Just curious why you wouldn't want your special needs child in a special needs classroom so she can get the individual attention by special Ed trained teachers? I don't have a special needs child, but would guess that they would feel more comfortable around other kids similar to them. Would love to hear (read) your thoughts on this though.First I would like to say that I'm not sure what direction I'm going with this post yet, and I would like you to keep in mind that I'm talking about Kennedy here. I fully realize that Inclusion may not be appropriate for every child with Special Needs. Some children may actually thrive in a more restrictive setting depending on their personality and specific needs. Many children though, like Kennedy, thrive in an inclusive setting. It is indeed appropriate for them to be with their typical peers. And this is what I'm talking about in this post. Disclaimer over. ;)
Let me tell you about Kennedy's day... Kennedy is one of 18 students in her class. During all academic times, she has an aide (or a paraprofessional) with her. There are 3 different aides who rotate throughout the day. They are there to help keep Kennedy on track (her attention span is short and she gets sidetracked VERY easily) and assist her with anything she needs help with. They are NOT there to do her work for her. They are not with her for lunch (someone does help her get her tray to her table, but then they leave), recess, or specials (PE. Spanish, music, etc). The only exception to this is Art because, as I've mentioned before, her biggest delay is her fine motor skills and she needs some extra help there.
Kennedy is learning the same things as all the other kids in her class. She is learning to count money in math. She's learning about seeds in science. She's learning Rigg's Phonograms in language arts (which I admit, I'm still learning with her!), they'll soon be starting to take spelling tests, and they're learning about poetry and all kinds of other fun stuff.
Some of Kennedy's work is modified. For example, the rest of the class is learning D'nealian writing. This is so they'll have an easier transition into cursive writing next year. Kennedy however does all her work in printing. She needs to master that, first. (Fine motor skills, remember?) And honestly, I don't care if she ever learns cursive writing. Printing is good enough for me! When they get into spelling tests, she will probably only have 5 words to learn each week instead of 10. That might be a little much for her. But 5 she can do. I know she can. We can tackle a word a night! When they do addition and subtraction in math, she may need some visual cues next to the numbers to help her. For example, when adding 5+3, we may put five flowers and three hearts on her page to help her find the answer of eight. She already knows how to add and subtract this way. These are all easy modifications that can be made by me at home or by her aide in the classroom or even by the Special Education teacher who oversees her day to help her succeed. (Also, this doesn't pull her teacher away from the other kids any extra time at all.) She also receives speech and occupational therapy weekly to help keep her on track and hopefully will help keep the gap between her and her peers small.
So, Kennedy is doing first grade work. Her friends are first graders. And they love her. They don't pity her. They may know she is different from them, but they want to be her friend anyway. Let's face it, she's a fun kid! And she likes the same things they like. She likes iCarly and the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana. She likes playing dress up and going to Princess parties and purses and shoes. She likes to run around at recess and chase the boys (heaven help me!) and play on the slides. They have a lot of common interests! She doesn't know that she is any different from them.
When she goes to dance, she is a dancer. She is not a dancer with Down syndrome. When she plays with her American Girl, Charlie, she wants to dress up like her because she knows they look just alike. Why then, would Kennedy feel more comfortable in a class with kids with Special Needs? Kennedy IS a first grader, and she's getting the best of both worlds - education in a classroom with an amazing teacher, socialization with typical peers with whom she is forming fast friendships, and specialized instruction from the special ed department who sees the value of inclusion and independence and only steps in when needed.
"More alike than different" that's the tag line for the National Down Syndrome Congress. And I believe that. I have believed that since the day Kennedy was born. I believe that she can absolutely do anything she sets her mind to. If she strives for it, she can graduate high school with a regular diploma. She can drive. She can go to college. She can have any job she chooses (right now she says she wants to work with babies). She can live on her own. She can get married. I know this because I have met individuals with Down syndrome who have done all these things, and more. And Kennedy has the spunk (and stubbornness) to pretty much do whatever she sets her mind to. Kennedy is NOT a "special needs child", she is a child (first) who happens to have special needs. And a child belongs in a regular classroom just like all children. The special needs part just comes secondary. As long as that child can handle being in the classroom (behaviorally, and sensory wise) and it's appropriate, and no one else pushes them back, just watch them thrive. :)
Part two on goals later!