Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Is it *Really* Inclusion?

Our school district practices inclusion. Really though, it looks more like "mainstreaming" than it does true inclusion. There is a big difference between the two models. But whatever...I don't want to get into all that right now.

All of my kids spend some time during the day in the regular ed, aka "mainstream" classroom. When in those mainstream classrooms they are supposed to be fully included while there. One of my kids classes has a "buddy" program with another class, and they frequently do activities together during the school day. But these are fake friendships. How do I know? Because when the classes go their separate ways those friendships are left at the door. "Real" friends invite their friends to activities outside of the school day, things like going to the movies, out for a burger, a sleepover, a high school sporting event.

But what happens when the school bell rings and all the kids go home? As I mentioned above, those fake friendships get left at the door, where the school credit and the volunteer hours that look so good on college resumes end.

Special educators, and even some mainstream teachers, are aware of inclusion and if they're good they know how to foster it. They make sure to get students with special needs included in school activities. But what is being done for the mainstream students so that they, too, understand what inclusion really means. Do they know what "isolation" means? Do they know what it looks like?

I know one school district in our area that has a great friendship program. It is not for credit. It is for those students who WANT to be involved in it. Through those interactions the students develop true friendships. I have some thoughts about things that could help foster real friendships between students in special education and their mainstream peers.

Since our district is in homecoming week right now, I'll start there. I have been to school pepfests prior to big games. The Special Ed students sit with the other special ed students in their grade level. I honestly don't know if it's because they're told to or this is where they feel comfortable. How about a buddy program instead? Let the special ed student sit with their buddy buried amongst the other students. I can guarantee they'd rather sit with their peers than with support staff. And what about the Homecoming game? Who do "our kids" sit with at the game? Every game we have gone to Angela has sat with us, which is NOT where she wants to be. Evidenced by the fact I have to keep hunting her down, and always she has made her way to the middle of the crowd of her regular ed. peers. She looks at me and waves with a HUGE grin because she is right where she wants to be. With her friends, not her parents. Just like any other kid. Schools make a big deal out of fostering school spirit, but I think sometimes people forget all the different people who make up the community that is school.

Look at the Homecoming dance. Could a group of girls take one special ed student under their wing for dance prep? Hair, make up and all that jazz? Invite the special ed students to hang out with theme at the  dance instead of leaving them standing on the fringes (or not attending the dance at all because they've been so badly excluded and no longer feel comfortable in that environment.)

Prom dress shopping. Angela is my first and only girl, but I'm guessing a lot of girls go shopping for prom dresses together? There is an area school who puts on a special prom for students with disabilities. Our district does a special prom too, but really? Should they have to? Shouldn't our kids feel comfortable going to the regular prom? At their own school?

Aren't all of these activities, along with others throughout the school year, part of building our memories of high school? Just as my kids are entitled to an inclusive education, aren't they also entitled to the same memories their mainstream peers get to have?

Let me hear your thoughts. What are some other ways to foster inclusion with the regular ed students in my child's school or yours? What is your school doing that works? What aren't they doing that you'd like to see changed?

41 comments:

Unknown said...

I live in Chelsea, Michigan. The next town over is Dexter, Michigan. I just read on our on-line newspaper that the sophomore Homecoming Queen happened to have Down Syndrome.

http://www.heritage.com/articles/2013/10/01/dexter_leader/news/doc524ad9adf035f377352028.txt

Leah Spring said...

Thanks for your comment. Yes, this happens all over the US every year. But what are those schools doing differently to foster inclusion?

MVI Mission House said...

It takes 1 popular student to make it work. In a district I used to work in, one girl was friends with a student with special needs from 1st grade. She invited him to her house, took him to dinner when her family went out, and he was then accepted by the whole school community. The other kids were then accepted as well. It takes 1. Just 1.

Speechless said...

We've been thinking a lot about how to make this work with one of my students (and, always, with K as well). I've been in a district where inclusion worked, and two districts where inclusion didn't work...

Here are my observations: In the district where it worked, it was the norm. Inclusion was supported from administration on down, and all of the staff and students knew it. They were expected to make it work...there was no sending the student back to self-contained if there was an issue. Services were provided IN the classroom (co-teaching) when at all possible, and the students were taught to include their peers from a very young age. The guidance counselors did a LOT of work with the young students to educate them. There were fun activities planned (lunch group, etc) with the guidance counselor to facilitate the interactions at first, etc.

