Saturday, December 9, 2017

Inclusion, We Have a Long Way To Go.


Yesterday we wrapped up inclusive schools week.  I used to do much more to celebrate this week in past years because I thought true inclusion was happening in the schools around me.  However, as I continue to study IEP’s to help my son and other families in the community, I realize that true inclusion is not a reality for most students with Down syndrome in my state. 

Mainstreaming is the norm. 

Yes, kids with Down syndrome are being educated in their neighborhood schools.  They are often welcomed at lunch, recess, and they may even be included in a music or PE class or art class.   But in reality, getting them into general education typical classrooms is a struggle.    Before we go further, let describe what good inclusion looks like.  Good inclusion is where kids with learning disabilities are taught along with their typically developing peers in a general education classroom, doing work modified to their current level of education with or without a para educator to assist them.  This model of inclusion can and does happen every day in classes from preschool to post-secondary  educational settings across the country.  Not only does every study show that most kids with learning disabilities, achieve greater success from learning in in inclusive environment with support, these same studies show that typically developing peers do better in classes that include children with learning disabilities.  

So why isn’t every classroom in the state an inclusive classroom?  There are many reasons.  First off it is indeed more work for the teacher.  Think back to the days of one room schools where kids of all ages and abilities were taught together.  Modern teachers are not used to or prepared to do a lot of differentiated teaching.  Secondly, since there are a handful of students that do learn better in a quieter setting with more one on one teaching, and the school had to put in the time and expense to set that model up for one student, why not just used it for all the student with learning disabilities.  But in my opinion one of the most common reasons that inclusion is not practiced more is that because schools “tried it” and it did not work.  Often that means putting a kids in a typical classroom with little to no support and expecting them to know how to behave and keep up.  The term I use for this is bad inclusion, and it happens all too often. 

Yesterday I saw the movie “Wonder”.  In this movie a boy with a physical disability was included in a typical 5th grade classroom and was finally accepted by his peers.  I think the overall theme of the movie is to show the growth in those around the main character Auggie.  His presence in school was not easy for him but it brought out the best in some of the people around him.  But Auggie did not have a learning disability, in fact he was far above his peers academically.  Do those same opportunities for growth occur when kids are tucked away in special needs classrooms?  I don’t think so. 

Last night at the end of my son’s JV basketball game there was a nice moment that many will feel was possible because of inclusion.  The other team had a young man with Down syndrome on the team.  With a few seconds left, the other couch called a time out, put in the young man with Down syndrome and drew up a play to get him a 3 point shot.  My middle son who was playing saw what was happening and told his team mates that no one was to block that shot and made sure he was guarding the young man.  The shot went up but missed by a fraction of an inch.  The crowd let out a collective sigh, but then one of our guys tipped the ball back to the young man.  He put up another shot that went in just as the buzzer went off and everyone in the gym cheered.   It was a special moment for this young man and a feel good moment for the fans.  But was it made possible because of inclusion?  I think it was, but it does show just how far we to go.  You see true inclusion will happen when nice moments like this become the norm.  When it is not a big deal to put a kid with Down syndrome in the game, or include them in a typical classroom with support, or have them participate in Holiday program without the teacher calling to say, don’t expect much from your child tonight.  True inclusion means accepting everyone as valuable members of the school. 



So while we wrap up inclusive schools week, I hope those teachers who are rocking inclusion were truly celebrated and encouraged to continue their efforts.  I also hope that parents who feel that inclusion is the best and least restrictive learning environment for their child speak up, advocate and help make inclusion the norm.