Ds Awareness Day#12: Inclusion – beyond just the classroom.
What is “Inclusion”?
“Inclusion is a philosophy of education based on the belief in every person’s inherent right to fully participate in society. Inclusion implies acceptance of differences. It makes room for the person who would otherwise be excluded from the educational experiences that are fundamental to every student’s development.
Inclusive education is more than mainstreaming. Mainstreaming implies that a student from a separate special education class visits the regular classroom for specific, usually non-academic, subjects. Inclusion is an educational process by which all students, including those with disabilities, are educated together for all, or at least most , of the school day.”
Why ‘beyond the classroom’?As Peter’s mom, however, my belief is that true inclusion extends beyond the classroom. A few years back I wrote a blog post about Inclusion vs. Including after an emotional experience at McDonalds. In a nutshell, I feared (and still do) that just because Peter’s school was an inclusion setting, that did not mean Peter would be truly included by his peers.
Peter’s challenges go beyond the fact that he has Down syndrome. As a student he has spent several years in and out of the classroom due to illness, mainly during his years of chemotherapy. Kids notice that, and it can be uncomfortable to know someone is very sick. Peter is really short, I mean super short, like almost off the Down syndrome height chart version of short. Kids see him as younger because he is smaller. Peter can’t communicate verbally. The basis of all relationships is good communication. So, his inability to communicate verbally makes him more like a baby. Peter can spend all day in the same class as his 2nd grade peers, but they will see him as different. He is different. Inclusion requires acceptance of differences.
So, stepping up onto my tiny soapbox, we lead by example on accepting differences. Differences of all kinds. No matter how well Peter’s school educates him with his peers, his peers will continue to learn acceptance by what they see around them every day in every setting. Therefore, it is important that we, as a society, develop attitudes that permit people with Down syndrome, and other disabilities, to participate in community life, to be accepted in a manner that recognizes and preserves their value and human dignity. This doesn’t deny differences, but it promotes participation, belonging, and interaction. Inclusion, in the purest form, goes beyond the idea of physical location, but is rather a belief system that permeates all aspects of everyday life.
We must become an inclusive society, a society in which everyone belongs – not despite their differences, but embracing their uniqueness.
Leading into the holidays, Peter was the star student of the week. I helped put together the poster that would hang in his class, and came to school one day to help him deliver an “All About Me” speech with his class. When all the material came home, it included letters that were written to Peter by his classmates. Many referenced what Peter had delivered in his speech, mainly that he loves dogs. A lot of his classmates wanted him to know that they have dogs too. The mom tears came when I read the letters that thanked Peter for being a good friend, for including others on the playground. The letters that thanked him for always sharing a smile, or hugging friends when they needed it. At the core, they thanked Peter for being inclusion, by the way that he accepts his peers, promotes participation, shares a sense of belonging, and interacts – even without the use of words.
“When accorded their rights and treated with dignity, people with Down syndrome will, in turn, provide society with a most valuable humanizing influence.” – Dr. Sigfried Pueschel