In the districts where it didn't work well, there were only specific students who were "included." (Parents pushed for it.) The students were just placed in a mainstream class with a para, pulled out for special education services, etc. Think about it from a student's perspective: You have a group of classmates that you're with all week long, and then maybe at lunch or gym, a few students who are maybe a little different...loud, or in your space, or not following all the same rules. Maybe they are hard to understand or don't communicate like you do...The student might be aware enough to be kind, but they aren't going to have the skills to interact. And, unfortunately, the students with special needs haven't usually had the same behavioral expectations as their peers, so it's even harder to integrate them without a paraprofessional leading every step of the way--which puts another wall up between the student and his/her peers.

Right now, the school K is in is trying their best, but full inclusion isn't something they know how to do. Basically, they have placed him in the classroom...but there's not a lot done to facilitate actual inclusion. Because K doesn't show a lot of outward interest in the other kids, it makes it even harder for them to understand why it's important for them to help make it work. I've gone in to his class and talked to the students, I've really pushed for the staff to have the same behavioral expectations for K that they do for all of the other students (social skills go a LONG way with typical peers), and I've asked his para to back off at any times during the day that it's possible. Allowing students with special needs to have poor boundaries within a self-contained class leads into having poor boundaries in a mainstream class, etc.

Unfortunately, I'm seeing the outcome of poor inclusion with one of my middle school students. The student has no real friendships because the students "know" her, but they haven't been educated on how to interact. Everyone just plopped her into the class in kindergarten and assumed that the kids would just "get" it. They are kind to her, and they try to interact, but it's hard for them to understand that she might want to be friends, even if they don't have the same interests or ability to communicate. So, now, she doesn't fit in the self-contained classroom and she doesn't fit in the mainstream classroom...it's sad. I really think that it HAS to be IMPORTANT to everyone, district-wide, and it has to start at a young age.

KT said...

Wow. I could've written this post. My stepdaughter is 26 and has Down Syndrome. She was "included" throughout her education, but as you say, not included OUTSIDE of the classroom. Her high school had a Best Buddies program, but honestly, it all seemed forced. I agree with previous commenter -- if one regular ed student cultivates a "real" friendship with with a special ed student from early on in life, I think it can be "contagious." Out of all of the memories I have of my stepdaughter in school, one that stands out is of her wanting to be part of a circle of girls laughing and talking and them not allowing that to happen.

Claire said...

I took part in an after school kayaking ans sailing program for pupils at my school and a special needs school. We all had a fab time, but friendships were slow to form. However, I persevered.
That was when I was 12-15. Aged 15 I started working at the summer holiday program of for the other school as a volunteer and then paid. Some of the workers at the holiday program were older students. We all did the work we could - as equals.
I have at least 2 friends I made then who are still friends now.

Kimberly Jackson said...

I am on the fence with this issue.I had a daughter that did not go shopping for homecoming dresses with her friends.It did not bother her one but that this was a mom and me time. Actually enjoys shopping with mom. I spent many hours standing outside a dressing room holding 10 dresses to give her as she eliminated her choices LOL

She did not have the close relationships with friends you are talking about and she has turned out just fine.

Most of her friends were band kids who shared the music interest with her. But not alot of hanging out outside of school.

I always told my daughter she had to be friendly with other kids. She was taught compassion and now as a adult that has the volunteer/activism passion.

Would she have taken one of your kids aside and formed a special friendship? It is hard to say. I have always taught her to follow her passions. She befriended many "new" kids that no-one seemed to be wanted to be bothered by. She was the 1st one to say...I will sit by you at lunch, or I will show you where the bathroom is.

I guess what I am trying to say is I raised a very well rounded kid that didn't have a lot of outside school friendships and she did just fine.

I have my thoughts about inclusion but I will not share them because you would not like them.

If your school does not offer the opportunities for your children you feel they need, I say find activities outside the school where your children can make the kind of friendships you feel they need to thrive.

My daughter did not have the connections you want for your children but I found things outside of school that she excelled in and made her happy.

Kimberly Jackson said...

Just wanted to add that rather than wasting time trying to change other parents. Use that effort to find things/ groups outside of school that will help your kids form friendships.

Yes it is a noble thing to want to change the system. But your kids in the present should be the 1st priority.

Leah Spring said...

Kim, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I have a couple of things to say in response. First of all, you must not have been reading here very long. My kids are quite active outside of school. Special Olympics (bowling, basketball, track, swimming) Cheerleading, Adaptive rec. sports (soccer, floor hockey, softball) And they enjoy all of those things. Well, the little boys don't participate as much yet but the big kids do! But adult life is not a special ed classroom. Once they are done with school they will be in the *real* world and need to be interacting with their coworkers and KNOW how to interact! Secondly, it is clear you don't have a child with a disability and have no idea what is involved, or the level of isolation that happens, when a raising a child who is differently abled. Inclusion is beneficial for BOTH sides (and there is much research to back this up) Would it be easier if our kids would just go away and keep get on with their lives than if we parents who are raising them pushed for change? It is the parents who came before me who made it possible for my kids to be in school in the first place. I don't see where I said anything about getting other parents to change. If I myself push for change I can improve the lives of those who's kids will come behind mine. You mentioned your daughter wasn't very social outside of school and "turned out just fine". That is great! SHE has a choice in the matter, and as an adult she is able to choose everything she does not only for work, but in her social life. Kids with disabilities, although they should, don't always have the same choices depending upon the community they're living in.

vicky said...

