Special Education: A Series by Cathy Abraham Part 4December 13, 2011
reprinted from the December 2005 BCCPAC magazine ImPACt
Part 4: Straight Talk About Inclusion
This fall, we heard a lot of discussion about special education. Some of those conversations provided us with good information, but many were founded upon myths about services for students with special needs. In this article, we will attempt to dispel some myths about inclusion.
The Ministry of Education’s Ministerial Order 150/89 lays the foundation for inclusion in our schools. Some people believe that the Order directs schools to include all children at all times in all classes. The Order does not say that, nor is it intended to be interpreted that way.
The Order says that, unless the best interests of a child with special needs, or other children, are better served in some other way, the child is to be included in a typical classroom. Thus, the Order is “weighted” in favor of inclusion, but the best interests of the child and other children always come first.
If a school district can show that an alternative setting is required to meet the needs of a special needs child or of other children, or if safety is a consideration, the district can (and sometimes should) provide an alternative setting for the child. The objective of using alternative settings is to address, wherever possible, the problems that required segregation in the first place, with a view to eventually returning the child to the regular classroom. The classroom is the hub of service, and a segregated setting should be part of a continuum of services that begins and ends in the classroom.
Let’s look at some examples of best practice:
- A student is diagnosed with a learning disability. The parents, school-based team, and district specialists strategize on interventions based on the child’s learning disability and these are put in place. Only after school and district resources are exhausted would segregation be appropriate so that the child could eventually return to the classroom. Follow up and monitoring should be part of the plan.
- A student with autism may not be able to tolerate the stimulus of a typical classroom. A quiet space may be appropriate for extended periods of time at the beginning of the school year. As the child becomes more accustomed to the school and classroom, he or she could spend more time with other students.
- The process to address a child with behaviour problems is similar to that for learning disabilities. If a child is removed, a plan should be put in place to help the child stop the difficult behaviour and return safely to the classroom.
- Many secondary schools use resource rooms. Depending on the needs of the student, he or she may continue to have a “home base” to help the student become more comfortable in the regular classroom. The degree of inclusion will depend on the child.
The majority of students with the “special” label have never been segregated, and we need to keep this in mind when looking at the big picture of inclusion. By making the classroom the hub of service for all students, we are able to provide extra support while at the same time building more inclusive school communities. We make a clear statement that all students belong.
This statement carries over into society’s perceptions and expectations, and influences our ability to understand and appreciate those who face challenges. Our fear dissipates as students of today become employers and employees of tomorrow. Our economy benefits when those with special needs are supported and expected to become contributors rather than “takers”, assets rather than liabilities.
Through my long years of involvement with special education, prodded by my daughter with special needs, I have come to learn that the quality of life we give to those with special needs is far less dependent upon their unique challenges than upon society’s willingness to see beyond the wheelchair, the IQ, or the glasses. The quality of their lives rests in our hands. Let us give it back with tenderness and understanding.