Monday, June 20, 2011

Redefining Inclusion

I think we need to redefine inclusion.

Many people seem to have this inaccurate, and frankly, kind of bizarre, notion of what inclusion actually is.  Case in point:  this wonderful post about an ignorant teacher from Robert Rummel-Hudson, whose daughter, Schuyler, has a rare disability called Bilateral Perisylvian Polymicrogyria.

" was as if the concept of inclusion meant that Schuyler had a right to be parked in her class and to watch the other students, the REAL students, learn. Inclusion appeared to mean being a face in the class photo."

As a physically disabled student in high school, I faced this attitude on a regular basis.  I frequently sat in the classroom feeling like an island as other students swarmed around me doing one project or another that was inaccessible to me.  I had very few social interactions - no one ever asked me to join their group, and even when groups were assigned, the projects were usually motor-skill oriented, such as a poster.  Once again, I'd be the island, sitting feeling lonely while everyone else was having fun.  No one - teachers or students - ever asked me how the classroom environment could be more accessible to me.   No one ever asked what my needs were and tried to meet them.  No one knew what to do with me, so instead of asking, they simply did nothing.  And yet, I'm sure if you asked any one of the administrators at my school, they would tell you that I was fully included for all six years I was at that school.  I blame it on ignorance and lack of training.

Inclusion isn't about parking a kid with a disability in a classroom with no support whatsoever, and expecting them to succeed; or worse, expecting nothing from them so the kid becomes some sort of human wall decoration.  It's about making the classroom environment accessible to everyone.  It's about making sure that every kid who's in that classroom can and will learn, even if it's only one thing.  It's about helping every child, regardless of ability/disability, succeed.  I don't expect teachers to know right off the bat every single adaptation that they will have to make for every single student.  Hopefully, as general education teachers get more special ed training, many of those adaptations will already be in place.  But I do expect teachers to question themselves and their students so that the classroom is the most accessible that it can be.  We must not simply include students with disabilities, but we must accept them, integrate them into our classroom, and embrace their potential, just like we should do with every student.

So yes, I think we need to redefine inclusion.  Shout it loud, from the hilltops, from schools all across the globe, with all our unique voices, that inclusion is not a place.  Inclusion is a practice.  Inclusion is a right.  And a weak, half-assed facsimile of inclusion is worse than no inclusion at all.


Anonymous said...

Reading your post made me think of some things that have happened to me in school and PT. I noticed one of the major problems is that these people who work in the schools go by a script of what the disability the student has is, and act like they already know everything, instead of asking the person who is disabled what they need. With certain disabilities though it is hard for the kids to explain what they need obviously. In these cases their needs to be communication with the parents. I think these teachers and physical therapists need to become much better listeners. Communication is the key here. The teachers need to be willing to learn themselves.

Matt Watson said...

I was fortunate enough to go to good schools, public and private. However, summer day care as a child was sometimes a problem. I had to spend one summer in a special ed environment, which I didn't particularly like. Another summer was at YMCA, where all the disabled folk were practically segregated from the normal kids. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Spaz Girl, you basically blog anonymously. Fine and well and good. Also fine and well and good for Anonymous who commented first on this post. Your 'shouting' falls on the choir and is as effective as sitting in high school for 6 years and not speaking up for yourself.

You quote Robert - who is out there, unanonymously.

You and your parents bear some of the responsibility for inclusion being poorly practiced. Inclusion is not a right, FAPE in LRE is the right. LRE is 'defined' by the group that forms the IEP for a particular student. It all boils down to that group.

Mountains of regulation (definition) exists and yet inclusion is poorly practiced. More definition (regulation) is not the answer in my opinion. I think clear, accurate and interesting blogging (like Robert's) carries the message to people who can have an effect - in the lives of some children.

Unanonymously, Barbara

Andrea S. said...

I call this "warm body inclusion" -- This is when you have a warm body in the room that lets you pretend that you're being inclusive when you actually aren't. This is when the only "adaptation" that has really been made is to "allow" a disabled person into the same room as everyone else, contributing body heat in the same way as everyone else but not being given the opportunity to contribute -- or benefit -- in any other substantive way. As a deaf person, I have experienced "warm body inclusion" when I have been in a place where few others, or no others, could sign to communicate with me, and I was left with little way to understand what was going on and thus little opportunity to participate in any meaningful way. And I have seen hearing people seem to think that inclusion was somehow happening just because I was there, not understanding anything but going through the motions. Er, no. This isn't real inclusion, it's warm body inclusion.

Yes, teachers (and everyone else) need to learn that real inclusion means doing a lot more than just sticking a person's warm body into the same room as other warm bodies. Real inclusion means talking with the disabled person to find out what real inclusion means to them, and implementing it. And if the disabled person is someone who maybe hasn't really figured out what inclusion means to them yet--because they are very young, or because they only very recently became disabled and are still figuring out what it means, or they simply have never experienced actual inclusion and thus have no idea what it should look like or feel like--then they should also talk with other, more experienced disabled people for additional ideas and alternate approaches to inclusion. Then talk with the disabled person again to find out if these alternate ideas appeal to them, and then implement them.

JessieB* said...

Preach on, lady! I have Asperger's and ADHD. When I was in middle school I had pull out social skills. The worst was a lesson on sarcasm. I was bored to tears and felt annoyed that no one bothered to check and figure out that A). My family uses sarcasm frequently and I did understand what it was and that B). There were other things (knowing when to start/stop a conversation, staying organized) that would've been a better use of our time! (The examples were also really lame and didn't seem to help with peers). I'm an ed major (I also have ADHD) and the point I try to drive home is that everyone is different. Most people with autism may struggle with sarcasm or jokes, but you can't assume this is always the case! I hate having to be the myth buster in special ed classes.