Included


I was talking to a friend of mine this morning who is a teacher, and the conversation turned to the topic of “inclusion.”

Now, for those of you who have not been baptized into the world of special education, allow me to submerge you.  Inclusion is when you take special education children and put them in regular education classrooms.  That, of course, is a an extreme oversimplification, but hopefully you get the idea.

My sister, who turned 32 back in September, started off her public school education in a so-called “special” school.  It was a school made just for special needs kids.  Let me say something very clearly—I am not talking about kids who need extra help in math or reading and go out for a couple of classes a day for special education.  To me, that’s a whole other issue, although I could give you a good argument about why inclusion for those kids is misguided, too.  For now, the kids I’m talking about are kids like my sister, and like my daughter.

Where was I?  Right–Mindy.  She went to a special school.  This school was full of kids with varying levels of disability, but all of them were considered pretty severe.  Lots of kids in wheelchairs, kids who couldn’t talk, kids who were very challenged.  In this school, there were whole classrooms stuffed with physical therapy equipment.  There were therapists on staff all day who stayed at that school.  All day.  The teachers were qualified special education teachers.  The aides were special ed aides.  They knew first aid.  They knew how to deal with seizures, and how to administer Diastat.  Don’t know what that is?  Tough.  I’m not telling.  They worked on skills which hopefully made the kids more functional, and as independent as possible.  For all of our efforts at home, it was an aid at this special school who finally potty trained my sister.  She fit in there.  She wasn’t an object of pity–she was a member of a group.  Those were her peers.

Then one day some bleeding heart politically correct politician decided that these kids were segregated.  It was wrong to keep them separated from the regular ed kids.  So they mainstreamed them.  They put them in regular school.

Okay.  We can deal with that.  Right?

Wrong.

Things started to slip through the cracks.  The funding of special ed programs became much more ambiguous because they were now all mixed in with everything else.  Consider the following: the board of education in our county requests permission to bill WV Medicaid for services provided to my special ed daughter.  In due course they receive reimbursement from WV Medicaid, and they then put that money back into special education.

Hahahahahahahaha!   Whew! That was funny, wasn’t it?  Of course they don’t put the money back into special education.  They put it into the general fund, where it can then be spent on football uniforms for the local high schools. (Or whatever.)  I called the state department of education to see if this was legal, and after one thousand transfers and a bunch of hem hawing, I finally received the most unsurprising answer in the history of the universe: there is no policy dictating what the school boards do with the money they receive back from Medicaid.  So I withdrew my permission for the board to bill my daughters card, and I review all of her charges each year to make sure they don’t.  Because there is a policy which requires my written permission for them to bill Medicaid.  I happily deny that permission each year.

I’m getting off topic a little here (as usual).  My point was inclusion.  I don’t understand it.  Who are we trying to make feel better?  Kids like my daughter get absolutely nothing from a regular ed classroom.  A regular ed teacher is not qualified to teach her.  Instead of learning to be functional, suddenly now it’s important for her to know the days of the week.

Don’t get me wrong.  Knowing the days of the week comes in handy, especially on Friday.  But she’s not there yet.  She may never be there.  And I need her to have a teacher who understands that.  What I don’t need for her is a babysitter.

Because that’s what it boils down to.  That’s what happens to severely challenged kids in the regular ed environment.  They are just there.  People say it helps the other kids be more accepting.  Great.  Guess what?  It’s not my daughter’s responsibility to teach other kids to be accepting.  That’s their parent’s job.  Everyone always loved my sister, and she got a standing ovation on her graduation day, but so what?  Everyone liked her, sure, but she was still left out of everything.  Why?  Because she had no peers there.  There was one other kid with her, and thank goodness he was there, or she would have been completely alone.  We all need to feel like we belong, like there are others who are like us and understand a little what it’s like to be us.  Why should we take that away from special ed kids just to make everyone else feel good about themselves?

As far as parents who support inclusion, I don’t know what to think about them.  My best opinion is that they think maybe their special ed kid will be able to learn more in that environment.  My worst opinion is that they are trying to convince themselves that their kid is like everyone else.  Here’s the bad news: your kid is NOT like everyone else.  They don’t fit in.  Those regular ed kids are NOT their peers, and that will never change, even if they sit in that regular ed classroom forever.

