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.

(not so) Politically Correct

     Words are very powerful things.  Obviously I think so, since I use them so much.  One of the lessons I always try to teach my kids is how important words are, and what a profound effect they can have on people.  Also, that words cause a different kind of hurt–cuts and bruises heal, but words can never, ever, be unsaid.  That’s why I raised them to say things like “I’m mad at you” instead of “I hate you.” (Well, Evelyn doesn’t actually say anything. She just hits you when she’s pissed, but that’s another topic altogether.)

     Having said all of that, I think maybe everyone has lost their mind.  Even I have fallen victim to it, and I didn’t really realize it until today.  I found an awesome online community called “Underground Moms.”  It’s a group I fit in to very well, and so that should give you some idea of what it’s like.  Check it out.

     Anyway, I registered my blog, and there’s a spot to make a little statement about yourself for everyone to see, and I referred to my children as “typical” and “special needs.”  I refer to them in those terms most of the time when the context calls for it, and I never even thought about it until today.  Suddenly, it just hit me.  What the hell does that mean? Typical?  Special needs?  WTF??????  What common sense and logic tell me is that I should say I have a normal kid and a disabled or handicapped kid.  These terms do not offend me, and since they are my children, that’s what should matter, right?

     Wrong.

     I’ve been around handicapped kids my whole life.  I was three when my sister was born, so I have no memory of a life without her.  She went to school both before and after mainstreaming took place (another blog topic I could hit that I bet would get me some hate mail) and I spent a lot time at her “special school.”  So anyway, it really doesn’t phase me.  And we called them handicapped kids.  In fact, the program which is run by the state of West Virginia to assist families with handicapped kids used to be called “Handicapped Children.”  Guess what it’s called now?  “Children With Special Health Care Needs.”  Really.  Because at some point, someone got offended.  Even the normal kids can’t be called normal, because that implies that the handicapped kids are abnormal.  So now those kids are typical, and the newest term I’ve heard which seems to becoming popular is neurotypical.     

     What is happening to us?  We are so worried about offending someone, and some brain somewhere comes up with this crap, but it has nothing to do with reality.  Maybe we should be a tad more concerned about the fact that we are raising a generation of children to be morally void automatons who have no empathy, ethics, or education.  But that, of course, is just my opinion.

    It seems like we are trying so hard to make it seem like a disabled child is just like all of the other children, but here’s a news flash, folks–they aren’t.  My daughter is different, damn it, and she is special, and yes, she has special needs, but she is handicapped, too.  I’m not ashamed of it, and I don’t have to try and put some pretty, PC phrase on her to make myself feel better.  Maybe normal isn’t a great word, because really and truly none of us are normal–certainly no one in this house–but I guess it’s as good a word as any. 

    Ultimately, I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe we should get to know the kids themselves instead of worrying about what they are called.  For Evelyn alone, there are thousands of words I could give you that describe her–angel, for example, or devil, depending on the day–but there’s only two that mean anything to me:

Daughter.  Mine.

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