep the communication line open. (Say to your child) ‘If you’re getting bullied in school in any way come talk to me because I’m going to do what I can.’”

Doing What You Can

Parents maintain different choices to assist remedying bullying. Bartoli strongly recommended meeting your child up at the school and talking to the administration, “Meet with your son or daughter going to the school and meeting with some of the people in the administration. Say ‘I don’t know if we’ve all heard about this, but I have this situation with my son or daughter that’s very personal to me. Now I want to find out what our next steps are.’”

Beyond the school hierarchy you can leverage the anti-bullying community you built. “What parents can do is communicate with each other, brainstorm, and get ideas. Approach the school.” He expanded on the term “ideas.” “That’s a very big word right there, small in letters but big in effect- ideas. Have ideas flow back and forth from parents.”

Upon anti-bullying ideas coming to fruition, consider sending inquiries to the media. “Approach local media, it may even be just the small community paper. Say ‘We’re parents who want to have our voices heard. We’ve developed this program.’” A little publicity can go a long way.

Reaching Your Last Resort

Unfortunately sometimes you may encounter resistance in your efforts. Perhaps an administrator constantly dismisses your concerns. In such a scenario Bartoli suggests taking your worries to the next level on the school hierarchy. “I say this as a last resort but more parents are doing this, making their voices heard at the local level at the school board meetings.”

He advised “Do it in a constructive way but do it in a way that will address the issue and do it factually.” One way includes sharing specific instances. If that fails, Bartoli brought back up the media. “Go to local media outlets and do what you can to report this to local news stations. They might not do the story but they might.”

The final last resort involves changing schools. Bartoli recalled a mother who ended up taking said action. “She pulled her eighth grade daughter out because the bullying was relentless and she had already gone to the school board.” The mother told Bartoli the breaking point. “She said kids were kicking crutches out from under her (daughter). She said ‘No way! Tony these students need to learn empathy.’”

A Final Plea from Tony Bartoli

Tony Bartoli ended our interview with a plea to not just parents but all adults involved in education. “Teachers, parents, schools, administrators, local school boards, listen because it’s out there and if we just shut down or say that our way is the best way, these kids are going to shut down. We don’t want that.”

For more about Tony Bartoli visit www.tonyb4hope.com.

*Image courtesy of Christopher Hayes, Wikimedia Commons

What Is The Best Way To Partner With Your Child’s Special Educator?

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By Janelle Espling

A version of this article was originally published on Janelle Espling’s blog.

Since your child has started getting services, you have probably had your fair share of educators come into your life, and sometimes into your home.  In Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings and IFSP meetings, we often say that we work together as a team to help your child.  However, many times there is a disparity between the parent and the teacher.  Working with your child’s teacher will help them reach their maximum potential.  The biggest tip I can give you is that you need to communicate.  Communicate often!  Communicate at least weekly or even daily.

Here are 10 Ways To Build A Partnership With Your Child’s Special Education Teacher

  1. Communicate the highs and lows. If your child had a rough night, tell your teacher.  This has the possibility of impacting their day at school. If they had a great weekend, tell the teacher.  You could even send pictures to the teacher of fun things that happened over the weekend so your child could share their experience at school.
  2. Inform your teacher of things that your child loves and hates. For example, if Finding Nemo scares your child, let the teacher know so she won’t use a Nemo sticker as a reward. The teacher needs to know what your child has adverse reactions to. If your child loves Spongebob, your teacher can use that  in the classroom to make rewards meaningful, and lessons engaging.
  3. Discuss new skills and new behaviors. When your child has a new skill, jot down a note for your teacher.  Sometimes students will not generalize skills from one environment to another.  Therefore, it is important to maintain a flow of communication.  When you see new behaviors at home, you may also want to tell the teacher to see if your child is doing these behaviors at school as well. Keep the dialogue open to work cohesively together as a team.
  4. Say thank you. Teaching is a joy for me!  The best teacher is still human. It means the world to know that the effort I make is noticed and appreciated.  I don’t teach for a thank you.  I teach because I love kids and God has called me to teach.  But a thank you sure does lift my spirit on a tough day.
  5. Offer to help. Many teachers spend their own money on their classroom supplies.  If you can help in any way, it will be much appreciated.  It doesn’t have to be much- a box of Lysol wipes, holiday stickers from the dollar store, etc.  If you have some extra time, ask your teacher if she has crafts to be assembled or packets to staple. If you have means to help, you will BLESS the socks off your teacher.
  6. Ask for specific ways you can help your child academically. If you are struggling with a particular academic task at home, call the teacher or write a note to try and make a plan together.  Often times teachers use specific methods to teaching a new skill.  Your teacher can guide you through these methods.
  7. Ask if there are new skills they are doing at school. Many students will not naturally generalize skills from school to home (and vise versa). This means that they may do certain skills in one environment but do not show that ability in another environment.  You might be amazed at how independent your child is at school, that if given an opportunity and guidance, could do the same things at home.
  8. Ask if there are rewards your child will work for at school. Many times teachers use a variety of rewards- this could be fruit snacks, playing with trains, or iPad time.  If it works at school, you could also use similar rewards at home. You can use these tangible items or activities to reward positive behavior.
  9. Ask how you can enhance your child’s language skills at home. If your child uses a device at school, ask if you can use it at home.  Then make sure you use it.  If your child is using pictures at school, incorporate using pictures at home.  You can even have siblings use pictures or signs to communicate, to model effective use of these communication methods.  If your child is working on new vocabulary words, or specific articulation exercises, work on these things at home as well. The more exposures, the better.
  10. Ask how to build social skills. A school environment is very different than a home environment.  Your child is likely to have different types of social interactions at school than home.  Your educator may be working on board games and learning the concept of losing.  Your child might be learning how to ask a friend to play with them.  Specifically ask how you can build social skills at home.

