Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Until All Means All: Redefining Inclusion

Until All Means All: Redefining Inclusion

By Lydia Wayman

If you have a moment, do a search for “inclusion in education.”  When I did the same search, I quickly discovered that the definitions fell into two categories: those that focused on the inclusion of disabled students (see why I use identify-first language here) among their non-disabled peers and those that took the broader perspective of educating all students in the same environment in meaningful ways.  The difference might not seem important.  After all, if a student has no diagnosis or learning issues, why would he or she even have a need for inclusion?

I was very strong in academics.  I could read by age three, and I finished the 4th grade math curriculum in the second week of kindergarten.  I was the youngest student in my district’s history to enter the gifted program, where IQ tests showed my verbal IQ to be near the test ceiling. In high school, I combined my junior and senior years and went to college at 17.  But… that’s only one side of the story.

As early as second grade, I had issues with teachers.  In third grade, I was bored and asked to be taught from advanced curriculum, but the IEP team determined that I was “lazy” and “not completing work” as it was and thus would not be permitted to do advanced work.  In the report, my state scores (99th and 98th percentiles) and IQ score are on the same page as the comment from one teacher that “Lydia is an average learner,” which shows the bias and the fact that I butted heads with that teacher. In ninth grade, when I broke down in the orchestra room, my teacher said that it was no wonder other kids were mean to me, and that if I would just be “a little less maniacal,” that they wouldn’t be so cruel.  At an elite, private school as an undergrad, several my professors said I was rude and disrespectful.  I asked my parents how I could possibly disrespectful… didn’t my complete panic and shame over the fact that I even made the professors feel that way show that I respected them very much?

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 21, in my final semester of college.  Things got significantly worse for several years following my diagnosis, including a failure to succeed under the social and sensory demands of student teaching.  I left my placement after three weeks, but I was offered an alternative assignment and still graduated, though without a teaching license.

I am now one term from completing my M.F.A. in English and creative writing.  My graduate experience has been altogether different than my lifelong struggle as an academically-capable but often very unaccepted student.   I finally realized that my graduate program sees me as an individual… they value my strengths, but they don’t discount my weaknesses.  I am registered with Disability Services for medical issues in order to substantiate any need for absences, which I have never needed to use, but I am not registered under any needs related to autism.  As each term begins, I introduce myself, and since we all discuss our backgrounds and current work, it is easy to drop the hint, since I say that I’m an “autistic advocate.”  My professors have been completely positive about this and I have yet to experience a negative interaction with any of them.

I did a mentoring course where I assisted with an undergraduate composition class last term, and when I told my mentor that I am autistic, his response was that he was excited to have a different perspective in his classroom.  I excelled in the course, which left me feeling a bit redeemed from my undergraduate experience in student teaching.  My success came from three things: five years of growing up, an academic environment that plays to my strengths in writing (since it is online), and a school that values every student and strikes the balance between maintaining high standards while understanding individual needs.

I am extremely grateful to have found the school and program.  I believe in the school’s mission and support of all students to the point that my aspiration is to go on to teach in the school’s online undergraduate program.  But I am left wondering… why did it take until graduate school to find this environment?

A definition of inclusion that only focuses on disabled students is problematic because the reality is that every single student, no matter how bright, has weaknesses.  Those weaknesses may have nothing to do with academics, but no person alive is a uniform set of strengths.  When I was young, I was frequently (oh, how frequently) accused of being “smart enough to know better” or “too intelligent to make this (often social) mistake.”  Teachers in elementary, middle, high school, and even college classrooms were so focused on my academic abilities that they were completely blind to the fact that my very real disabilities were affecting me in important ways—socially, emotionally, and even physically.

There are certainly different ways to attack this problem.  We can educate teachers about autism and ADHD and learning disabilities and every other possible disability that an unidentified child might have.  We can also make teachers in gifted programs aware of disabilities to counteract the “not our kids!” attitude.  We can spread the word on college campuses and encourage awareness campaigns so that young adults are aware that some people get to college-age and beyond without being identified.  But, whenever possible, I like to approach problems from a broad enough perspective so as to help as many people as possible… so, I think the simplest solution (or one part of a solution) is to change the way we talk about inclusion.