To change attitudes of children, it is important to change attitudes of parents. "Do as i say, not as i do" never works. Children are always watching YOU as a parent, they are great little imitators... Of positive things you MODEL as well as totally nonverbal cues you give off.. I have seen this in children as young as preschool age.

It is unfortunate that most of todays children are modeling off of some generations where children "like that" were not to be seen. Sure teachers try to teach appropriate inclusion and compassion, but if a child has an internal sense of "us" and "them" formed before they ever set foot in a classroom,,,Friendships will always be superficial and forced ..
. "The teacher is making us be nice to him because he is retarded" .. He is not as good, so we have to be nice.

So this education starts and ends with parents,,, we are the first teachers it starts with us modeling and genuinely including all kinds of people in the world

Scarehaircare said...

I believe that part of our advocacy work for our children must include parents and children who do not have a family member with disabilities.

We can certainly encourage friendships, but even more important is to make sure that others understand our determination that our children are not 'service projects'. They crave the friendships and experiences they see their typical friends enjoying. Our children know they have been snubbed when they are the only one not invited to a birthday party. Our children want autonomy, not always having mom and/or dad chaperone or even involved in their lives. In this way, our children are as typical as any other teenager or young adult.

In many cases, friends want to include our children but aren't sure how. Being open and honest and assuring others to ask us questions even if they feel they may accidentally offend us is crucial. this is where the best advocacy takes place.

Advocacy is effortful. It is constant. It can be frustrating. It can be exhausting. But we love our children, we are mama bears, and we won't stop.

Becca said...

As the parent of a student who is still a little too young for some of those close interactions, I can really just agree with you and most of the other commenters - it's not a horribly difficult thing for the school to set up and facilitate. Those kinds of social interactions really do begin at school, the administration should be helping to make them happen. I fully expect to be backed and supported by my school district if I were to need to voice those concerns. As a parent it's certainly my responsibility to see it through and work to maintain it when school *ends,* but for it to be *all* my responsibility is ludicrous. Schools are *also* a huge part of my child's social welk-being, seeing as she spends the majority of her waking hours there.

CJ said...

I also went dress shopping with my mom, but I did it out of an obligation to my mother, as opposed to my own desire of wanting to go with my friends.

I'm glad YOUR child turned out just fine without fostering close relationships with her peers, but each child is vastly different. I had a very small circle of friends during my high school years and I cannot imagine not having those. I am forever grateful those friendships were a part of my youth and it taught me compromise, the give and take relationships require, etc. Some things simply cannot be taught by parents, but parents can certainly do everything in their power to make sure the circumstances align for their child to HAVE those experiences...especially when a child is unable to do so for him/herself.

I guess what I am trying to say is it is a bit naive to downplay the importance of friendship during childhood. The fact is, you will not always be there to hold your child's hand and in the middle of the school day, when access to a parent isn't readily available, it is invaluable to have your friends to turn to. There are also things your mom simply will not understand in the same manner your friends will. A child's peers are in the same environment, phase of life, etc.

I would guess there are more adults who, like your daughter, did not form those relationships and have regrets because of it...as opposed to young adults who say "Eh, it didn't really matter."

And what is it they say about being your child's PARENT, as opposed to his/her best friend?

I have a feeling I am well aware of your thoughts in regards to inclusion. I would assume they fall along the lines of priority to those students who do not require additional assistance in their classroom and may be disrupted by the mere presence of students who may require a bit more.

Outside activities also foster a certain aspect of a child's growth and development, but the aspect Leah is referring to cannot be REPLACED by the friendships in an academic setting. How fair is it for a child to go through their academic career without friendships, simply because they can get something similar outside a classroom? I enjoy the relationships I had with my school peers, just as I enjoy the relationships I have with those in my work environment. My home relationships, even my close friendships, cannot make up for or replace those parts of my social life.

I guess I would question WHY your daughter did not have those connections. If it was by choice, and it worked well for her, why is another child not entitled to the opportunity to seek out an alternative choice? As I said, what works well for one child, may not for another. Maybe YOUR child did fine without those connections, but they may be vital to another child's success and happiness.

I do not think it is a matter of changing other parents, but educating them on the opportunities available to their child/family/community they may not realize are available. I likely would not have grown up to adopt a child with Down syndrome, nor would I go into the respite field had I not had the opportunity to make connections with various individuals in the school setting.

