A Must-Read Inclusion Article

You are going to gain some practical insights about including children with disabilities in the regular classroom in this outstanding article by Margaret Cisco. It gives every person working with a child with special needs--both at school and at home--important things to reflect on...enjoy!

Start with Three Key Concepts

Special thanks to the staff at SESA for permission to reprint
this article from the Fall 2006 SESA Newsletter
By Margaret Cisco, educational specialist, SESA

These three key concepts apply across all areas of low incidence disabilities. They are respect, organization, and expectation. Set up the learning environment with these three concepts to create a solid foundation for the educational program. 

FIRST KEY CONCEPT -- Be Respectful of the Student

Lack of respect is a barrier to learning. The following situations demonstrate a lack of respect for students with severe disabilities and describe the alternative. Use the list to assess the classroom situation and teach others how to show respect for the student with severe disabilities.

1. Many students with severe disabilities have instructional aides with them all day long. Whenever educators or peers look at or talk to the aide but do not include the student, the student is not respected.   Everyone in the student’s environment needs to interact directly with her. Speak to her and wait for her to respond in her own way and time. Teachers need to be models of good interaction for peers and explain to them how the individual can respond. It would help to ask other students or teachers how they would feel if no one ever addressed them.

2. Some students with severe disabilities cannot speak. When educators or peers talk to each other in front of the student as if the student is not present, then the student is not respected (and it’s just plain rude!). To show respect, everyone needs to include the student in the conversation and talk about information that is interesting and relevant to him. Otherwise, save the conversation for another location or time of day.

3.   Many students with severe disabilities have a delay between taking in information and reacting to it. When educators or peers do not wait for the student to process and react to information before they proceed, then the student is not respected. To show respect, everyone should wait long enough for the student to understand before expecting him to respond in some way.
4.  Some students with severe disabilities may not understand information they see or hear. When educators or peers do not notify the student before a change (e.g., before moving or touching, changing position, giving or taking an item, going to another location, or starting a new activity), then she is not respected. To show respect, everyone must inform the student of what is about to happen, and they need to do it in a way that she can understand. This may not be words. Other ways for giving information are discussed in the visual supports section. Be sure to wait until the student shows that she understands before making the change.

5.   Many students with severe disabilities have full time paraprofessionals with them throughout the school day. When educators leave the entire program to para-professionals and do not provide directions, materials, and ongoing program support, then the student is not respected. To show respect, educators need to consistently work with the students who have severe disabilities and the paraprofessionals who support them.
SECOND KEY CONCEPT --  Get Organized

A second common barrier to instruction and learning is the lack of instructional planning for students with severe disabilities. While other students have classroom schedules, classroom routines, and daily lesson plans, the students with significant needs often go with the flow. This can mean anything from doing something on the whim of the adult or just listening to what is happening around the class.
1.   Establish a daily activity schedule (and stick to it!) Typical classrooms have daily schedules, even though the schedule may vary across weekdays.   For example, Monday’s schedule may be slightly different than Thursday’s schedule. Often, the student with a severe disability is moved from place to place without a plan for the day.
2.   Even when there is a plan for the day, the student may feel as though events are random because no one informs him. Be sure to inform the student of his schedule in a manner he understands. This will usually require some form of visual support.
3.  Use consistent routines for typical daily activities.   Everyone functions well with routines. Good teachers know that routines help students to learn, to better manage their behavior, and to become more independent within the established classroom framework. These same benefits of routine also apply to students with severe disabilities. Doing things in the same way with the same cues will increase the student’s ability to understand what is about to happen, and thereby better engage in the anticipated event.
THIRD KEY CONCEPT --  Enable Active Participation
In most schools nowadays, the special education placement model involves inclusion. In other words, students with severe disabilities go to general education classes. Whether the student is included or attends class in the special education room, another barrier to learning occurs if the student has no purpose except being present and cared for in that location.   Being present and cared for is not enough. When educators do not expect and modify activities to enable participation, learning cannot occur.
SESA multiple disabilities program specialist Kathy Osinski uses a good rule of thumb to evaluate whether the student is actively participating. The original source of the following is unknown:

Ask yourself if a potato could do what the student is being asked to do. If a potato can do it, then the student is not actively participating.   For example, a potato can be present in the kindergarten or in the chemistry class so just being there is not active participation.


Cheryl F said...

Thanks for sharing this article. The 3rd concept is the one that seems to happen in many inclusion classrooms. My son has special needs and I feel like I am always communicating with his general ed teacher about including him in activities, not just physically being in the same space. Some teachers need reminders that it is more than just having the student on their classroom roster, for it to be true inclusion the student has to actually participate in the class, not just sit there as a bystander. Getting the teachers to look beyond preconceived notions is our job as advocates for our students/children.

Rose-Marie said...

I agree completely; inclusion is all about participation. It's really great that you offer suggestions to the general ed teachers about how to help your son participate! I think it can be very challenging for teachers to think of ways to do this, since their general training rarely covers the kinds of adaptations that kids with physical or health differences might need. By supporting your son and his teachers this way, you are not only improving his educational experience, but you are benefiting the kids to come after him as well. Keep up the good work!

Dominique said...

Rose-Marie, thank you for posting this article. I have a 3 yr old daughter (with RS) in an inclusion classroom who has been sitting in the classroom without any accommodations just watching the day go by despite my educating, advising, and pleading (and of course the IEP which has essentially been ignored as far as accommodations go). Reading this gives me renewed faith that there are some people and some classrooms that can make inclusion a successful model. Thank you for giving me something to discuss with her classroom that isn't directly from me!

Rose-Marie said...

Dominique, I'm sorry your little one isn't getting a fair shake in her classroom. Inclusion can provide incredibly powerful learning experiences...but it does need to accommodate for active participation. You might want to check out Project Participate's website, http://www.projectparticipate.org/, for some more ideas to share with your daughter's team. Check especially in the "forms" sections...there is some really good stuff you might find helpful.

Thanks for commenting! I hope things will improve for your daughter. Preschool should be one of the easier times to provide accommodations, so now is the time for them to pull things together...