Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Color Me Happy
My school district is not big on inclusion for children with significant disabilities – not even for the ‘easy’ subjects like art and music. In elementary school, a child’s IEP may reference inclusion in art, music, and lunch, but by the time middle school rolls around, most children with significant disabilities spend their time in segregated classrooms. Their lunch is eaten either in the classroom or at a special table in the lunchroom, and physical education becomes adaptive PE, which means only the kids with significant disabilities participate. Parents can advocate for inclusion during their child’s IEP meetings, but they are often given dozens of reasons for not trying inclusion. At the most recent IEP meeting for Ashley, I insisted that she be allowed to join a regular education art class. I believe that because we had much more immediate issues to address in that IEP meeting, my request was granted so we could move on to the real fight of the day. So yesterday, Ashley went to art class for the first time – ever.
An inclusion attempt usually goes one of two ways – both of them extreme. The attempt can be a success for everyone involved, or it can be a dismal failure for the child who should be included without even a request being made. I believe inclusion cannot be successful without the proper supports in place. Yesterday’s inclusion attempt for Ashley was successful because her wonderful aide made sure the proper supports were in place.
Amy, Ashley’s aide, did everything right yesterday in art class, and as a result things went well. Amy introduced Ashley to the class just as any other child joining a new class after the start of the school year would have been introduced. She told stories about Ashley and the things that Ashley enjoys doing. She emphasized the ways in which Ashley is like the other students in the class, yet she also very matter-of-factly shared Ashley’s differences with the class. She showed the utmost respect for Ashley, the teacher and the other students, and as a result, I believe respect will be the cornerstone for everyone’s interaction for the future in the class. Amy explained how some of the art activities and materials will have to be adapted for Ashley due to her vision impairment, and she encouraged the other students to be comfortable asking questions.
When the class was over, Ashley walked proudly back to her segregated special education classroom, held her artwork out for her teacher to see, and smiled her biggest smile of the day.