It’s about students in special programs, and students who work with the aid of a paraprofessional, and those who are quiet but work hard, and students who act out, and students who seem to be academically brilliant but socially clueless, and those who excel in every way and seem to have no weaknesses at all….

In fact, that last student does not exist.  None of us are uniformly strong, and when teachers see a student as “perfectly capable” but then blame an 8-year-old for her own struggles, it helps no one… least of all the child.

Inclusion isn’t about “those” kids or “these” kids… it’s about understanding that intelligence takes many forms and finding ways to accept every one of them in the classroom.  It’s about reaching, teaching, and including all kids.

Photo Credit: NASA/Flickr

Lydia WaymanLydia Wayman is an autistic young adult and advocate. She has her B.S. in Elementary Education and will finish her MFA in English and Creative Writing in November of 2014. 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.

Bullying is a Culture Problem

Bullying Is A Culture Problem

Bullying on Instituto Regional Federico Errázuriz (IRFE) in March 5, 2007” by Diego GrezOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons./”Rebecca1917version“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

By Torrie Dunlap

Back in the mid-90s, I ran a scholarship program for high school students. This was an annual program of the theater education company where I worked, and it was always one of the highlights of my year. I loved helping students with their applications and teaching them interview skills. As I sat through the interview with each student, I was always surprised to hear things like, “When I come to this program I feel like I can be myself. When I go to school I feel oppressed.” Or, “This place is my safe place.” These were talented, smart young people who were bound to be successful in life. But they all had stories of being picked on, bullied and tormented in settings they deemed “unsafe.” This is when it occurred to me that bullying is a culture and climate problem.

McCarthy’s Son Was Bullied at Camp

Recently, Jenny McCarthy shared on her TV show, The View, that her 12-year-old son Evan, who has autism, was being bullied at his summer camp. While Ms. McCarthy’s views on autism and its cause are not in line with our own at KIT, bullying is a serious problem and there is a small body of research that shows that kids with disabilities are experiencing it two to three times as often as kids without disabilities. As Ms. McCarthy mentioned to her colleagues on the show, because Evan has autism, he isn’t picking up on the social cues that would let him know that he is being bullied. He believes these tormentors are his friends.

There is a lot of work being done by a lot of great organizations to try and eradicate bullying.  Just a Google search of “bullying” yields over 25 million results which provide the best strategies for teaching children to be self-advocates and for teaching children who bully a better way to get their needs met. However, in some ways these efforts are a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. We can try to identify every child who bullies, and we can coach children who are being bullied to stand up for themselves, and that will help a little. But, in order to truly make a dent in the bullying problem and its detrimental effects on the lives of our children, we have to work at a higher level.

Bullying is a Culture Problem

We need to see bullying as a culture problem. If our school, camp, and community leaders are intentionally creating climates where every person is valued for who they are and what they have to offer, we eliminate the need to bully. In an inclusive community that respects and appreciates diversity, people don’t put down the weakest member in order to feel better about themselves. Inclusive communities serve the needs of everyone in the group, and because members know they are safe, they take care of others. The members of the group feel a strong sense of belonging and there is a pride in community that is palpable. Children with autism, like Evan, can thrive in a setting that truly appreciates difference. They can find and develop true, reciprocal friendships. A supportive team of adults helps all the children and youth learn to build their social skills and learn to solve problems with others in a productive way.

A culture like this has to start at the top. Bullying is really an imbalance of power, and leaders need to work to make sure that this imbalance does not exist. It starts with how the adults treat each other. Children are very sensitive to dynamics and they will pick up on the imbalance of power at the adult level. If bullying is tolerated among the staff, it is pretty hard to tamp it down at the child level. All of the adults should be modeling good conflict resolution skills, healthy release of emotion and appreciation and acceptance for everyone in the program community.

