December 1994/January 1995 | Volume 52 | Number 4The Inclusive School Pages 60-62When Your Child Is SpecialElaine L. WilmoreDecisions about where to enroll a child should come down to this: What would I do to ensure success if thiswere my child?Everywhere you go in education today inclusion is the new buzzword, the new save-the-world concept.Everyone seems to have not only an opinion, but a strong opinion about allowing any physically,emotionally, or academically handicapped child, regardless of the severity, to return to the regularclassroom, preferably with support.Social reformers zealously seek to change society through the schools. In order to provide the handicappedmore accessibility, they seek to abandon the traditional resource room and, teachers fear, revert to manypractices commonly used prior to passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (P.L. 94-142amended) in 1991. Teachers publicly protest and sign petitions.Proponents of full inclusion, alluding to a P.L. 94-142 provision, argue that the regular classroom is theonly true “least restrictive environment.” They contend that all children do better academically and sociallywhen exposed to higher performing students, and that “normal” children need to learn how to live in asociety with handicapped people. Many parents of handicapped children want their offspring in an age-appropriate educational environment for many of these same reasons.Then there is me. I am a former classroom teacher, counselor, and principal. I am now a professor and stillteach Sunday school. I am also the mother of a handicapped child. Where does that leave me? Somewherein between, in Peter Pans Never-Never Land.BrookeWhy do so many people push for inclusion?I have a 12-year-old daughter named Brooke. Her middle name is Elaine, after me, her mom. She has longblonde hair almost to her waist. She has beautiful blue eyes and braces on her teeth. She has a smile fromear to ear and loves to have a friend over to spend the night. She likes to sing in the front yard while shejumps rope. She is a nice, well-behaved child who earns “Excellent” in Conduct on her report cards. Shealso has a great big learning disability.School is hard for Brooke. She is academically and developmentally delayed. She was slower than herpeers in learning to talk. She had difficulty learning to read. We still havent mastered two-place longdivision. Fractions elicit blank stares. Even attempting much work on her grade level is a major event.Every teacher Brooke has had has been loving, cooperative, and helpful. Its not their fault Brooke is a slowlearner. Her father and I work with her every night of her life just to help keep her afloat.The Teachers Perspective
Many mainstream educators argue that they lack the time, training, and inclination to teach handicappedstudents. They see it as modified baby-sitting at the expense of the rest of the class, and often feel that slow,sometimes very slow learners will hold back the rest of the class. In many cases, they see the presence ofseverely handicapped or emotionally disturbed children as a distraction at best, a major disruption at worst,impinging on the rights of the other children to a calm and safe environment.As a former teacher, I can sympathize with teachers typical anxieties. I prided myself in having a well-organized, structured, efficient learning environment. I also enjoyed being creative with my class, andtaught the love of language and reading as life skills. I was proud that my classes were disciplined but fun,that my students scored well on standardized tests, and that parents often requested that their children beplaced in my classes. I was into lots of hugs, kisses, and warm fuzzies for my students.So how would I have reacted to having a severely handicapped child in my class? I would have to answerthat with a firm “it depends.” If the child was physically able to maintain himself or herself in my room,was cooperative, and, most important, able to behave so as not to distract or threaten the safety of my otherstudents, then great. Send that child in. I would not mind modifying, or using a totally different curriculumfor the child. On the other hand, if the students behavior negatively affected or harmed the other children, Iwould have a problem; that, I firmly believe, is where that persons rights end. It would be time to haveanother Admission, Review, or Dismissal meeting and either modify the situation or change it totally.The Principals PerspectiveAs a principal, my philosophy was the same. I was responsible for the total learning situation for ourcampus. Because of that, it would not have been fair to come out for or against inclusion. I was for allchildren having every opportunity to succeed to the best of his or her ability in a positive, supportiveenvironment.These decisions must be made on an individual basis. No school district should say, “We are going to fullinclusion; we are getting rid of our resource rooms.” Phooey! No one learning situation is perfect for allchildren. Recommendations on inclusion or anything else should be made for individual children byeveryone involved in their education.I believe parents views should be strongly and compassionately considered. Some parents of severely ormultiply handicapped children do not want their child removed from the security of the resource classroom.They feel their child is physically safe with more people who have been trained to work with his or herdisabilities. Regardless of the philosophy of the district, the campus, or the special education department,those parents wishes should be honored. Not listening to parents has been a major factor in publiceducations bad rap.Of course, other parents are equally adamant that their handicapped children be placed in a regularclassroom, with support as needed. Common reasons are the desire to expose their children to goodbehavior and higher academic standards. Still other parents point out that the world is not segregated. Theyfeel their children will make greater strides if they are in the mainstream. But then what?Again, if it is possible to honor the parents wishes and write an Individualized Education Program to makethe situation work, go for it. Be reasonable with it. Write in behavioral as well as academic objectives.Allow for classroom modifications. Try from the outset to set the child up for success and a happy day.Dont expect more from a child than that child can possibly give.Id also try my best to provide the child with a cooperative classroom teacher who is open-minded andreally wants to try to make the situation work. Teachers need to want the child in their room. I would neverconsider putting a child into a classroom in which I did not think he or she stood a reasonable chance ofsuccess.
