Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Two solitudes

By Louise Kinross

In the last couple of days I've seen parents argue for two radically different visions of how to educate children with disabilities.

In this piece in The New York Times' Motherlode blog the mother of a 10-year-old with an intellectual disability who can't speak says that children like her daughter need special, separate schools. "Alongside her peers with disabilities, she's thriving in a rich, complete school community," writes Margaret Storey, who says she's surprised to describe herself as a "segregationist."

Storey writes about how mainstream classes can become "exclusive and stigmatizing" for children with profound disabilities because they don't have the resources to hire highly-trained staff to provide one-on-one support. "Abstractions about inclusion may fail to comprehend my daughter's needs," she writes.

We still need separate schools, Storey says, and they need to be well-funded.

Yesterday in a new Ted Talk called Disabling Segregation, filmmaker Dan Habib, father to a Grade 8 son with cerebral palsy, says that all children with disabilities should be taught in general education classrooms. 

Habib notes that in the U.S., 56 per cent of students with intellectual or developmental disabilities spend their entire day in a self-contained class or separate school.

This flies in the face of 35 years of research, he says, that show that disabled kids who are included in general education classes have better outcomes socially, academically and behaviourally and do better after they graduate. 

Equally important, Habib says, is that studies show improved grades and social benefits for typical kids who learn alongside peers with disabilities.

What do you think?

Read the Motherlode piece and listen to Dan Habib's talk and let us know.


I;ve seen it "work' both ways, and not. By "work" it usually means that the parent is pleased.

The problem is that more times than not, neither model is a very good one.

I have a dear friend who spent many years in regular classes and special ed at her public school, falling further and further behind, despite an identical twin sister who pulled her along for a lot of the ride.

She tells me that her awakening came when she was finally sent to the school for the deaf which was something her parents so did not want to happen, as she does have some hearing. Those years there, actually got her functioning much better than all of those years integrated in the public school and in special ed with small classes.

A lot of times a parent makes the move that makes the parent feel best. That the child is stuck in the class all of that time without the parent seeing what's going on, often means that there is no way said parent knows what that child is undergoing. I spent a lot of time in my one child's class, and the two children with special needs there were ignored most of the time. I saw no teaching at all happening. But the parent was very happy the child was in a normal classroom for most of the day.

But a misplaced child in segregated setting when that child should be integrated is not a good thing either.

It's such an individual thing as each child, each issue a child may have is something unique and a one size fits all answer is not going to work for a lot of the kids.

Parenting a child with severe disabilities for over nineteen years, I have few regrets. The main one, though, is that I did not push for inclusion from the get-go. I firmly believe that all children should be taught together, with proper resources. That my daughter is still "stuck" in a self-contained classroom in an enormous Los Angeles city high school -- however well-meaning and trained her teachers and aides -- is detrimental to both her life and to the typical young people who have little to no interaction with their disabled peers. I regret helping to perpetuate this.

Although our son (7, with Down syndrome) attends a private school for special education, my husband and I love the idea of inclusion with typical peers. I believe the interaction between both kids who are typically developing and those with disabilities is important to foster a lifetime mindset of inclusion, that spreads beyond the walls of school, into community settings. BUT. The public school system we are in struggles with inclusion in most areas. I don't hear stories of abuse as much as about non-inclusion in an inclusion setting. No one paying attention to the IEP(s). Inclusion for inclusion's sake, not true engagement. This is why we've chosen a school whose ratio is 7:1, with full time para. URL designed curriculum. Teachers who "get" our kids, and understand meltdowns and freakouts. Will it be forever? We don't know. We just know he is thriving, learning and has many friends there.

Seems like the best approach is going to depend on the individual child. Some kids with disabilities may thrive in an inclusive classroom, others not so much. Why does it have to be either/or? The answer is both/and, depending on the kid.

I've struggled with the same dilemma, and I don't think there's any right answer.

I think it's important that parents of disabled children support each other's ability to choose what they feel (hope!) is best for their child, rather than trying to force all disabled children to be integrated or all disabled children to be segregated.

Our son in 33 years old and an active citizen participating in our community. His inclusion in modified regular classrooms was extremely beneficial to his learning of appropriate daily social activities while acknowledging and developing his own unique skills. Three of his classmates have been in every grade with him and are now 1) a police officer 2) a social worker and 3) a teacher. They still remark how our son 'influenced their learning, tolerance and how they developed appropriate social skills (in language, compassion and behaviour toward people with different abilities). We are so pleased that they have some influence in their jobs to share what they learned about people with different abilities from inclusive schooling with our son. It's a win, win solution; however, each family has the choice to meet the needs of their own family member...
For our son, he has three great friends for life, is an author, an artist and a community volunteer. For the Doctor that told us to leave him, he won't be able to do much, we say "he was not left behind and he contributes so much to our family and community."

There should be a variety of well-funded, well-staffed options to meet the diverse needs of not only special education students, but students in general. SHOULD. Reality, well...

Totally depends on how good the teacher is; less to do with the policies and more to do with the skills of the caregivers. Every situation will be different. At least in the segregated environment it's more safe because there are specialized teachers rather than kids being seen as a burden to be specifically addressed like in many integrated situations. Time should change this as the rates of autism increase and the needs become overwhelming on the public school system!

I cannot agree that students in segregated settings are more safe. I've read too many stories of abuse behind closed doors of segregated settings. At least in mainstream settings there is more chance of any suspect behavior being noticed. And most students in mainstream setting are verbal and can give feedback when warranted.

I wish there was a choice for us, but here integration is seen as a cost-saving measure.

I look at my son's extracurriculars. When we use a trained inclusion support worker, who is only there for my son and responsible to the region, not the program, he does great. When we do exclusively special needs sports he also does great. But when he does "integrated" programs that are really just regular programs that don't mind adding a ramp or allowing parents on the field? Then its a disaster and not fun for anyone. Sometimes we strike gold and get someone who just happens to have some training, but that's the exception.

Schools are the same. Last year was horrible, this year is amazing. Because its the individual people who make the difference, not the system. That's why I wish we had the option to go integrated or not/ l

I was lucky, when my daughter with Cerebral Palsy was young I heard Norman Kunc speak about inclusive education, so I pursued inclusive ed for my daughter. Over time I have seen the success of inclusive education for her as she has done much better in her education and life than other kids whose families we have stayed friendly with since we met them in early intervention programs when our kids were all toddlers. My daughter with her more involved physical disabilities and serious learning disabilities has gone further than her less-disables peers who stayed in "safe" special education classrooms. She is more independent and as soon as she graduates from University I expect her to move out (if she ever stops changing her major!). I guess I should actually say, my daughter was lucky that I met Norman Kunc. Now her options are endless.