My daughter is special, and she requires special education–all day, every day.  She has to have her diaper changed.  Is the regular teacher going to take a break from her teaching to do that?  The county doesn’t like having a designated aid for a special ed student, so what other option is there?

Let her go to music class or gym with everyone else if it makes everyone happy, but she has no business in a regular ed classroom.  Period.  I’m her mother.  I’m not worried about being politically correct–I’m worried about what’s best for her.

***Note:  my daughter happens to be in a very good educational situation right now.  However, I’m not going to go into it.  I have my reasons.  Trust me.  I’m just using her as an example.  That’s the price of being my kid, I guess.

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17 thoughts on “Included

  1. Keep being the voice of reason. People like you (knowledgeable and articulate) can help make a difference.

    The concept of “inclusion” (I hope) began in the best interest of special needs children. The problem is that people making decisions don’t know what they’re talking about. I agree with you that everyone needs a peer group and to feel that they belong. I can clearly remember a special needs student being a part of my typing class in 7th grade. While the rest of us were continually beating our previous timed scores, this girl was able to type half a word (at best) in one minute. What was the point of that? Not saying that we were in any way “better than” her, we just had different capabilities and it did her no good to be in that environment day after day. Even at my age I picked up on the teacher’s patronizing attitude towards her…

    I believe you can make a difference for children like the one I remember and your daughter, and future generations. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks for this comment. It took me two days to see it–sorry about that. I absolutely know what you mean about the girl in your typing class, and in answer to your question, there was no point to it. It was a PC (also read BS) decision.

      I think the problem is that people think of it as segregation, and for some reason people want to compare that to the institutionalization that was commonplace for special-needs kids years ago. Keep them separate so they don’t “shame” a family or “contaminate” the other kids. I get why people might have those feelings. But to me your comparing apples and oranges. Providing them with a functional education that is suited to what they actually need is NOT segregating them. And if you asked my sister if she would rather hang out with her graduating class or the “segregated” group of people she attended the day hab facility with, she picks segregation EVERY SINGLE TIME. Like I said, those were her peers. That’s not coming from me, that’s coming from her.

  2. I applaud your post. It has given me a fresh set of eyes and a renewed perspective on something that is very important in the world of education. Lawmakers and administrators try so hard to make the right choice and simplify things, but end up doing more harm than good.

    I’m not sure which has been more detrimental to the education system: inclusion or the No Child Left Behind Act. But it is clear to me that inclusion is a concept that only works in the imaginary dream world where leprechauns and unicorns prance around the classroom. That would be a cool classroom, but it can’t be found.

    Maybe they imagined this inclusion idea would only be for mild cases of special needs children. And perhaps it has been a benefit for 1 out of 1000 of them. But teachers do not get training or experience for handling those children. I imagine many of them think every day that they can’t wait for the next year so that child can become someone else’s problem.

    Keep on preaching your cause. If you get a petition, count me in. I’ll sign and lobby right there with you.

    And I don’t even have children yet, but I see the wisdom in this.

    • I think the problem with most laws concerning special needs people of any age is that they are made by people who have zero experience actually living and working with special needs people! You can’t learn everything in a college classroom.

  3. Well written and well said! This is a very tricky subject. My daughter, who has Asperger’s Syndrome needs special ed services for her sensory/social issues but also needs the challenge of a “typical” classroom. This is a case where I believe “inclusion” works. (Most of the time.) But for a person like my brother-in-law, who has severe physical (C.P.) and intellectual challenges (brain damage), inclusion would be a total joke. There’s no way his needs could be met in a typical inclusion classroom and a regularly trained teacher wouldn’t know what to do with him. The goal of education in this country needs to be to meet the needs of each child as an individual. Attempting to use special ed kids to teach other children how to accept differences is misguided.

    And this: “there is no policy dictating what the school boards do with the money they receive back from Medicaid” is horrifying. Bah, I don’t even know what do do with that other than to thank you for denying your school their opportunity to rob spec ed families.

