"No matter how different a Who may appear, he will always be welcomed with holiday cheer." -Cindy Lou Who
Inclusion is defined as: “all children, no matter their racial, religious, or ethnic background, gender, learning style, or ability have equal access to educational opportunities in a learning environment where all students are equally safe, valued, and respected” (Drexel University: School of Education, 2000). Inclusion does not always look the same, and it is difficult to implement effectively. Inclusion first came to be in 1975 when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was created (Education World, 1996. 2023). Prior to this, an estimated 1 million children did not even attend school. "In 1970, U.S. schools educated only one in five children with disabilities, and many states had laws excluding certain students, including children who were deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed, or had an intellectual disability" (A History of Individuals with Disabilities Act, 2023). If children with a disability did attend school, they were separated from their peers or many were institutionalized.
Inclusion looks different for each individual and family, and for us inclusion means AZ is learning among his peers as much as possible, while receiving accommodations and supports to best encourage how his brain and body learn and process information. During the Christmas season, the fifth graders in his school district went to watch the Nutcracker. When I heard the plan, I reflected on how this would go for AZ, as he still struggles through quiet activities such as church or concerts. Only recently he successfully sat through his first movie. Initially, I thought perhaps I could go and make myself available to provide encouragement and help with accommodations. I then reflected, is this something he really would want to do? To figure this out, I enlisted his opinion. We showed him videos and talked to him about what he could expect. After sharing and watching videos, going to the Nutcracker was a hard no from AZ. That problem was solved. Next, what would he do while his entire class was gone?
I didn’t want him sitting on his chrome book or doing extra schoolwork while his peers had an outing. Because of these concerns, I reached out to his autism teacher, Mrs. Raiff, and asked if she could plan a task or something positive he could do. I gave some ideas of things he likes to do (e.g. changing and replacing batteries or helping to make copies), What she came up with was even better than anything I could have thought of. His favorite movie is The Grinch and this day happened to be Grinch Day at his school. To give him something positive and a leadership role, he read the Grinch book to kindergartners. AZ was given the gift of being part of his school's Grinch Day in a unique way that encouraged confidence, connection, and his reading abilty (which is the biggest academic area we are targeting).
Currently, inclusion is often believed to be placing special education kids in regular education classrooms with some accommodations (e.g. reduced workload, untimed testing, pull out services). I encourage others to think about the true meaning of inclusion, which is having special education be part of regular education AND having specifically designed instruction for that INDIVIDUAL CHILD. It might be more work up front and most likely requires one to be creative and curious, but I promise everyone wins! I am thankful for our school and Mrs. Raiff for leaning into an opportunity to provide a unique experience for him. AZ also has one of the most amazing head teachers, Mr. Cubbage, who dressed as the Grinch himself. Mr. Cubbage spread Christmas cheer and made a major difference in one little boy's life. I am certain this will be a day AZ will not soon forget.