My Child is Worthy of Inclusion
One of the most beautiful statements I have ever read is written in the mission statement of the Friendship Circle,
“The Friendship Circle was founded on the idea that within each person is a soul, and that soul is the same regardless of any limitations that may surround it. That regardless of whatever natural gifts we may have or lack, regardless of what obstacles and challenges we may confront, our souls are sacred and worthy of boundless love.”
I believe that my daughter with disabilities has a sacred soul and that she is worthy of boundless love. I believe she was purposefully created and gently shared with this world to make this world a more loving, beautiful place. In order to interact with her you must put your worldly expectations about how people behave and enter your “conversation” on a loving, caring level. She is 13 years old and cannot speak. Due to low muscle tone, she cannot use sign language or technology yet to support communication. Therefore, you must put your expectations and technology aside, and look at her. You need to patiently, gently, and lovingly interact with her if you want her to respond to you. Everyone she meets that wants her attention learns this lesson. She seems to be preaching to everyone we meet!
One of “those” mothers
I believe my daughter is a special gift. So how can a child that I believe is so special instantly create anger and hostility between people? Try going to a dinner party and telling people that you want your child with special needs fully included in school. I used to do this!
One mother looked at me flatly and said, “Oh, you are one of those mothers. You just want your child included without any learning expectations.”
Yes, I am one of those mothers. I read every literature and social studies book aloud to my daughter. I show her how to do algebra. I also teach her to pray and to walk. I believe she is worthy of every lesson. Am I afraid she isn’t learning? No, one of my biggest fears is that she will miss the lessons of the 8th grade. I am also afraid of the people that don’t believe that I should be teaching her. Since when do we stop teaching people things they don’t know?
As a teacher of 22 years, I thought that everyone understood that neighborhood, public schools naturally include all members of the public. I did not know that children with disabilities are still routinely separated and sent to schools in different cities. In every grade I have taught, there have been a wide range of learning needs, religions, and a great emphasis placed on valuing diversity. Even in private schools, many of the children attend “religion classes” and learn to be kind and helpful. However, I discovered that some of these schools are described as having “high expectations” of their students and parents are told that their children with disabilities will fail their classes.
I clearly understand that some people believe that I am in “denial” of my daughter’s abilities. After all, I want her fully included in every 8th grade class. I have a Master’s Degree and I went back to school to learn more about the best way to educate my daughter with disabilities. I re-learned the importance of quality instruction for all students in a caring school that values diversity.
Something for Everyone
In 2005, the Michigan State Board of Education approved the Vision and Principals of Universal Design as a framework and foundation for policy development. The focus of Universal Design for Learning helps teachers focus on providing quality instruction that meets the learning needs of all students. This makes education better for all students. This means that the focus for learning is on quality instruction. Students have access to technology. Lessons are modified so all students can participate.
Universal Design for Learning improves instruction for all children. In addition, children with delayed skills or other disabilities are eligible for special services that are outlined in their individualized educational programs (IEP’s) in public schools free of charge for families. These are services such a speech, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. The services and goals outlined in the IEP support the child with disabilities in every educational placement. So once a child attends their neighborhood school, this team of support is naturally built into the school.
Separate But Equal?
Many people view the inclusion of people with disabilities in their typical, neighborhood schools as a civil rights issue. The laws show that, “Separate but equal” cannot exist. The Individual with Disabilities Act (IDEA 2004 and the updates to the law since then) have made parents of children with disabilities crucial members of their child’s educational team.
The educational research does not support ability-grouping students. This means that we should no longer group students by ability (or disability) throughout the day. I believe that part of the problem we face is that well-intentioned therapists and doctors are giving their opinions about school placement–when they actually should be giving advice about school services for children. These services are provided in schools to help children with disabilities achieve their IEP goals. Theses services are provided within typical, neighborhood schools so children can attend school with their siblings and neighbors. Special education is a service that is provided, not a place.
I believe our children with special needs should be bringing us together. The laws, research, and belief in children should be considered when we talk about educating children with disabilities.
I think we all want schools that will meet the needs of all children. Our children with special needs help to create diverse, caring schools loaded with technology and experts to support them. Many of those mothers (and fathers) have gone before me to open doors to this for my child.
I am a mother of three children. My oldest child has special needs. At first glance, you may see that she walks unsteadily. She is unable to speak. She may only briefly make eye contact with you. But if you take a second look, you will see her slight grin, a twinkle in her eyes, and her great desire to make sense of the world around her. I do not see her disabilities. Some people call this denial. I see her endless potential, and great possibilities. I believe she is worthy of boundless love and a great education.