"You're Going to Love This Kid!" A Professional Development Package for Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom

What a privilege it has been to review Paula Kluth’s professional development package for teaching students in inclusive classrooms! The message, the questions, and especially the video footage of children and teachers all hit me in deeply personal, meaningful ways.

You see, genuine inclusion—putting into practice the belief that all students of all abilities belong and can learn—is something that has shaped who I am as a teacher and a parent. I am excited to see this professional development package spread the vision to districts around the country.

From my role as a special educator in a pilot program designed to replace pull-out services by bringing specialized instruction to children within an integrated classroom—to teaching in a general classroom with a parent option allowing me to deliver special services to their students with IEPs—inclusion has impacted my instruction. Enormously!

As a parent, I’ve watched my child with severe disabilities blossom as a valued member participating fully in general classrooms. I’ve also seen her pushed aside in non-inclusive situations that shatter her spirit. The contrast in her life has been dramatic.

Having seen inclusion at work (or not) from so many angles, it is no wonder then that some of the video clips inspired me to cheer inside with joy over the successes...and for my eyes to well up thinking of specific children who don’t know what it is to be included. How deeply I want all children to know, truly know, they are valuable and appreciated and capable of learning.

Paula Kluth is a strong advocate of this vision. That is what the professional development package based on her book “You’re Going to Love This Kid!” inspires.  And it does this by showing inclusion in action, by stimulating discussion, by analyzing what we are doing and what we could be doing better.

If you aren't familiar with Paula Kluth, Ph.D., you are in for a wonderful treat. Her contagious energy and enthusiasm for including kids of all abilities in classrooms where dynamic learning is happening will inspire you. You can catch Paula at Differention Daily and Paula Kluth.com. She shares lots of practical tips at both sites.

While Paula’s development package focuses on children having autism, the message and principles are appropriate for differences of any kind. She offers specific, practical strategies for working with students with autism. It’s amazing how many of these suggestions are excellent practice for teaching any student.

The film includes interviews with teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and parents working in a school district where inclusion is embraced as a way of life. It shows students successfully learning and interacting, whether they have disabilities or not.

One thing that stood out for me was the genuine acceptance students held for their classmates with autism and other disabilities. They worked together naturally, comfortably, with respect and kindness. It didn’t come across as something forced for the camera. I do wonder how long the featured schools have been practicing inclusion. Certainly all the students in these videos are going to grow up richer for their inclusive school experience.

Another stand-out for me was seeing the lessons in action. It’s one thing to talk theory; it’s another to see it carried out successfully. These video clips didn’t show perfection, but they did show possibility. You cannot watch these film clips and say that inclusion is an impossible ideal.

Accompanying the video is a facilitator’s guide. It describes how to use the videos, discussions, and handouts for staff trainings of 3 to 12 hours in length. In addition to providing the materials needed to facilitate discussions, it offers a comprehensive list of outside reading and online resources to match each topic.

Several comments in the videos and printed materials stood out as gems in my mind. Others may strike you as particularly meaningful.

--We must ask ourselves, “What can I learn from this student?” This immediately called up a memory of my child’s first grade teacher. At the end of the year, this incredibly gifted teacher thanked me for the privilege of having my daughter in her class, because “she has taught me how to be a better teacher. I have learned more from her this year than during over 30 years of teaching." 

--We are reminded how critical it is to presume competence, especially with children who lack the expressive language skills to demonstrate how much they know.

--The language we use influences our attitudes. If we rephrase challenges in words that put them into a positive light, we are better able to see how to use them to the student’s benefit. For example, by viewing a child's perseverative thoughts as “fascinations” or “passions,” we are more likely to honor the child as an expert on the topic rather than dismiss him as being unteachable in other areas.

--Acknowledge the uniqueness of each child, even within a category of disability. As Paula says, “When you know one child with autism, you know ONE child with autism.”
--Get away from pencil-and-paper lessons. This is more engaging for any student!

--When a child displays challenging behaviors, always ask yourself what the child is attempting to communicate through this difficult behavior. 

If there was one area I would like to have seen developed more fully, I would like the package to address in more detail the issue of state standards. How do teachers individualize expectations for students while working towards state standards that no longer recognize individual needs or abilities? It’s a question that is sure to come up in staff trainings. It’s also one that is bigger than the scope of the development package, and so Paula has recommended some outside resources that would be great to look up.

I finished up the videos thinking, “THIS is what I want for my daughter. She’s had it in the past; this is what I want for her now. For her future.” Isn’t this what any parent would want for their child?

A second thought grabbed my mind... “Is this district taking applications? THIS is where I want to teach!!”

Brookes Publishing has recently released the “You’re Going to Love This Kid!” Professional Development Package at http://www.brookespublishing.com/store/books/kluth-72049/index.htm. For the price of $129.95 US, it’s very affordable for professional development. I do hope that it will be a major component of school staff trainings around the country as students head back to school this fall. Excellent things can happen for our children and their teachers as they work toward the practical vision of inclusion.


vlmaples said...

I sure would love to see this after your robust endorsement! Thanks for the heads up on such an amazing resource!

Rose-Marie said...

Thanks for your comment, Valerie. :0) Yes, I think you would be encouraged seeing how the schools in this video have made all kids active members of their community. There's no dumping children in the back of the classroom!

Paula Kluth said...

THANK YOU so much for this kind review. I follow your blog religiously so it was thrilling to click over and find this post! I so appreciate your enthusiasm for supporting diverse learners- both at school AND in the home.
My best, Paula

Rose-Marie said...

Paula, the thanks go to YOU for this inspirational and practical staff development resource. It truly was a joy to review (and made me itch to get back in the classroom--uh oh!).

You are doing such important things in your work. Thanks for going beyond merely promoting the ideal of inclusion, which is excellent in its own right, to giving schools practical ways to implement it. That is how it is going to happen.

It's so good to have you here on the blog!