Leah can use her effort in any way she feels she needs to in order to benefit her child and has EVERY right to do so, just as you had the right to neglect that aspect for your child...to her alleged benefit.

Leah's children ARE her first priority and she IS doing the noble thing by attempting to correct a situation to benefit her children...even if it is not an effort you feel would benefit your child.

Tamara said...

I totally understand where you're coming from, Leah. Our school district tries, but just hasn't been able to create a truly inclusive environment. And the pressure they have to get kids to pass standard achievement tests really hasn't helped our kids be more included, in my opinion.

Inclusion should be the norm rather than the exception. To have any other opinion about inclusion is to devalue difference. Sad that there are still humans who don't get that, but they're everywhere, unfortunately.

I do have a little ray of hope for high school. At the end of freshman year another mom and I brought the lunch arrangements to the attention of the administration and expressed our displeasure at the segregation of the kids in the "lifeskills classroom". There was actually a table in the lunchroom with a handmade sign "TLS". Seriously. Shawen sat with other kids as long as he behaved better than most freshman boys.

So, we brought up the idea that something needed to be done to encourage kids with and without disabilities to integrate. They came up with a club. Students with and without disabilities can join the club and they plan activities together. Last year, they did a few activities and Shawen loved it, but this year, they're ramping it up.

This week they all met for a girl's volleyball game. There's something like that every week. Will it ever lead to a group of kids coming to the house and taking Shawen to a football game? I doubt it. But, if it keeps up, maybe in a few years, it will do that for another kid. KWIM?

As you said, we've benefited from parents who have gone before us. I hope to contribute a little to the cause of true inclusion. I think it will take time and hard work - and a few special kids who truly enjoy being around kids who are different from them.

Shawen decided he wanted to go to the homecoming dance this weekend. He was hoping a girl from his class would go with him, but she was sick most of the week. When I finally reached her mom, I found out they already had plans, so he had to go on his own. I checked with the assistant principal, and she said to let him come. She said there were kids from the club that would be there, and he would be fine. So, we drove him to school and parked. He didn't want us to walk in with him, so we stayed in the car ... and watched! Made sure he made it in and through the line, then snuck up and checked to make sure everything was okay. The principal told us to go home - everything was fine! :-)

The AP just texted me that everything was going fine so far and that she'd text me when he was ready to come home ...

Fingers crossed ... :-)

Leah Spring said...

Tamara, thanks for making a point for me without even intending to. When my adult kids went to school dances, I worried about them getting to/from the dance (were they staying out of trouble?) But I didn't have to worry about the dance itself. I didn't need to worry if they had friends there. I didn't have to worry about them standing out for the wrong reasons. I also didn't have to drive them because they drove themselves once they were old enough. Now I do all those things.

Another thing I wasn't clear about earlier, is the comment about changing parents. In high school it's not the parents I care about, its the regular ed. students. It's almost too late to waste my time on high school parents, and Kim pretty much mad that apparent. But working at the elementary level allows relationships to develop naturally and to continue to grow throughout their school years.

Also, "these kids" are going to be in the workforce and are going to need to know how to interact with their co workers. Their co-workers need to interact with them as well, and inclusion teaches them just that.

Kimberly Jackson said...

I can still remember when my daughter was in 3rd grade and had a classmate that had a behavior issue that was handled with medication. This student had a one on one para that was with him during class..."inclusion".

He was in the process of changing medication and had to be off of all medication for a said period of time. Said child actually walked on desks in the middle of class. Was allowed to get up and wander the class during lessons. How distracting is that to the regular ed student trying to learn.

While I admire you for standing up for your child. I will stand up for mine as well. My child was in school to learn and not be distracted.


Kimberly Jackson said...

Leah..if you kids are involved in those outside of school activities. I would think that they are making lot's of friends that share the same interest's.

That is what will be truly valuable in adult life. To expect people that do not have the same interest's to befriend your child is a bit unrealistic.

They will make friends in special olympics, bowling etc. Just as my daughter made friends outside of school.

Leah Spring said...

So...that one child is an example of what all children with special needs are like????? It sounds to me like the problem wasn't the child but staff who didn't have a clue what to do with the situation. Again, the difference between inclusion and mainstreaming is huge. It takes well-trained staff to make it work.

CJ said...

Oh....I can solve this. Let's just lock up all the kids "like ours" in closets and let them rock and drool the day away so kids like Kimberly's don't have to be disrupted by them. I mean, that's fair, right?!

CJ said...

And I completely agree....it was the adults in charge of this disruptive student who failed and caused your perfect little snowflake to be disrupted...not the child him/herself. And I am amazed you are so familiar with this child's issues. Apparently he/she is not entitled to privacy either.

