Those of you that know me personally, or have been reading my blog for some time, are aware that I am a special education teacher and an independent special education consultant. I have a myriad number of friends with children that have some type of diagnosis. I grew up with an aunt with intellectual disabilities, and have a grandson on the autism spectrum. I have an online page for parents of children that have various special needs, and am co-founder of a parent networking and support group. I tell you all these things, not to give you a list of my credentials, but to let you know, when I speak about special education, it is from years of experience. My passion and drive has always been to educate an advocate for those individuals with disabilities, and their families.
I am “back in school” to get my Master’s degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders. My classes on transition, collaboration, and behavior have validated a lot of what I have thought for years. The other day, during class discussion, we were going back and forth about the “Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)” continuum. The continuum being from very restrictive, such as individuals living in an institution, to the very least restrictive, when children (with disability diagnoses) are in their general education classes with only a minimum of supports.
I read an article the other day, written by a mother of two children. One diagnosed with Down Syndrome and one not. The article discussed how she wanted her child with DS to have full inclusion. The author believes, in her opinion, that all children, regardless of (dis)ability, should have a fully inclusive experience at school.
Her article made me wonder. Do all parents feel this way? Is full inclusion really the best education, regardless of diagnosis, for all children? Is being with “typical” peers, using the same general curriculum, always the most appropriate learning for all involved? I took this topic to my online page for parents. Those that replied to the discussion, had some interesting perspectives. Parents told of their children, that are in full inclusion, getting in trouble frequently, and often requiring, but not receiving, more sensory breaks. Others talked about a mixture of “pull out” special ed classes and general ed, while others wanted their children out of the general ed classroom altogether, because their child was being bullied. This parent spoke, of feeling her child was safer in a special education classroom. I believe all these parents wished full inclusion would work, but unfortunately that often isn’t the reality. Maybe some of my readers have children in full inclusion and it is working. I’d love to hear your stories.
Special education has come a long way since the enactment of Public Law 94-142, The Education of All Handicapped Children Act, forty-one years ago. Reauthorizations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, over the last twenty-six years have created more opportunities for those students with disabilities, and their families. Before 1975, special education services were hit and miss. Some students, who desperately needed services, didn’t get anything at all. Even with all the good that has occurred since this time, there is still a long way to go……….
I am a firm believer in everyone having a voice. I believe in real collaboration, working together to form solutions that will be good for all involved. Do I expect perfection? Absolutely not. I doubt anything will ever be perfect……but, it can be better. Here are some questions I think about, not because I have all the answers, but because I think we need to think about these issues and consider the implications. In this way we (the families, student, schools) can make the best choices possible. Isn’t that what special education should be about?
- Is full inclusion always appropriate if a child is unable to work at their grade level? Should we alter the integrity of grade level curriculum in that classroom? Or are modifications always okay? How many accommodations/supports are too many to still be considered for full inclusion?
- Is having a special education teacher in the general education classroom for one or two academics, enough? Does working with the special ed teacher, in the general ed classroom, make the child feel even more different? Is working one on one or in smaller groups in a special ed. classroom, wrong?
- What about all the non-academic activities? Some students have difficulty during unstructured times. Some students require more sensory breaks. Some students require a person to teach them and daily practice with them, social skills.
- Is is right to expect a general education teacher (who might have only had to take one or two special ed. classes to get their degree) to understand a myriad number of disabilities their students could have? Can we expect them to be proactive instead of reactive in their classroom behavior management? Is it fair and equitable to treat all the children the same? Does fair always mean equal?
- How do we keep students from being unkind to each other? Do we talk about a student’s disability to the class? In order to help the class understand “why” a student might act the way he/she does?
- Should the student who has a severe intellectual disability, be subjected to taking standardized tests at their grade level? (For example, should a fourteen year old with the cognitive ability of a toddler be expected to take an eighth grade test? And if so, why? How will the results even be close to any kind of accuracy?)
- Should a teenager with high functioning autism have less supports in his general ed classes, because he “doesn’t look like he has autism” and “we don’t want him labeled”?
- Is overlooking a student’s true needs, an inherent danger in inclusion, because sometimes a student doesn’t “look” like he/she needs special ed services/supports? (whatever that is supposed to mean)
- If/When do the rights of a child with special needs carry more weight, than a child who does not have special needs?
- Are we making decisions now that will ultimately benefit the student after he/she graduates? Shouldn’t all of school be preparation for life after graduation? Especially, with teenagers, how to we make sure our children will have a smooth transition?
Blog readers, what do you think? I would be interested to hear your opinions, your experiences……