    Ok, this is getting too long…

  4. Oh, AMEN!! My sister is a prime example of this. In high school, when she was integrated into the “normal” classroom, she shriveled like a wilted flower. Maybe it was because they put her to “work” and paid her and the other special needs kids to do things such as clean the lunch room, pick up garbage in the halls and empty garbage cans in classrooms. When my mom heard about this, she flew threw the roof! I don’t get it. “They” said it helped give them a sense of accomplishment…right…because all of the “normal” kids made fun of them while they were working.
    I do think not all parents realize this unless they witness it firsthand, though. I mean, in theory, it sounds good, in reality it doesn’t work.
    Great post! You are a wonderful writer.

  5. Did you happen to read my post? (Special) If you have you will know I support you 150%. My nephew is very bright and if not for his disability COULD be mainstreamed, but he’s got severe ADHD and he falls down a lot and he sometimes acts inappropriately amongst his other issues stemming from a chromosomal deletion. He’s got SPECIAL NEEDS. Therefore he needs to be in a class with only a few other children his age who are mostly more disabled than him but who also need a tighter reign with a teacher who is specially trained to teach these children and help them and be patient with them and (for lack of a better word) deal with them.

    Excellent post.

    Yay for us.

  6. Oh my – I’m so glad that special needs kids have people like you in their corner who are articulate and can inform others about what’s really going on. Wow – I had no idea about any of this, and I’m very thankful to have read your post.

  7. Thank you for this article. My brother is a teacher in middle school and is constantly fighting against what is deemed ‘best for the whole.’ I am not sure why we are so worried about making and teaching kids that everyone is the same. That everyone is a winner everytime. Instead of pushing this sameness we should be concentrating on the individual kid/student and helping them become the best they can be at that moment.

  8. I taught “mainstreamed” special ed kids when I was first a high school teacher, and I tried…I really really tried, but what the hell did I know about anything? I felt bad for thinking “wow, this is a screwed up policy,” but you know? It IS a screwed up policy – but it seems (sadly) typical of public school education, which consistently and constantly wants the classroom to be a one-size fits all experience. On some level EVERY kid should have an IEP (individualized education plan), right? It’s just easier (and financially expedient) to dump everyone in a room and hope for the best. I think too (oh boy, ranting now) that many of the education policies are made by people who have little or no experience … in classrooms, with special needs kids, with kids in general. ARGH

    • I think you are absolutely right. People do feel bad about saying it’s a screwed up policy, and they don’t want to say anything because it sounds like you are advocating segregation. In reality, what you are advocating is education which is as individualized as possible. And no, I don’t think the people who make these rules have any idea. I realize they think they are trying to do the right thing, but maybe they should actually research and talk to parents and kids and teachers instead of lobbyists and special interest groups. Oh well. I guess we could rant all day long.

  9. The education system has many issues that infuriate me, even as a parent of “typically developing” children. They preach inclusion, equality, anti-bullying, etc…but NOTHING is set -up to perpetuate success for the individual student on an intellectual or EMOTIONAL level…. I hear you loud and clear. You have an articulate, intelligent, and powereful voice for your child. You are a strong advocate for all students and families dealing with the failure of a misguided policy. I support you in your efforts and hope you continue your quest.

  10. I honestly believe there is a place for inclusion, a place for mainstreaming, and place for self-contained classrooms. It’s finding the best place for each child that should be priority! Advocacy, education for parents, support staff, & teachers, as well as a adequate programming is a necessity.

  11. I hear you…my friend has her masters in special ed, and taught for a year at a special school – need XX aides per students, speech therapist in the class, etc etc. Mainstreaming those kids would NOT have been best for them OR the other kids. It’s not about shipping them off so they don’t bother the “normal” kids, its about making sure they have the services they need, 24/7.

  12. I am a teacher. I believe in tracking ability levels and self-contained environments for those unable to handle the traditional curriculum. A teacher’s job has become almost impossible with the push for inclusion and mandates of ‘No Child Left Behind’. Our schools cannot succeed if class sizes keep increasing and the individual demands of the students interfere with the ability to move through the curriculum at a steady pace. As it is, expectations are lowered across the board and standards gets watered down; that’s why there now is the big push for new Core Content Standards to improve performance and achievement. My own daughter is in a self-contained classroom, and there is no other way I would want it to be. It would not be fair to the other students.

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