Staff working with children need to reflect on the messages they are sending through their own behavior. Are there clear favorites in the group? Are there children that they are not so fond of and it shows?  Are the cultural values of the program made explicit from the very beginning? Have the values been shared with not only the children, but also their families, since differences in family values can play a role and can undermine program efforts to create a positive environment?

What Can Adults Do About Bullying?

As adults, it is our job to make our schools, camps and enrichment programs a physically and emotionally safe place for kids. We set the tone by creating a climate where everyone’s contributions are important and we model appropriate behavior for the children in our care. In giving advice to Ms. McCarthy, or any other parent, I suggest getting a feel for the culture and climate of the program before enrolling. If a bullying incident does occur I would watch closely how the staff responds. Finally, I would make sure that the program staff are actively working on building the social skills of all children in the program. Once bullying occurs, swift action should be taken. I believe, however, that we can do a better job of prevention by being very intentional and explicit in creating safe and supportive environments for all children.

torrie dunlapTorrie Dunlap is the Chief Executive Officer of Kids Included Together, a national organization whose mission is to support child care, recreation and youth-enrichment programs to include children with and without disabilities.

8 Things To Consider Before Filing For Due Process

8 Things To Consider Before Filing For Due Process.jpg Photo Credit: Clyde Robinson/Flickr

By Gail Pubols

2010 – We would never be the kind of parents to go to due process.

Gage was three, freshly diagnosed with ASD and attending a preschool autism program which we thought was excellent. We were not very familiar with “the system” yet, but we loved the teacher and the very supportive principal, who had a special ed background.  Things were looking pretty rosy for Gage as he steadily gained more skills. Eight months in, we started hearing whispers about a family in the same program that wasn’t so happy. They were the furthest thing from happy, in fact. They were going to something called “due process”. We had no idea what it was, but people told us it was akin to suing the school because it isn’t doing its job right. There were also whispers that these parents were delusional about their child’s abilities, that they just didn’t want to accept their child’s limitations, and that they were sue happy—trying to get services out of the school district that their child didn’t deserve! My husband and I didn’t understand. Having volunteered in the classroom, I couldn’t see what the school had done incorrectly. Knowing the teacher and the principal, we couldn’t understand how anyone could accuse them of not following an IEP. We felt terrible for the school team. And we felt bad for the family, too; we heard that they had been banned from the school. One thing we knew for sure—we would never be the kind of parents who would go to due process. We were not lawsuit people and didn’t even know any lawyers. If we ever had differences, we would find a way to work them out. Due process for us? No way!

2012 – The inclusionists and the segregationists.

Gage was five. The principal with the special ed background? The one who had a plan to include Gage in gen-ed? She got a promotion. The autism program teacher, whom we loved? She went out on medical leave. We hadn’t worked out the details of Gage’s inclusion in his IEP, because we knew our great teacher and inclusive principal would just make it work. Big mistake. And on top of that, the gen-ed teacher to whom Gage had been assigned… well, let’s just say that she presumed anything but competence when it came to Gage. The new principal, not having a special ed background, called in our area special ed supervisor when we wanted to meet about formulating a better plan for including Gage in a gen-ed classroom. This supervisor, sadly for us, was an old-school, dyed-in-the-wool special education segregationist. There was no way that Gage was going to be included under her watch.

We started asking for an IEP revision in the fall, and were put off, and put off, and put off again. Finally, in December, we wrote a formal letter requesting an IEP.  We also contacted an attorney, just to run our story by him, because it just didn’t seem right that they had put us off for that long. Our lawyer agreed and offered his services to help us get things back on track. Finally, it was scheduled for February—a whole six months into the school year! Six months of opportunity, gone. When we did have the IEP revision, our one big goal was for Gage to be prepared to be included for 1st grade. We had lost six months of valuable time for him to prepare, and we needed some intense measures to make up for that time so he could still make the transition successfully. The segregationist did not agree. The path she was proposing led straight to a self-contained program at a different school, away from the local school that Gage had attended since age three, away from his siblings and neighbors, away from everything that he knew. We took a deep breath, and in two signatures that said we disagreed, we became THOSE parents. We were going to due process. It was not what we wanted, but we felt we had no choice. We believed in our son. We would fight for his rights!

