Inclusion has a long, rich history with well-researched benefits for children with and without disabilities from Pre-K through the High School years and beyond. Yet, some parents of children with special needs are just not interested in inclusive schooling opportunities for their child. One parent of a student with special needs said to me recently, “I know my child has unique needs that surface at unique times…and, I just worry no one will know what to do or worse, won’t take the time or have the patience to help him and he will be just be parked and left all alone.”
What exactly is this parent saying here?
- She fears her child’s needs will not be known or understood.
- She fears the adult in the classroom will not have the time or take the time to support her child’s needs.
- She fears her child will be isolated.
- She fears her child will be lonely.
Considering this parent’s concerns and others with similar worries, how can we build bridges so that all stakeholders are comfortable and confident with an individualized education plan that maximizes inclusive schooling? I don’t believe the issue at hand is about the concept of inclusive schooling. Rather, I believe it’s how we put into practice the inclusion of students with disabilities in our school communities. This issue is multifaceted; let’s consider the history, effective inclusive schooling practices and parent perspective.
The “mandate” to maximize inclusive educational opportunities for children with disabilities has been in the law for 37 years, beginning with The Education for all Handicapped Children of 1975, or P.L. 94-142 (Ed.Gov; U.S. Department of Education). What we call it and how we implement inclusive schooling has morphed over the years, yet the benefits for students with and without special needs has sustained time. These benefits span increased academic, conceptual, language, social and behavioral skills and are linked to increased levels of independence and successful post-school outcomes. Benefits for non-disabled peers include empathy, understanding and acceptance. Inclusion after all, is real life.
Effective Inclusive Schooling Practices
Furthermore, the last 37 years has informed how we implement the practice of inclusive schooling. We know the common bedrock practices that must be in place in order for successful inclusion to grow. These include schools and classrooms that have:
- High expectations for all learners,
- A culture of shared ownership for the success of all students,
- Rich, activity-based and differentiated instruction with flexible grouping,
- A common vocabulary for inclusive practices,
- An individualized, student-centered process that drives how you use your resources,
- Professional collaboration and,
- Leadership for the common good.
When we have all of these in place, we often see schools and districts with increased academic results for all groups, fewer referrals for special education, less discipline issues, greater professional efficacy and increased attendance rates for both students and staff.
“We need respect, we need to have our contribution valued. We need to participate, not merely be involved. It is, after all, the parent who knew the child first and who knows the child best. Our relationship with our sons and daughters is personal and spans a lifetime.” (Parent: Cory Moore, as quoted in The Parent/Professional Relationship Taken from The Unplanned Journey: Part 3, NICHCY News Digest Second Edition February 1997, Authors: Carole Brown, Samara Goodman, and Lisa Kupper).
While inclusion is well-researched and evidences positive outcomes, that doesn’t always mean our parents are comfortable with the practice. The process of developing an inclusive school is just that: multifaceted. This requires trust, time, patience, respect, participation, collaboration and sometimes-courageous conversations. It also requires that we all keep a steady focus on student needs versus adult issues.
I believe the collective “we” ultimately have the same goal – we want our children (students) to develop into happy, self-sufficient, successful and contributing adults. This journey, from the parent or educators’ perspective isn’t a straight line of upward progress; we will have bumps and falls all along the way. But, isn’t that what growing-up is all about? Let’s link arms and together, move forward.
Use the comment box below to share how you, as a school leader, respond to parent concerns regarding their child’s social or academic inclusion.
Resources: Parent Pals.com http://www.parentpals.com/GIF/palsseguidehed.gif NICHCY National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities P.O. Box 1492 Washington, DC 20013 1-800-695-0285 (Voice/TT) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Through the Looking Glass 3075 Adeline St., Ste. 120 Berkeley, CA 94703 Phone: 1.800.644.2666 (VOICE) TTY: 510.848,1005 Local: 510.848.1112 Fax: 510.848.4445 Monday - Friday 9am to 5pm Pacific Time; http://www.lookingglass.org/home
TONI RIESTER-WOOD, PH.D.