MVI Mission House said...

I have yet to figure out why Kim thinks that her perfect world where all who are "different" are put away is functional. Did she grow up in an Eastern European country? That's what happens there, as we who follow Leah's blog know only too well.

Kim, my goodness. This world is not made for your princess to have all she wants when she wants how she wants. This world is about learning how to get along with others. That includes you learning to get along with others. You violated a poor student's privacy tonight by describing an incident from 3rd grade. Do you realize that others can identify him from that? You could be sued. And should be. FERPA and HIPAA exist for a reason.

You can exist in your perfect world if you choose. The rest of us imperfect people are going to work our tails off to try to make this world a better place by including everyone, even stuck-up people like you who are afraid to meet someone who has an extra chromosome and extra character!

AZ Chapman said...

Hay Kim So i have a question if your daughter was being bullied during class by a general ed student would u want that kid in a separate room.

PS I hope you are not a teacher .

Leah Spring said...

Actually, Kim's daughter went to a school district next door to mine. The special needs community in the area is a small one, and knowing the age of her daughter I would totally be able to put together what student she's talking about. But whatever... The school district her daughter went to is even worse about MAINSTREAMING than most districts in the area, and many their special ed students open enroll to this district instead. I can only imagine the bad situations that happened in classrooms that caused those students to move. But you know what? *Some* districts do that on purpose so those students will do just that...go away...so those who are more deserving of an education can get the time they need.

Experts said...

Im not taking a side here. I just see parents who want whats best for their children. Typical or not. I THINK ITS IMPORTANT THAT ALL PARENTS TAKE A STEP BACK AND SEE IT FROM THE VIEW THAT IS NOT THEIR OWN. Sometimes while looking for "inclusion" you are asking for others to diregard their own views, which is equally important as your own.

Experts said...

Im not taking a side here. I just see parents who want whats best for their children. Typical or not. I THINK ITS IMPORTANT THAT ALL PARENTS TAKE A STEP BACK AND SEE IT FROM THE VIEW THAT IS NOT THEIR OWN. Sometimes while looking for "inclusion" you are asking for others to diregard their own views, which is equally important as your own.

Leah Spring said...

Its pretty easy to see it from a different perspective when your child with the disability is not your only child.

Lacey said...

Man this is worse than the parents flipping out and wanting a girl out of their kids class because she had a severe allergy and the kids had to wash their hands! Heaven forbid we teach our children good hand hygiene!

While you live in your perfect world do you realize that there are probably multiple children in your daughters classes that have IEP's and need special help? Children you probably wouldn't even think about needing it!
Heaven forbid if you daughter not only learn book smarts, but how to be a compassionate person as well! I know nowadays it's all about how much money you can pull in, which is why our world is still filled with such ignorance!

Experts said...

I think ignorance comes from lack of experience. If youve never experienced it, you just dont get it. I think most parents of children with special needs did not "get it" till they had children with special needs. Bullying and intimidation or humilliation is Not any different coming from the special needs community than it is from the mainstream community. Compassion should be extended from both sides of the fence.

Kimberly Jackson said...

Experts said it best: Sometimes while looking for "inclusion" you are asking for others to disregard their own views, which is equally important as your own.

Calling another's child a princess and perfect little snowflake. Why is what I want for my child in regards to education less important.

As Leah said, this is probably about having staff that makes the program work.

One child's needs are not more important than another's.

I happen to know a lot about the said child because I was and still am friends with his mom.

She was a frustrated with the situation as I was.

DandG said...

It sounds like when it comes to the details, you are not in as much disagreement as seemed at first. You both object to a system ("mainstreaming") which purports to "include" but ultimately fails to meet the needs of either typical or SN students. Well-trained staff is crucial - how do we get there?

I am the mother of 5 "typical" children, each of whom has unique needs that I advocated for at school. For years I had great disdain for "inclusion", for all the usual reasons. I was a great fan of tracking, figuring that "inclusion" as I saw it practiced wasn't helping anyone.

Then I became a teacher, and had to learn to do inclusion myself. And I will say right here, I was NOT "well-trained" in it, despite attending a prestigious Ed school that certainly gave lip service to it. To some extent I learned on the job by observing other teachers, some of whom did it well and others, not so much. I never became really good at it, and I am no longer a classroom teacher. I do appreciate, however, how inclusion works when done right.

The best experience I have seen was in a multi-age montessori classroom, where students at different levels can find peers in each area, without the stigma of a pull-out class. Does anyone have experience with how that kind of setup works for kids with SN?

Leah Spring said...

In my personal experience, and the experiences of close (real life) friends, the school that do it best are the schools have to practice full inclusion because there is no other option. When a school is too small to have a special ed program because there are only one or two students with cognitive impairments.

