When it comes to special needs students, inclusion is an important concept.
As a father to a special needs eighth grade student in the local public school system, inclusion is forefront in my mind when I think about school and my kid.
For Carson, who is nonverbal with Autism, inclusion provides him a chance to be in the general education classroom being taught the same as others, while also providing opportunities to socialize with other students. There’s not a ton of connecting among peers with Carson, but I also know there’s a “lunch bunch” of kids with similar backgrounds who eat together and have been by joined by other kids who are neurotypical. It’s important for him to feel like a normal student.
Carson is aware he’s different than his peers, but we are blessed he has significant cognitive abilities and can work his way through the curriculum. While adjustments and modifications are made by the teachers, Carson has shown an aptitude to succeed. He has always been a hard worker in school and loves a task or job. His work ethic will serve him well throughout his life.
When it comes to school, there are laws under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requiring least restrictive environments being provided to students with Individualized Education Plan (IEPs). The concept is kids with special needs should be in the same general education classroom as neurotypical kids as much as possible. For Carson to function well, he requires the assistance of a one-on-one educational assistant. This has been the case since he entered school at 3 years old.
Our 14-year-old needs an educational assistant to guide him through the day. These one-on-one men and women become and remain like family members to us. We can remember every single one’s name, and they will forever hold special places in our heart. These folks possess the best qualities humanity has to offer, and we have been blessed by their sincerity and understanding of our son. We have always tried to support them and do whatever we can to hand over a happy, ready to learn and work student at school drop off each morning.
A friendly conversation with another curious parent about what school looks like for Carson got me thinking on a deeper level about my kid’s life. The mom’s son was often in Carson’s classes in elementary school, and they were curious what school was like for him now. It struck me some of the comments she made. She referenced everyone knowing Carson. It was almost as if he was a celebrity. I assume it’s because he’s so different and carries a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal into school each day. She hit my heart when she said everybody recognizes Carson’s special needs but supports him. She said all the kids are impressed by him.
Our Carson requires many things, starting with just the general concept of a lot of support. He’s the most inspirational person in my life but there are daily challenges in our journey. He has made me a better person because he has taught me about key life components like patience, empathy and perspective.
I want to share a story to show his progression, thanks to the value of inclusion. Carson is now taking part in a robotics after-school academy at Stephen Decatur Middle once a week. He is participating without a dedicated one-on-one and rides the bus from the middle school to the high school each Tuesday. I have to admit the thought of this worried me, but Pam pushed for the opportunity, and I am glad she did. He is thriving and enjoying the program. It’s his involvement and ability to be included that’s making a difference in his life. The opportunity will serve him well by building confidence through independence. Without a commitment to inclusion by his education team, he would be missing out on something important to him.
Though inclusion may be a controversial topic for some, it means everything to us. During our years in the public school system, we have found the teachers, administrators and staff embrace and encourage inclusion. An Education Week article hit home as to why it’s important. The headline read, “Students With Disabilities Deserve Inclusion. It’s Also the Best Way to Teach.” The 2019 piece was by Hannah Grieco, a certified teacher and freelance writer.
“Empathy — which cannot be measured quantitatively — matters, too. How children view peers who look and learn differently from themselves is also a consideration as they grow to adulthood and become members of their communities, and as they live and work alongside a diverse array of citizens. It’s a critical factor in whether communities and workplaces are able to function and thrive.
… disabled students can achieve. Their talents and gifts are varied, as are the talents and gifts of all students. They are legally entitled to an appropriate public education, but they also have so much to offer their non-disabled peers, teachers, and schools.
Inclusion works when educators collaborate, get the support they need, and believe in the value of all students. … Inclusion is the least expensive, most effective method of teaching students. It starts from the top, with administrators making this a priority. When administrators model inclusivity and support teachers in its implementation, the entire school (and school system) culture changes. … More importantly, children become better citizens.”