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BY Jennifer

A conversation about inclusion: What is your opinion?

Have you considered having your child with disabilities fully included in a typical classroom (with their supports and services)?

A Tale of Two Parents

This month I met two mothers within minutes of each other that shared different experiences.

As an author and presenter I meet many parents working to raise children with disabilities.  Usually the conversation begins with, “Hello, my name is Jennifer Greening. I wrote a book to help families include their children with disabilities in their neighborhood schools.”

The parents that want their children in their typical schools, ask many questions and often share their frustrations. Then there are parents that consider me “one of those mothers” and quickly end our conversation.

Inclusion vs. Center Based

This month I met a mother that cautiously entered the conversation.  Her child is in a center-based program and never interacts with typical students.  She described herself as being realistic about her child’s limited abilities.  She explained that she has never been one of “those mothers” that pushed for their child to have more.  However, she was curious to learn more about inclusion and she was asking thoughtful questions.

Opening Doors Opening Lives Jennifer GreeningWhile we were speaking, another mother she knew approached.  They exchanged greetings and then she apologized for interrupting.  She said, “I’m sorry to interrupt but read your book last year.  A month after reading your book I took my son completely out of the center-based program and put him in our neighborhood school.  He is doing great.  I hope you don’t mind if I give you a hug.”

I turned my attention back to the mother I was speaking with.  She looked at her friend with great surprise.  I could see the puzzle pieces being put together.  Their children had been attending the same center-based program.

One of the paraprofessionals from the program had been reassigned to go with the child to his neighborhood school.  While the mother had a general understanding that the changes happened, no one fully explained that there was one less child in the center-based classroom and that he had returned to his home school.

Both of these mothers seem like incredible mothers.  I think it’s important to share information and to continually learn what is possible for our children with special needs.    Every year our children’s educational programs continue to develop.  Sharing a clear vision of your hopes and dreams for your child allows your child to reach their full potential.  I’m not sure why people often say being “realistic” means the child has no potential.

Flowers blossom when they are ready

When my daughter was young we spent a lot of time and money trying to make her less disabled.  We had public and private therapies for her to develop her ability to walk and communicate.  We were tired, she was tired, and week by week I noticed that she wasn’t making the great gains she needed to make to appear less disabled.

I wanted to hurry and help her “catch up” so she could be included in her typical grade in school.  Instead of viewing school as a place of learning and development, I was viewing school as a measurement of my daughter’s abilities.

I learned as I went along to treat my daughter like a beautiful, gentle flower.  Instead of forcing her to open, I placed her in a nurturing school setting where she gently unfolded as she was ready.  No amount of therapy will cure her disabilities (we hope for miracles for this).  However, a nurturing typical school environment provided the opportunities to be a part of a joyful life among typical peers.


Written on March 23, 2012 by:

Jennifer Greening, Ed.S. is the author of Opening Doors, Opening Lives: Creating awareness of advocacy, inclusion, and education for our children with special needs. Her book is used in university classes across the country. It received positive reviews from the Autism Society of Michigan and was awarded 2010 Best Books Award Finalist by USA Book News. Visit her website at
  • Laura Bibeau

    I do appreciate both viewpoints.  My daughter has always been included one way or another.  When she attended elementary she was in the spec. ed. class not so much because I wanted her there but because our neighborhood school was not as accomodating as she needed.  I provided the extra support at home through tutoring and such.  She actually has done great academically.  She is extremely social and happy so I was not worried about her (did feel guilty sometimes because there is so much push for inclusion).  Middle shcool was a completely different story.  She attended for a year and a half in an environment that really did not want her.  The teacher was completety unprepared to be teaching our kids and very vocally complained.  After many meetings and getting some stuff implemented (they didnt even have a math or english program) I made the decision to transfer her to a shcool for children with disablilities.  It was the most gut wrenching decision I have ever had to make.  Although I would have liked to see changes made I did not want to waste my daughters precious time while that was done.  She still has many outside supports that continue to help her learn and be fulfilled and at her school she is very happy.  For the first time it is “her school” and she walks in like she owns it.  She has made a friend and they love each other.  She did not have that at middle shcool.  I don’t know what the future will bring but as long as she is happy I am o.k.  If that changes we will make a different decision.  Every choice is personal to each family and situation.

  • Celena

    For me, and my 5th grade daughter, with the attribute of Down syndrome, inclusion means being part of the community.  Not just in the classroom, at a back table. . . not down the hall away from her peers. .  . but PART of the community.  It hasn’t been easy to convince her GE and SPED teachers what that means and looks like – but it has been worth it.  My daughter is academically behind on standardized testing,  but when the appropriate accomodations and adaptations are made to the testing format, she has shown that she can and does learn at grade level.  AND she is part of her age-appropriate-peer-neighborhood community all day long.  I have no knowledge of the “other” side, as we have felt this from the first day of school.  I don’t know that it is “right” for everyone, but we believe it is “right” for our daughter.  As parents you have to believe in and follow your gut on what is best for YOUR child.  Remember IEP is based on the  INDIVIDUAL – so “inclusion” does mean different things for each individual.

  • I have a child with Aperts Syndrome AND was a teachers assistant for special ed, so I have seen both sides of this argument.  I would say it totally depends on the child.  Some of the children I worked with were highly overstimulated by being in the traditional classroom and it only lead to frustration, not learning.  My child, however, is enjoying being in a classroom of his peers and is thriving.  One other perspective to consider is that at its best inclusion also helps typically developing children learn about and respect those who are different from them.  This is something our society can definitely use more of.


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