Sunday, May 5, 2013

Inclusion 101 - Day 3

I've been sitting on this blog post for a couple days now, trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go with it. I had a few different ideas in mind, but I couldn't quite get it all together. A lot of schools do inclusion well... or at least they try. I've always loved this graphic showing the different types of school environments...

Inclusion is what we want for our children, and many schools THINK they are doing inclusion, when many times they're not... even in Kennedy's case there are times that I've walked into her classroom and found her working off to the side with her para on something different... so is that inclusion? Or is it integration? There are other times that she is pulled from the classroom entirely for things like speech therapy or extra help for math, so is that exclusion? Segregation? Is it irrational of me to expect for her to be fully included in the classroom all the time? Maybe.

The truth is, at least in Kennedy's school, every classroom seems to be a revolving door these days. Children are being "pulled out" for all sorts of things. Extra help with different subjects... smaller reading groups, the gifted and talented program, social groups, therapies and much, much more. So when Kennedy is pulled out of the classroom for 20 minutes of her day, no one really blinks an eye, including Kennedy. However, when the bottom 3 circles become the most hurtful it seems, is during the social times... it's the times where school might still be in session, but friendship comes more into play... feelings get hurt... and then that graph up there really becomes important.

Fostering friendships for our kids with special needs can be so hard at times. Many times typical kids view children with special needs as younger siblings (even when that child may be older than them). I overheard a very well meaning child in Kennedy's dance studio say one day about Kennedy, "Don't worry, I'll babysit her!" This girl is a few months younger than Kennedy... and while I did appreciate the sentiment and I absolutely knew her heart was in the right place, I know that all Kennedy wants from this girl is to be her equal. Her friend. She wants to talk about dance, share her new apps on her iPad, and talk about girl stuff. Kennedy will be the first one to tell you she doesn't need to be babysat. She may need a little more direction than other kids her age and she may need to be reminded when she needs to do some things, but more than anything, she needs people to see her as an almost 9 year old girl. She needs to be included.

There are SO many examples of where a little bit of help from teachers could have gone a long way to foster inclusive friendships and prevented some heartache. I'm going to share a couple with you today to show the difference between inclusion and integration.

Example number one...
Today I Cried... Go read my friend Linda's blog post. I can't tell her story like she did. Her story has been the story of every parent of a child with a disability at some point, in some form. Eventually. our children will be left out. And our heart will shatter. Our child will become one of those 3 bottom circles, like Lila was in PE class. So in that instance, what could have been done to prevent that situation from happening? Granted, they are kindergartners, and all kids at some point in their lives will be teased, right? Everyone at some point will be left out, right? But will your child be left out and teased because their classmates cannot understand them? 
Parents, How will you respond when the time comes that they are not treated like equals by their peers and don't understand why? Like Linda said in her post, when that time comes, we will have to think fast to respond to our children when they're hurting... We will have to make the choice to respond out of our own pain or help our child understand the best that they can and move forward.
Teachers, if this had happened in your classroom, what do you think would have been a good response to make this a learning moment about inclusion for Lila's classmates?

Example number two...
I vaguely remember hearing about this boy last year. Alex Pollard has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. After the premier of the hit television show Glee, he was thrilled to join his middle school chorus, because he knew that would be an opportunity for inclusion. However, when it came time for the big performance, inclusion did not happen.

Because of the bleachers, Alex was unable to join his classmates and was forced to sit off to the side. Of course his mother was upset and she did what any of us would do - she posted the picture on Facebook. The picture went viral, but the school refused to really say much... only that the situation was "regrettable" and that the choir director didn't see him there. Really?! So why didn't one of the other students roll him over and include him? Why didn't another teacher sitting in the audience make it right? Heck, maybe his mom should have stormed up on that stage and moved him over. I don't know WHAT the answer is. What I DO know is that the choir director KNEW Alex was in that concert and he KNEW those bleachers would be there. He taught those students that night that Alex was not as important as the rest of the kids on that stage. That was a very important lesson that they should have never learned.

Teachers: What would you have done differently in this situation to make sure that Alex was accommodated for this performance? Knowing that he would be there in his wheelchair, even if removing the bleachers was not an option? Parents: If this had happened to your child, how might you have handled the situation when you realized what was happening, and afterwards?  

Friendships for any child, typical or those with special needs, can come and go and take lots of tender loving care. Each child has their own personality, their own temperament, their own strengths and weaknesses that they have to offer to each friendship that they enter into. When they develop a close friendship, that is something to be cherished and cared for, and when children are young, sometimes parents and teachers need to help make sure that happens by guiding the children in the right direction. I am thankful for the friends that Kennedy has made who love her and accept her for who she is - not as their little sister, but as their equal. I am thankful for the parents and teachers who have worked hard to help foster these friendships with Kennedy... I realize these friendships may be few and far between, but I'll help her hold them close and cherish them however I can.


Heidi said...

I don't understand why the director didn't move the other children to the other end of the bleachers, so at least they would all be together. The first row could have stood at floor level so he could be included. There really is not excuse for things like this photo.

Kristin said...

It reminds me of something that happened to one of my autistic children at the beginning of the school year. He is a wonderful boy (third grade), extremely intelligent, and no behavior issues.

He came back from P.E. one day as was absolutely hysterical. I found out that they were playing a game and he didn't understand the rules, the coach yelled at him instead of explaining the game, and told him that he couldn't play since he began crying once being yelled at.
So, not only was he upset about that but then when the teacher (we split for special area classes) came to pick him up the P.E. assistant walked over to her and in front of the entire grade level stated, while pointing at him, "something is wrong with that child. He will not stop crying and he just is not normal."

He was hysterical when he returned to class. He was not only embarrassed but also extremely hurt. I was not only angry but extremely disappointed in those teachers and their behavior. I, of course, spoke to my principal who handled the issues.

However, I think that many schools do not properly train ALL of their staff. Classroom teachers are not the only staff members who need training and information... all staff working in schools and interacting with the kids need to be informed. I am not at all excusing their horrible behavior and completely lack of manners but we are doing our children a disservice by not addressing it on a school-wide or district-wide level.

Michelle said...

I haven't read Lila's story yet. As a perservice Teacher in Alex's case he would have been right with the students, there can easily be students on the floor right with him front and center. That was uncalled for and wrong.

Michelle said...

Kristin, Good for for standing up for that child. My jaw actually dropped when I read what the assistant did. People should be ashamed of themselves.

Jill said...

My daughter is 4 and in an inclusive daycare. The little girls in her class adore her but call her baby. Likely because she doesn't walk due to cerebral palsy and is pushed in a wheelchair or crawls. The teachers don't correct them, I think they find it cute or sweet. My daughter's nonverbal so she doesn't protest. You've made a great point that these girls are her friends but what are they being taught at a young age about inclusion?

Jill said...
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