The next few months were very sad for us. No one from Gage’s classroom talked to us. We were temporarily banned from entering the school. I was the room mom for my older son’s class and was told by the office staff that I was not allowed to go to Griffin’s classroom or to be on campus. My husband was not allowed to come meet Griffin for lunch (nowhere near Gage’s room!). We complained and after a few days the school returned our call.  It was deemed “an unfortunate mistake,” and they made an apology. We had a feeling it wasn’t a mistake at all, but at the time, we were just relieved to be allowed back on campus.

The resolution meeting was awful. Everything “wrong” with our son was amplified and exaggerated by those who didn’t presume competence and seemed to be following theories about autism from the 1980’s: Make them appear normal like us before they get any academics! Not typical = bad! Life skills all the way, baby, potential for learning be damned! Still, we were not giving up on our son. We held strong, feeling fortunate to have a legal team who familiarized us with the IDEA and let us know how antiquated the special ed policies were in our district. They introduced us to the works of people like Lou Brown and Wayne Sailor, who both knew of our case and stood behind us. I found a Facebook page called “I Stand With Henry” and saw everything that Henry had been through to be included. Henry’s school district had put him through the ringer, and he still fought them courageously, at age 13!  Henry was the example of courage we were looking for. If Henry could stand up against the system for his civil rights, so could we.

Our district asked us if we wanted a public hearing. We said yes. We knew they were wrong to segregate disabled people and presume incompetence, and we wanted everyone to know it. We were set to go to hearing the last week of school (a whole school year wasted!).  The stress on our family was high, and we wondered if we were now the ones being whispered about as delusional and unaccepting of our son’s actual potential. We were heartbroken that they seemed to be throwing the still-on-medical leave autism teacher under the bus. They blamed her for the mess. We never did. We knew it was our district’s outdated policies and system we were up against. Then, a week before we were set to go to hearing, a short email came. A deal had been made. There would be no hearing. Gage would be included in first grade—100% gen-ed with full support. We were angry that Gage’s entire kindergarten year had been wasted but so relieved that he was finally going to get the chance he deserved.

2014 – Gage surprised everyone.

Gage is now seven. First grade is over. It was phenomenal. Gage had a teacher who presumed competence, an aide who had just the right touch, and a class full of awesome kids who accepted Gage just as he is, hair twirling and all. I think they learned as much from him as he did from them. I was the room mom (I couldn’t believe I was allowed to do it after everything we had been through) and for me, every day was teacher appreciation day. I was so grateful that Gage was being treated in the way he was. I did everything I could to make sure the teacher was supported. Gage was awesome! He surprised everyone by not being the big problem they had presented him to be in all of the meetings. After the first day, the teacher said to me, “He did great. I think he can do this.” “That’s what we have been trying to tell everyone,” I said, “That’s why we ended up in due process.”

Our IEP this year was still a tough one. The segregationists (who luckily aren’t at Gage’s school much) still want to segregate Gage. They spent a great deal of money on an “expert” saying that Gage belongs in “a special place”. Instead of supporting Gage and his team, they spent a lot of the school year collecting data that only focused on Gage’s deficits, and ignored the fact that he was passing 5 out of 6 classes, choosing instead to focus on his “autistic behavior” of… hair twirling and poor eye contact. As the segregationists read the expert’s report for 3 hours about why Gage needed to be sent away from his school and community, we mentally prepared to go to due process again. We were deflated and felt like all of Gage’s success and the team’s work might be for nothing.

And then an amazing thing happened. That principal, the one who didn’t have a special ed background and called in the segregationists? She said that Gage would stay. That he would be included in 2nd grade and supported again. They had seen Gage for who he was, they had seen that he had potential, and they were keeping him!