These tips are very simple, but based on my experience, and the experiences of many of colleagues, parents that use these tips are rare.  One last word of advice, if your teacher writes notes, initial or comment so that he/she knows you read the note.  The teacher will probably be more inclined to write notes if I know the parents are reading.So send emails, write notes, be kind, and consider your child’s educator as someone on your team to help your child.  I believe with all my heart that God specifically places people into our lives with intention, not by fate or by chance.  Take advantage of the expertise of the people that love and support your child.  We are all in this together.  When educators and parents work together to support the child, we can effectively support the child and make a maximum impact.

How do you build a partnership with your child’s teacher? Share with us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Photo Credit:  Aidan Jones

janelle esplingJanelle Espling is passionate about serving children with special needs and providing support for their families. As a special education teacher for children with moderate to severe disabilities, bringing hope and transformation has been her life mission for more than a decade.
Janelle’s message of hope has touched the hearts of audiences around the world as a dynamic and versatile keynote speaker and workshop presenter. Janelle is the Author of the book, “Autism is not the End: A Christian Family Survival Guide for Autism.” Currently, she serves on staff at Relevant Church in Riverside, California, alongside her husband, Scott.

First Day: Hello My Name Is Zachary.

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Considering how some teachers on the first school day go around the classroom allowing students to introduce themselves, I thought my first post as a Think Inclusive staff writer should introduce me. Shall we get acquainted through some common first day school questions?

What’s your name? I’m Zachary Fenell. However, you can just call me Zachary.

What grade are you in? Well, I’m in my fifth year freelance writing so I guess you could say I’m a fifth-year writer. If you read disability-related materials online, my name may seem familiar. Back in 2010 I published some disability-related articles for Disaboom. From there other writing opportunities within the disability niche emerged.

Like Tim mentioned in his post breaking the news about Think Inclusive’s expansion, I’m a regular presence at The Mobility Resource and Handicap This!  I helped contribute to Special Education Guide. Plus, via the Yahoo! Contributor Network I received publication on Yahoo! Health.

Besides my freelance work, I’m a self-published author. My teen memoir Off Balanced (out on the Kindle and Nook) documents how growing up with the neurological disability cerebral palsy (CP) affected me socially throughout adolescence. Despite my CP’s mildness, I felt pretty burdened.

What do you already know about [insert subject]? Ask this question with “inclusion” as the inserted subject. So you want to know, what do I already know about inclusion? Learning in mainstream classrooms during my educational career I obtained much firsthand experience inside an inclusive environment.

Accommodations found on my IEP over the years included both pullout and in-class services. The pullout services largely came in elementary school, basically speech therapy and physical therapy. Thanks to my mother’s strong-minded nature I never missed the core subjects due to getting pulled out.

In-class services ranged from working a minimal time with the school’s occupational therapist and sitting up front to compensate for my vision issues to as I became older riding the elevator and receiving a set of textbooks to keep at home. These accommodations either aimed to preserve my physical safety and/or give me the chance to succeed academically.

Now obviously I realize inclusion extends beyond my individual case. Networking with those in the education field, reading article after article, and writing about the topic I understand the subject’s complexity. Generalizing especially appears risky. Creating effective educational strategies based around each individual student seems the best practice.

What do you hope to learn? Writing for Think Inclusive brings me an ideal opportunity to understand special education and inclusion from the educator’s perspective. Comprehending multiple perspectives really enhances one’s insights. While a student I failed to think about education from any other viewpoint than the student’s.

Penning Off Balanced left me seeking my parent’s standpoint. Documenting a fair account remained important to me. Rather than reflecting back and saying “I could’ve used the stairs at school. You were overprotective Mom and Dad,” I attempted to see their side. I desired to know, “Why did you want these accommodations for me? How did my negative emotional responses make you feel?”

Think Inclusive’s target audience puts me in a position to turn my attention to educators’ perspectives.  Gearing my writing towards you good reader will leave me to think differently than before, making me a better, well-rounded resource on education.

Share a fun fact about yourself. Timing for today’s post proves wonderful because I’m currently running my first book giveaway contest. One Kindle or Nook owner could win Off Balanced for his or her device. Read instructions for entry at my website. The contest ends this Friday, December 20th at 5:00pm EST. Good luck!

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