Thursday, April 12, 2018

Inclusion vs Specialized Education

Most of Beth's adult life has been spent with other adults who have special needs.

She's part of a group called All Aboard and they offer classes and activities for adults with special needs. Art, karaoke, cooking, bowling league, parades, that's her social club. That's where she learns behavior and etiquette and conversation and friendship.

She doesn't have 'typical' friends.

There are women at church who have befriended Beth, who talk to her and give her hugs in the foyer. But most of them are my age or older. There are one or two who are close to her age who will talk to her and ask her about her day but they're married and have kids. 

She doesn't have typical friends who hang out with her, invite her to the movies, out to eat, dancing... there just isn't anyone. And there's no one her age that she could invite out. No one typical.

I remember struggling with this when she was growing up. She imitated the behavior of those she was around all the time. Which was her classmates. And they were students who also struggled with social interaction and developmental issues.

She's been secluded. I don't think it's been on purpose. We haven't gone out of our way to keep her separate, but I think I can also say we haven't gone out of our way to integrate her into typical circles either. She's very shy and pushing her into social situations would just terrify her. 

When she was growing up she was involved at our church with Missionettes, kids choir, all with typical kids.

Beth in Missionettes - June 1992 - 8 years old

Beth with her Missionettes class on the night of Crowning
(They've completed 6 years of badges and scripture memory and work books and it culminates in a night where they're treated like royalty!)
Beth is 4th from the left

But in Jr. High everything changed. They began talking about things that were beyond her comprehension; dating and driving... and mentally Beth was only about 8 so honestly, she just wasn't interested in any of it.

Since then, it's been specialized all the way. And I'm torn because she's so happy! She's very content with her life and she doesn't realize her friends aren't 'typical'. I know there are intense arguments out there for inclusion but I have a difficult time when they insist that is the only option.

I mean, I understand the positive affects of inclusion for everyone and I believe it should be offered or explored in every situation. But I also think there is a place for specialized education or social activities, as long as it's meeting a need for those who desire that. For those students who absolutely have a melt-down with the noise level or the amount of kids in the room. And sometimes I feel like those parents who place their kids in a specialized learning environment are looked down upon for not advocating for inclusion.

I've seen specialized classrooms give one-on-one attention to students who need it and thrive with it. They're able to focus on one person and connect with that person. Something that's almost impossible with 25 other kids in the room. I've seen specialized classrooms give students the time to process the work required and consequently succeed in doing that work.

I think it's just as detrimental to ignore the area of inclusion as it is to keep a student in a typical classroom for the sake of inclusion when a specialized environment would help them thrive.

We should try to provide every type of learning environment so every student, regardless of how fast they learn, can succeed at the task put before them. 

Our deepest desire may be for our kids who have special needs to go through their entire school career with their typical developing peers, but at what cost?


Meredith said...

Thank you for making a case for following the child's lead! It is so awesome reading your perspective and giving ourselves permission as parents to check in with our kids and see how their school or social environments are making them feel. My LO with DS is in a blended class, but she is best friends with another little girl who has an IEP and who also has ID/D of some sort. They're in preschool where academics don't come into play yet, but the room can still feel overwhelming to me as an adult and to my DD, for sure. I think with more individualized instruction and less chaos, my daughter would be even happier...she loves playing with this little girl. Having more supports in the classroom would only help her.

We have been under so much pressure (external and internal) since her birth to win the battle for inclusion, and I know research suggests that for some, inclusion leads to desirable outcomes. But it's so comforting to read about Beth, who is happy and content, who has enjoyed working for many years, who has a meaningful relationship with a boyfriend. Thank you Cindy!

Rebecca Jo said...

You know - I think it varies anyways - I know for me, being 46, I think of all my friends & women I'm close to & they are ages from 25 to in their 70's... I think its a good rounding thing to have friends of all ages - but I get exactly what you mean.
I grew up with a special needs girl next door - she was in her 30's & I was 12, 13? & I would go over every day & play games with her (she LOVEEEED games) & I just always loved letting her know she had a friend... age meant nothing to me then. & didnt her. It's all about connection, right? :)

Barb said...

Hi Cindy~

I know how you feel. My granddaughter's aide was away from school for medical reasons, so instead of hiring a substitute for Averi, they just let her go to and from her classes, and lunch, by herself. Averi has lots of people who like her, typical kids, not special needs kids, but they don't watch out for her. Being blind really does limit what she can do, and it was terrifying to me that they were just trying to include her with other children in her school. Mostly, because I know how cruel kids can be. But, I also know how kind they are as well.

Her therapist really just wants her to be around all the kids at school, so that she can learn to get along with "normal" people. She wants her to know how to get along, so when she gets a job she will "fit in". Averi is blind and autistic. She is also a savant, and will never, "fit in", and most likely will never have a job.

She absolutely needs to have inclusive teaching and classes, that's where she is comfortable. Although she is almost 16, she is still like an 8 year old, and she just doesn't understand the talk, and the tings that the other girls do and say.

And I so agree that these special kids need to know what success is and feels like. When you group them with a regular class, they will always fall short. I have seen Averi thrive in some classes, and just digress in others, depending on how she is taught.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I need to share this post with my daughter, she feels exactly the same way!

Beth is adorable!!

Hugs and Love,