We could not be more grateful that we did not have to go to due process again this year. It was stressful for us and everyone else involved, I am sure. We can only hope that we never have to go through it again. It is dehumanizing to sit there and argue with professional educators who think your child is less and does not deserve his basic civil rights. It is gut-wrenching that they just want to throw your kid away. I cried more than once at home, and once during the resolution meeting, too. However, the result we have seen from fighting for Gage to be included has been tremendous. Gage is being prepared to be a fully included member of society. That is the path he is on now. He is learning to interact with neurotypicals, and they are learning to interact with him. His inclusion is invaluable. His inclusion is his right. His inclusion is helping everyone, not just Gage.

So was going to due process hard? Yes, it was.

Was it worth it? Yes, it was.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Because Gage deserves nothing less than equal rights. All of our kids do.


My advice for anyone thinking of filing for due process:

  1. Get the help of a lawyer who specializes in special education. An advocate or parent mentor can be a great help in your actual IEP or resolution meeting, but IDEA says that in the actual due process hearing, only an attorney, or yourself without an advocate, can represent you. Look for legal aid in your area, who will often help pro bono. If you make too much money to qualify, most special education attorneys charge a reasonable amount and will likely put you on a payment plan.
  2. Be prepared to have a lot less communication from your child’s classroom. This should NOT affect your ability to enter the school, for instance, if you are volunteering in another child’s class. However, for some reason, the school may think that you will be engaging in discovery for your due process hearing, and you need to be kept away from your child’s classroom and team. This is usually not the case. It is most likely you probably have all of the evidence you think you need before filing. But be ready for this, anyway.
  3. Remember that the teacher and the school team are not necessarily against you, but they may not have the ability to provide the kind of accommodations that your child needs. By going to due process, you are forcing the district to provide the support that the school would like but may not have the budget to provide. Inclusion doesn’t work without well-thought-out accommodations and the right supports. If you need to fight to make sure the teacher and student are properly supported so everyone can succeed, do it. It is hard, but it is best for everyone to have the right supports
  4. Due process should be a last resort. It is not a fun process and will certainly cause stress. Do everything you can to work with the school to come to a good solution. Sometimes, however, schools just to not have the resources they need to work with you, or are not willing to follow IDEA because “that’s not the way we have done it in the past,” or they are just plain unaware of what IDEA says and so don’t realize they are breaking the law. In these cases, for the sake of equality, you need to help them learn IDEA just a little bit better.
  5. Get support. Seek out people who have been through the process before through advocacy groups and social media. You may feel like you are all alone if you are the only “problem” parent or student at your school. You aren’t!
  6. Don’t be afraid. Due process is just a process. As emotionally difficult as it was for us, it was worth it. If your child is being denied basic civil rights, basic human rights, or being treated as “less”, and you can’t come to a reasonable solution with the school—go! Fight for your kid. They deserve nothing less.
  7. Just because you’re the “problem” parent or student, doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Disability laws have been slowly changing in the past few decades because of “problem” students, self-advocates, and parents just like us.
  8. Don’t stop once you have what you want. Keep supporting the teacher and the school. Make sure that they know that you are just as invested in education as they are. You are an important part of the team, so don’t quit when the due process is over. Inclusion works so much better when everyone works together.

About Gail

I live in Henderson, Nevada with my brilliant children Griffin, Gage, and Gibson, and my hard working husband Gordon Gilbert, who claims they get it from him. Some of the people in our house have ASD’s, some do not. All deserve to be included in our community and our neighborhood schools. We are fighting every day to make sure that happens. I blog about it at

How Do You Start An Inclusive Private School?

private school

One of the first things Tim and I discussed when I started writing for Think Inclusive was my unique perspective as a director of an inclusive private school. It often comes as a surprise to many that private religious schools are not bound by the same laws that govern public secular schools. This means that inclusion of all children, regardless of ability, could well be an afterthought. How do we ensure that it is not?

When delivering speeches or leading workshops I like to make the “hot dog” joke. You know, as a religious organization we are committed to inclusion because, “We answer to higher authority!”

It gets a laugh, but it resonates. And it’s the truth. Religious schools may not be legally obligated, but we are certainly morally obligated to include all of our students.

So, how do we do it?

There are two schools of thought to guide those seeking to start a program:

  1. Work with the existing population to meet their needs in the most successful ways possible.
  2. Create inclusive program structures, market aggressively and students will come.

