Education Inclusion of Children with Special Needs

Inclusion in schools for children with special needs.

By Pat Linkhorn, author of Off the Fence

The word inclusion seems to conjure up all the worst images for many professionals. It, like it's predecessors, mainstream and integration, has different meanings to different people. The first thing professionals tend to do when they hear that they are going to be asked to change is to have a meeting. Then they go about defining the extent to which they will have to change. They then deliberate and try to outline the process they will have to follow in order to comply with rules. Meetings like this tend to be long, drawn-out affairs where it is impossible for everyone to agree on the exact nature of what they're doing.

As a parent with two children with special needs, who are in "inclusive" settings, (which by the way vary because their disabilities are different), I have to question the need to define the process for so many people who are supposed to be educated. Is it a need to limit the extent to which they will have to adapt? Is it a method by which to prioritize all the reasons it won't work? Is it a stalling technique?

My memory of teachers from my childhood was that they were people to be looked up to and admired. After all, they were our teachers, the people responsible for helping to shape our lives and futures. Based on the amount of resistance I have encountered during the process of getting my children in inclusive settings, I have to question whether my memory is bad or whether teachers are different now. Had I been educated in a setting where the professionals worked twice as hard to avoid doing what was right rather than simply just doing it, would have made me a very badly educated person.

Perhaps if our professionals thought of inclusion as a way to make the most of all students abilities, there wouldn't be this need for all the meetings to define the term. If all people would look at people with disabilities and say to themselves, "There, but for the grace of God, go I," and then go one step further and try to imagine how they would like to treated if they were in that person's shoes, there would be no problem. They would help to make it possible for our children to be included in school, social affairs, extracurricular activities and community. They would, without the need for meetings, do what was right for all children.

So perhaps inclusion should be viewed as just the right way to do things rather than a new mandate that has to be met. The way they would like it to be if it were their child.

Pat Linkhorn is a professional advocate for families with children who have special needs. She is the author of Off the Fence : Disability Advocacy. She is also experienced parent and has two girls with special needs - autism and blindness due to prematurity. Visit her website.