By Kodey Toney
Everybody Get Together
As I continue to read Patrick Schwarz’s book “From Disability to Possibility: The Power of Inclusive Classrooms” (yes I’m a slow reader) I continue to find great information that I want to share. So, here comes some info from a section titled “Components of Inclusion” from chapter five “Inclusion May Not Be Easier, But It’s Better”.
Schwarz borrows from an article he co-authored with Denise Bettenhausen where they give some great points on helping with inclusion. The following is the list. I hope I can throw some of my experiences in to help relate.
•Let students with disabilities attend the neighborhood school they would attend if they did not have those disabilities. So many times the school or the family is quick to send the child with a disability off to a secluded classroom or a co-op classroom to segregate them for “the betterment of the child”. We don’t even give them a chance in the classroom in the first place.
•Make them part of a general education homeroom.Again, let them be like their peers. If they are with them they will most likely socialize and become more socially accepted.
•Never segregate them. When not in their regular classroom, they should be part of other general school environments. This comes from the fact that many children are part time in a classroom and part time in a secluded room. I agree with this, but feel that sometimes it is possible to move them to safe area if they are having issues. Konner spent time in a “safe room” when he was in the first grade to help with sensory issues. We used it as a helping tool and not as a punishment though.
•Carefully plan the course and progress of their education. A planning meeting should take place at least every other week. This is something that helps the team make sure that they are working on the goals of the IEP. It is a good way to make sure that they are all on the right track, and that the goals are good ones. It also helps the parents know what is going on with their child.
•Solve problems as they arise. This seems like a no brainer, but often times a problem is seen as just that and is never solved. It continues to happen and is never resolved. I’m reminded of a commercial about back pain that says something like; “If you had your hand slammed in a car door would you want me to give you pain medicine or would you want me to open the door and free your hand?” Too many times we just want the quick fix when in the long run if we find out what is causing the pain (meltdowns) we will solve the big issue.
•Introduce innovative, diverse learning strategies: universal design, differentiated instruction, cooperative learning, curricular adaptations, literature circles,educational technologies, cross-age peer tutoring and peer mediation. Remember, there are many different ways to learn out there for people with or without disabilities. We can’t rely on the same things for everyone. We all learn differently and that is why people have come up with many different ways to learn. I said this in a different column, but I will say it again; if our children can’t learn the way we teach then let’s teach the way they learn. It’s a great quote and I wish I would have said it first.
•Create an educational team in which all members are equal. The there is a great section in this book about the parents and family being important. We often times feel, as parents, that it is us against the school, and too often that ends up to be the case. However, we need to end this mentality on both sides. Remember that the child’s future is the most important thing.
•Cut down on unnecessary supervision and assistance by family members, professionals, and paraeducators. This section talks about learned helplessness. We don’t want our children to think that they are helpless, yet we often times show them they are by over assisting them. Let them try first (see last week’s column).
•See behavior as a form of communication. If a child is having a meltdown there is a reason. If they are non-verbal they are trying to tell you something. There is another quote in the autism world that says: “Just because I don’t speak doesn’t mean I have nothing to say.” It is our job as families, friends, and educators to find out what their actions are saying. Don’t ever let someone say, “He just had a meltdown for no reason.”
•Use everything in education’s bag of tricks. Again, there are many sites and books out there. Find something that the child can relate to and use it to your advantage. If the child likes trains then find something about trains to relate to the lesson. If the child likes music then use music for the lesson.
•Make it possible for students to join after-school clubs and take part in extracurricular activities. This is a bit of a problem in our area because there are not as many after-school programs. But, find something they do like and explore whether there is something in your area that relates to it. If not then create something.
•Be committed to making it work. The entire team has to be on board or nothing will work. If anyone in the team does not agree then it will all fall apart. You have to be committed to the program.
The book goes into more detail and has some great stories. This is just a sample of the concept, but what great advice in just this little space. I hope this can help some.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column. You can also find all columns archived at blogspot.com.