For two years Angela was in an elementary school that had multi-age classrooms. There were only around 200 students in grades 1-5, and Angela was the only student at a mild/moderate level of disability. The other students with IEPs had them due to learning disabilities. The only pull-outs Angela had were for speech and OT, and even those services were most often provided in the classroom.

Here's a quick snapshot of what it looked like. A 2nd grade spelling test, for example: Large group, here is your word, "school." Angela here is your word, "cat". The other kids would write their word, Angela, who was unable to write, did hers on a keyboard or with letter tiles.

Now, at the high school level things are so different. I don't expect Angela to sit though a high school level science class. Maybe another student is, but Angela is not. For her, science, math and reading need to be at a more functional level: cooking, reading recipes, labels, menus, street and directional signs.

My point of the post, while it was about inclusion, was more about how inclusion works in more than just the regular ed classroom setting. What about the OTHER activities involved in a typical school day? The assemblies, the dances, the pep fests, lunch?

Another situation specific to Angela, but I know is other kids face: Due to her very small size, Angela has trouble even walking the very crowded hallways of her high school during normal passing times. It is actually dangerous for her and she has gotten hurt. Instead she passes between classes two-three minutes early or late. Easy enough, right? She usually goes alone. Passing time between classes is a major time for socializing in high school. Having a friend walk with her instead of her walking alone would remove a small level of isolation.

What are things school can do to foster inclusion those "other" activities, particularly at the middle and high school levels (because it's much easier at the elem. level) Tamara had some good examples.

MVI Mission House said...

If the school is using TAs (teacher assistants), there isn't any reason why one can't be assigned to walk with Angela to her classes. They wouldn't be late as she goes before the bell. It would introduce her to 6 or 7 new typical peers and allow her to make new friends.

Lunch...wow. Unless there is a supervision issue, my vote is to let the kids hang with everyone. At a previous school I taught at, we took the kids with special needs down a bit early because it took them longer to choose. Then we backed off and they sat where they wanted with friends. We left supervision to the admins.

Assemblies were the same. Everyone went together and sat with their grade level. I might sit in the middle of a grade. As a teacher, I would be expected to do that, so they wouldn't know who I was watching.

At the current school I am at, we are opening a coffee shop in the mornings. The Extended Resource kids will staff it. The rest of the school will get to meet and interact with the kids one on one.

We don't leave people out. We include them in everything. Yes, I make a pain of myself sometimes, but I bust my butt to make sure all the kids are included in everything. We have kids on the sports teams (PLAYING on first string!), we have kids in concert choir, we have kids in drama. We have a building of 1600 kids.

Leah, we have a young lady with Ds in our building that is less than 4 feet tall. She wades right into the middle of passing period, and throws elbows at the big boys to get through. She goes where she wants. Everyone loves her. Her smile lights up my day. I teach her adaptive PE class.

Mandy Beth said...

I pray this comes across with the kindness I'm striving for.

I wonder if the mainstream labeled as inclusion is backlash from early inclusion labeled as mainstreaming done without considering the best interests of all people.

I fully admit, accept and am working to get over my Ds concerns. It's not in the person with an extra bit of God planted in them, it is me. But, early mainstreaming included my brother who was violently targeted by identical twins who had Ds.

I know that violent or aggressive behavior is not a Ds only issue. I know very well not all persons with Ds have the violent behavior that terrified my brother and me. I know the questionable support offered to the twins hurt them far more than they hurt my brother. I hope society knows more now and does a far better job at protecting those who need help, support and guidance.

But I can also look at reality and see it's better, but it's not great. I know I'm not the only person who felt the damage from poorly done mainstreaming. But, not all see a problem, and I'm not sure how much I can grow up myself, let alone others.

Which leads to unfair parental concerns on inclusion/mainstreaming/whatever term a school district uses. Yet, I'm not sure how to fix it. Because a school system can require whatever, but it can't force children to accept everyone, and if parents are saying don't play with that group because of whatever, the child learn the discriminatory behavior at home and I'm not sure how society fixes that. Which has far reaching implications, and is why I'll support Spread the Word online, but locally, the word isn't used in what I hear and the high school age supports have just swapped the word for f*****, so they aren't actually learning to accept all people, they've just switched to a new derogatory term.

Sigh. Some days, I just hate people as a species.

Mandy Beth said...

Ack, I hit post too soon!