I believe that most schools need a balance of both. If you are at square one, it is ok to be a little reactive. If there are students who are struggling to find success in your existing program, I think your school owes it to them to develop the strategies and programs necessary to support them appropriately. But I urge caution. When we simply create programs around specific students, we can run the risk of segregating and/or excluding them. It is always the ideal, even as you work to meet individual needs, to strive to create sustainable, ongoing inclusive structures.

The following questions can help you to launch the process:

  • Are there children currently in your school who are struggling to learn in the traditional classroom programs?
  • Are there families that are a part of your school community that do not send one of their children because they believe that you “can’t handle them”?
  • Are there families that you have had to turn away because you do not have the appropriate resources?

When our school we began to examine issues of inclusion more closely thirteen years ago, we recognized that there were children in our program who were significantly struggling to learn Hebrew in our traditional classrooms. As a result, some were acting out, while others were completely shutting down. We wanted these children to love religious school, to gain an understanding of their Jewish heritage and to feel connected to their Jewish community;; these are the same things we want for all of our children. That was enough of an incentive for us to work with the families and develop the structures that would meet the students’ needs more effectively. But we did not stop there. That was simply the springboard to ensure that as we moved forward, each new program was designed to be accessible and inclusive.

While programs need to be accessible, inclusion is an attitude. Inclusion is a deep seated belief that every child is special is his/her own way, and that every child has a unique capacity to learn, grow and contribute to the world. It really isn’t the program that we create or the class that we teach or the students that we strive to engage. A school is truly successful when inclusion is a part of the culture and when it is a genuine and integral part of the school’s mission.

If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on My First Day Teaching

If I Knew Then- A Letter to Me on My First Day Teaching - YouTube.clipular

Today is National Teacher Day in the United States. Coincidentally, it is also National Nurses Day (I know because I am married to one). I came across this video, which was co-produced by Edutopia and SoulPancake, while skimming through my email this evening. It was too good not to share. Teaching is a tough gig. But the rewards are amazing (and not it is not just about the summers off). Watch this video where educators write a letter to themselves about what they would have liked to have known on their first day of teaching. Just try not to be inspired…and then share it with a teacher you know.

Click on the button to read the “9 Things Teachers Do Gladly” from Edutopia.

Eleven Things Every Inclusive Educator Should Know


Dr. Julie Causton (Inspire Inclusion) gives us Eleven Things Every Inclusive Educator Should Know. Share with as many educators as you can. Important lessons for everyone.

Photo Credit: Jens Rötzsch (Jens Rötzsch) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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.


“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.

What We Are Talking About When We Talk About Inclusion


What do we mean when we talk about inclusion? This succinct article by the Institute For Community Inclusion is a good place to start.

Let’s begin with their definition of “inclusion”.

Inclusion means that all people, regardless of their abilities, disabilities, or health care needs, have the right to:

  • Be respected and appreciated as valuable members of their communities
  • Participate in recreational activities in neighborhood settings
  • Work at jobs in the community that pay a competitive wage and have careers that use their capacities to the fullest
  • Attend general education classes with peers from preschool through college and continuing education

While I believe that this definition might rub some people on the more politically conservative end of the spectrum the wrong way, I think that this is a good start. Which brings me to the only point I am going to make about this article, which you can read later. The notion that we need to do something “extra” or “special” for people with disabilities is (I think) thinking about it the wrong way. Inclusion is not simply about putting people with disabilities and people without disabilities together by proximity. It is about valuing everyone.

Yep. It is that simple. Not easy. Or likely. But that simple.

To read the entire article from the Institute For Community Inclusion –>> CLICK HERE

What do you think? What do you mean when you talk about inclusion? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

Photo Credit:  Marc Wathieu

Do We Really Believe In Inclusion?


By Chris Wejr

A version of this article was originally published at The Wejr Board.

NOTE: This particular article was written from the perspective of an administrator in British Columbia, Canada. 

