I’m still glad we didn’t choose inclusion

Today, a headline caught my attention – “Let’s Get Rid of Special Education” – from the educational site, Noodle .

I’ll admit, my first reaction was an internal jolt, followed by a “no no no”. I’m not sure I’ve completely grasped the whole piece fully, as my brain sort of turned off when the writer talked about how kids in special ed don’t catch up to their peers. That special education is really separate education. Then my brain took a left turn about the studies the writer cited of how inclusion affects the non-disabled students in the inclusion classroom, that they perform better academically or that inclusion doesn’t impact them.

Well duh. Inclusion isn’t supposed to be for their benefit.

But let’s go back to where the writer first lost me – how kids in special ed don’t catch up to their peers.

Again, I want to say “Well duh! My kid has an IQ of 48. No amount of inclusion will ever cause her to catch up to her peers. Not academically.”

That’s not short-changing my child. That’s being honest about her abilities.

I’m not saying inclusion is bad. Inclusion – when done right – is good for everyone. These days though, there’s a lot of bad inclusion – I’ve seen it. Your square peg is forced into a round hole, and let’s be honest, that doesn’t work out well for anyone. And yet parents are told that the only way their child will truly succeed in life is if they’re in an inclusion program. Special schools and classrooms are seen as the devil, where kids are hidden away from the world and neglected. And yes, I know that in some cases, that is true as well. My first exposure to a special school was actually non-exposure – as in I was told my daughter was too able for it, therefore, I needed to know nothing else. It was like the dirty little secret of the school district.

But just as inclusion isn’t always great, special schools and classrooms aren’t always bad. Inclusion isn’t always the right choice, and I find it sad that some people want it to be the only choice.

My daughter benefits from special education. My daughter has been in inclusion, a special school for children with moderate to severe disabilities, and is currently in a special education classroom in a life skills program. Having education programs that’s designed for children like her has been the most beneficial for her. She’s learning at her pace and level. She is surrounded by her actual peers, not singled out.

Even better? In her current program, inclusion doesn’t mean fitting the special ed student into a regular classroom. Instead, they do what I jokingly refer to as “reverse inclusion”, where they have peer tutors (non-special ed 7th and 8th graders) who come into the special ed classrooms and work with an individual student on what the special ed student is studying. The regular ed kids are brought into their world as much as the special ed kids are brought into the rest of the school for gym and lunch and other classes.

In a way, my child is separate but still equal. She needs the separate, but she enjoys the equal. Separate isn’t wrong. Separate is sometimes needed. We wouldn’t expect someone going for their master’s of fine arts to be in the same classes as a medical student. I wouldn’t expect a student who only understood Spanish to thrive in a classroom that was taught entirely in Chinese. So why do we expect our children with different learning levels to automatically all go in the same classroom? Why do we expect my child, who is brilliant in her own right but isn’t big on academics, to partake in 6th grade math classes when she still doesn’t count to twenty consistently?

There are things my daughter can learn from her non-disabled peers, but those lessons are more on the emotional maturity level. Which is as valuable of lessons to me as any academic ones. So when she decided she didn’t want to carry the “babyish” backpack and picked out a plain aqua blue one, I went along with it. To us, a growth in maturity is a bigger deal than anything academic she could do.

I’m still glad we didn’t choose inclusion, at least not in the traditional way. She is growing and thriving in her special education classroom, just as she thrived at her special school.

And at least at our school, the “reverse inclusion” works, at least in our eyes. Because the one morning we went to drop our daughter off with all the other sixth graders for camp, a blonde girl spotted Maura and was all “Hi Maura! I like your outfit.” This girl knew our daughter and made an effort to reach her.

In a way, removing her from inclusion has made her more included in life.

No, getting rid of special education isn’t the answer. Not in our world. We benefit from it, from it’s separateness from the traditional education route. And in our case, it’s separate, but she’s still an equal.

Maura on the first day of school, blending into Seattle society with her 12th Man jersey.
Maura on the first day of school, blending into Seattle society with her 12th Man jersey.