The district my brother and I went to - elementary had all "non traditional" students at one school, yet school had less funding than smaller schools in higher income areas. This served no student well. Gifted program was all but independent study from 1st grade on - or why I can write long rambles, but have no clue on parts of speech and an LD was missed until college. I got 99% on math standardized tests and all but 2 I had perfect scores, yet the only year I got a double digit percent (12%) in English standardized tests, I'd filled in the bubbles in a math based pattern. 90+ gap is a clear indicator of some sort of LD. Regular ed kids were in 30+ student classes with no para from kindergarten on. Special ed program had a 7:1 ratio student to para. None of the students were well served.

Middle school put gifted program in one school, special ed program in another. I'm not sure how bad it was, other than being middle school.

High school repeated elementary school. Now with then ESL added. So once again, school didn't serve any student well.

All before No Child Left Behind. It's strictly the adults not being concerned and the schools not being concerned about mainstreaming or inclusion.

Yet, when the young man with some disorder (I don't know what, I think it was on the autism spectrum) would start making extremely distracting noises, because I was used to independent study, I could get a pass and go study in the library. But the rest of the class was distracted, so yes, it can be a problem. But again, lack of school concern as the problem class was right before lunch, the young man was fine earlier in the day and after lunch, but couldn't switch his class and lunch which would have benefited him as much as everyone else.

So, I see the problem. I see it's based originally at least on the schools. I can see how it could be a learned avoidance tactic to some parents, even if that's not right. But I don't know what the fix would be or how to implement it.

But, I got through high school with two friends, both from meeting outside of school. I bulldozed my short, petite self through the crowded halls. So, I view that as normal high school.

Imogen said...

I wrote a comment on this post a few days ago but lost it before it had a chance to go up.

I don't know what point I was trying to make, and probably won't get to a point in this comment either, but I just wanted to share from my own experience of having grown up with a best friend who had special needs. Truth be told, I have no idea what his 'special need' was: back then (in the late 70s, this boy was labelled a 'slow learner', and his family unashamedly called him retarded).

I met him, Laurie, when I was around seven years old and he was ten years old. He lived a few doors down from my house and soon after my family moved into the neighbourhood, Laurie and I became inseparable. It didn't matter that I was a girl and he was a boy. His 'special needs' issues were never a problem or even questioned by me or by my other neighbourhood friends. Had his quirky ways, and I loved him with all my heart. We did everything together - just as any other 'bffs' would do. My parents took him along on our family outings and his parents took me on theirs.

One thing I NEVER understood in those days was why Laurie couldn't come to my school with me. He was picked up by a bus with the words 'Special School for Slow Learners' or some such thing on the side of it. Laurie never could write or read, and he did inappropriate things like sing loudly when he was happy, and bite on his fist when he was upset. He also sometimes defecated in his pants if he procrastinated going to the bathroom in time. The way I saw it though, the 'regular' boys in my school did worse than those things lol. I remember asking Laurie's mother if she could please send him to MY school so that we could play together all day long, and I remember her answer: "Laurie isn't smart like you are sweetheart. He can't learn like you can, because he's retarded". I remember thinking in my mind, "HE CAN LEARN BUT YOU GROWN UPS CAN'T SEE IT!"

I stayed friends with Laurie right up until I was fourteen years old, when his family moved away. I remember making him a card and him biting his fist in agitation because he didn't know how to read it.

Kids will and can and DO include children with special needs if they are given the right opportunity to do so. No-body thought it odd, or weird or 'unique' or 'main-streaming' when a little seven year old girl befriended a ten year old boy who society deemed 'retarded'. All that we kids saw in one another was a kindred spirit - a playmate, another child to love and play with... nothing more, nothing less.

I hear you Leah, and I 'get it' regarding what you are saying in your post and in your comments. Don't stop advocating for those precious babies of yours. If only society would stop it already with the 'us' and 'them' mentality, then perhaps mainstreaming would really BE that, and kids would learn from an early age that we all have more in common with one another than we have differences.

I hope I made even a teesy bit of sense in all of that :)

Kimberly Jackson said...

My trouble with inclusion comes from my experience with it. As Leah mentioned I come from a district with a very poor Special Ed Dept. I probably did not start out on the right foot and held the school district responsible for their responsibility.

The student that I spoke of didn't even have an IEP. Should I blame his mom or the school district? His mom was/is my friend.

To set the scene. The children are working on a art project using finger paints. "Said student' get's up and walks across classmates desks and pretty destroys at least 4 students art projects before he is finally settled down.

By this age we have children that are concerned about their grade and proud of their work that will hang at teachers conferences. But it has been completely ruined by another student.

How do you expect me or my daughter to feel. Does she not have rights as well?

My daughter has been called a princess, a snow flake, referred to our "perfect world"?


I am an an adult survivor of incest. raised my daughter in a trailer park . Her life started on Welfare. So no perfect world or princess here.

You can all stand up for your children and call names. I have stood for my child and have not called a single name!!

CJ said...