As an education system and society, we have made huge strides in the inclusion of students with visible disabilities in our classrooms, groups, sports, and friendships.  I wonder, though, if we have made as much progress in including ALL students… especially those who appear on the outside to be similar yet are different (or perceived to be) on the inside.  I am not talking about the act of everyone having a seat in a classroom; I am talking about having a mindset of real inclusion.

“We all have one basic desire and goal: to belong and to feel significant” — Alfred Adler

This is an area in which I have far more questions than answers but here are some observations that make me wonder if we REALLY believe in inclusion.

  • I have seen parents/caregivers of children with behaviour challenges (due to a wide variety of reasons) judged, scolded, and ostracized for being a bad parent when the behaviours are often far beyond their control.
  • I have seen and heard of children going through their entire elementary school years and never receiving an invite to a birthday party.
  • I continue to hear the terms “gay” and “retard” used in derogatory ways from adults and students.
  • I continue to hear and see students and adults from the LGBTQ community not being accepted and included… and unable to be themselves in certain environments.
  • I see students not being able to attend schools of choice because their families do not have the capital (ex. money or transportation) to access.
  • I have heard adults say, “why can’t they just work harder?” when discussing how people from poverty could/should gain more resources.
  • I know of people that will not hire certain applicants based on their culture and/or race.
  • I have heard the statement “I don’t want my child in a class with THAT boy/girl”.
  • I have seen many students not get the needed funding for support in schools because they do not have the correct diagnosis… or worse yet… correct paperwork.
  • I have heard people state that Aboriginal people need to move past the impact of residential schools and colonialism… and just “get over it”.

These observations sadden me as they demonstrate a lack of understanding and empathy. They make me question what we actually believe when it comes to the goal of inclusion; however, there are also many examples that give me hope.

  • I have seen a parent reach out their hand to help another parent struggling with a child meltdown at the supermarket.
  • I have seen students tell others that “it’s not cool to use that word” when hearing the “g-word”.
  • I have seen huge numbers of students embracing students that are different and actually working together to create change.
  • I have heard and seen parents and teachers modeling empathy and inclusion to other adults and children.
  • I have seen parents ask the family of a child, who struggles with behaviour challenges and lacks real friendships, if they would like to meet up for a play date for their kids.
  • I have seen and heard of many teachers providing the opportunities for students to bring their strengths into the classroom and demonstrate their learning in ways that create more confidence and success.
  • I have seen many districts create policies to end homophobia, heterosexism,  and other acts of prejudice in schools.
  • I have seen educators and community members actually listening and supporting First Nation communities to develop ideas and plans to help all students.
  • I have seen parents of students with disabilities reaching out to others to help them get over the many challenging times.
  • I have seen schools become the safest and most caring places in some of our students’ lives.

The latter examples inspire me. They show courage and leadership. In order to include and accept all people, we must first seek to understand and listen to the stories of our students and neighbours.  We need to educate about the importance of inclusion and acceptance of ALL students (and adults) not only in our schools but also beyond our walls into the communities and business world.

First we need to ask the question, do we REALLY believe in inclusion?  Then we need to reach out a hand rather than point a finger. We need to continually act and create environments that model empathy, care, and equity… and work toward a society of real inclusion.

 I was given the book “Don’t we already DO inclusion?”, by Paula Kluth, by some parents at my former school so I looking forward to diving into that to learn more practices to help me in this area.

Still learning, reflecting… and coming up with more questions that answers.  

Do you have any ideas of how you or your school/community are encouraging inclusion so others can benefit? Share them with us in the comments section below!


About Chris
Chris is a father of 3 year old twin girls and a former high school PE/Science/Math teacher and volleyball coach.  He currently works as a teacher/principal of James Hill Elementary in Langley, British Columbia.  Previous to this, he worked as a teacher/principal in the community of Agassiz, British Columbia in which he worked with the staff to create positive changes in school culture, student motivation, assessment, technology, passion-based learning, and parent engagement.  He also advises and works on committees with the British Columbia Ministry of Education and other agencies to create educational change in areas such as curriculum, assessment, and technology. Chris learns and shares with others in his network on Twitter at @chriswejr as well as on his blog at


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