Brookes ChallengeFor the last three years, my daughter Brooke has received assistance with math and language. Her resourceteacher has become a surrogate mother to her. She sincerely loves Brooke, and Brooke returns her love.Every child with a learning disability should have a teacher as fine, efficient, and caring as Helen Nelson.And still Brooke struggles.Next school year Brooke will be entering intermediate school. We will attempt to place her in the regularclassroom and attempt content mastery. Do you know how I feel as her mother? Scared to death. What ifshe cant do it? What if changing classes and having so many teachers is more than she can handle? Shemay be 12, but maturationally she is behind. What if she cant keep up with her assignments? What if in heranxiety to bring home her math, she completely forgets her language arts and science?What if the teachers and principal dont take good care of Brooke? What if no one looks out for my littlegirl? In elementary school her classroom teachers and Mrs. Nelson worked together to keep her on trackand somewhat organized. Now, we wont be there as her safety net, even though we have worked hard tomake her independent. She knows she is as responsible for herself, her work, and her conduct as any otherstudent. Behavior is not a problem for Brooke. Learning is.RealityAs a former principal, I believe teacher attitudes and perceptions are critical to successful inclusion for anychild, regardless of how minor the handicap. Some teachers will welcome a handicapped child with openarms; many others will pitch a screaming fit, especially if the child placed in their classroom is emotionallydisturbed or has a behavior disorder. Selling inclusion to this group will be a formidable task.Many teachers feel overwhelmed just keeping up with their daily routine and their regular children, letalone teaching a handicapped child. They do not feel educationally, emotionally, or, sometimes,philosophically prepared to handle handicapped children in their classrooms. Even the strongest ofinclusion advocates believe in providing training and support for regular education teachers. But realityintrudes. Where will the money come from? Wheres the available time? Most local school districts arestrapped for both. Few special education departments or district instructional specialists have the staff orexpertise to provide the training classroom teachers so desperately need.When Brooke goes off to her new school next year, I, like all the other inclusion parents, will worry, bitemy fingernails, and pray a whole lot. Her father and I want Brooke to succeed so much. Wed give anythingto make learning easier for her. I understand how the parents of more severely handicapped children feel.They want their children to be normal. We all want our child to be one of the rest of the kids, to experienceall the joys of childhood, to have a happy, successful life. In a perfect world we wouldnt have theseworries. But we dont live in a perfect world.Which brings us back to the concept of inclusion. Is it good, or is it bad? Its both. Under the best ofcircumstances, it can be very, very good. With too little funding, training, or development, it can be adisaster. Like anything else, it is what we make it. One secret is in selecting the right children to use it. Andthat decision ultimately comes down to the childs Admission, Review, or Dismissal Committee.Every committee must think, What if this child were my child? Think about the childs tomorrows. Thinkabout what we do now that will affect those tomorrows. We cant afford to make mistakes.Authors note: Since this article was written, Brooke successfully completed the 6th grade, returning to theresource classroom for math only. She is happily enjoying the 7th grade and passing all her subjects—sofar! She has Content Mastery assistance when needed, which is often. I am now a professor and seek daily