Let me educated you. When you state your child is entitled to an educational setting free of special needs peers, she is going to be perceived as a princess or a special snowflake because you view her as above her less than typical peers. As far as her education is concerned, I suggest you look into private school or (since she prefers to be with you) homeschooling. Unfortunately, once she is in the real world, she will be forced to deal with people who are slower, less intelligent and more "needy" than she is...does this mean we should restrict special needs individuals from being included in the classroom AND general society? God forbid someone break your eggs in the checkout line. Good forbid your business mail arrives from the mail room give minutes late... but how dare anyone interested with the daily running of your life.

I'm sure we could get some of the concentration camps back up and running. Let's just scour the earth of anyone who is disruptive... be they special needs, mentally ill or just an asshole.

JEllen said...

This thread is reminding me so much of a conversation I had one spring evening back in 1993 or so.

I was sitting on the front porch with a few neighbors when one mother started complaining because her daughter was so frequently being asked by the teacher to help the girl with Down syndrome (first student with Ds at this elementary school at the time). Her rant continued for several minutes as she loudly complained that was not why she sent her daughter to school, and they better as heck find someone else to help this dumb girl or she was going to go complain to the school board. I sat very patiently waiting for her to realize I was sitting there and although Sarah was a toddler at the time, would hopefully one day be at that same school. She never connected the dots, at least not that night. I wanted to crawl home I was so hurt and humiliated.

Fast forward twenty years or so and said mother's oldest daughter became a medical social worker due to her time spent with Sarah, and her youngest daughter became a special education teacher due to her many years spent with Sarah. That daughter also asked Sarah to be a bridesmaid at her wedding a few weeks ago. A natural role between girls in a friendship. http://sarahely8989.blogspot.com/search/label/Friends

The daughter who was asked so many times to help the classmate with Ds, she's getting married in two weeks in New Orleans and guess who will be there and I guarantee will be the life of the party...Sarah. The bride-to-be just sent me a note that she is so grateful Sarah is coming because her wedding day would not be complete without her.

Thankfully, that teacher all those years ago had foresight to see the beauty of inclusion. It's not about the child with Ds...it's about making all those around them better human beings. I'm not sure to this day if the mother has ever truly gotten that message, but fortunately her next generation did.

Mandy Beth said...

I don't see wanting your child to get an education without destructive distractions as a problem. But, I grew up pulled out of regular classes to not distract other children because I was done well before them. Kindergarten teacher tried letting me read quietly at my desk, but because I wasn't doing what the rest of my classmates were, I was distracting them. So I got assignments and sat with another "gifted" child in the nurses office except for lunch and recess.

My brother was a handful and then some. The two of us together were a nightmare probably in the day. Yet, he learned without an individual para to behave in a generally acceptable manner. If he grabbed something that wasn't his, he was told no, had to give it back, and he threw numerous tantrums. I had to go calm him down more than once a day for years. If a child needs to do some activity with one on one help, rather than letting him walk on furniture and destroy other's work - neither of which are acceptable in most people's minds - why couldn't the para tell him no, then let him walk around the classroom or halls with the one on one supervision?

I'm not asking to be rude or excusing anyone. I am honestly curious. Because I've seen mainstreaming/inclusion improving for special ed, but gifted programs still pull kids into very small groups for majority of the day here. Yet, it's apparently dismissive to ask why the gifted programs are still excluded. But kids are kids and it's not fun to only interact with the same four classmates from kindergarten to senior year of high school and it was down right miserable being the only girl.

Leah Spring said...

Mandy, I hope someone here can answer your questions about the gifted programs. We haven't dealt with them in more than 10 years so I don't know what the current trend is.

Again, my questions were about inclusion outside of the classroom. This has been an excellent discussion about inclusion inside the classroom. I'd like to bring it back around to suggestions for inclusion outside of the classroom.

Mandy Beth said...

I will say, from being in the gifted program, then for my area very early AP classes, the five of us just packes together. Other kids didn't want to be seen with the "nerds". This is prior to the hipster scene. I was further worse having grown up in the metal and death metal scene. So, from being a somewhat willing outsider, plus being not only a nerd but a STEM based girl nerd, plus having to go help my brother, I really didn't see inclusion outside the classroom because I had too much against me.

So, I can't see a fix, because I do think it's a larger problem in schools not handling inclusion well and a social problem in not liking those who are different. I fully admit I'm bad there myself, because I expect problems from a limited sample. Furthermore, some of my differences are self chosen, I wouldn't give any up and they aren't restrictive towards being accepted to mainstream society. So while I can see the underlying problems, I'm not able to see quite the same issues you see with your children. Plus, I'm not sure how restrictive Ds is, or can be, because what was norm 15 years ago may not be the norm now.