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Inclusion Classrooms and Children with Special Needs

Published in ChicagoNow, October 7, 2013

Just saw a woman at the nail salon (where else?) who taught my children 30 years ago. At that time, I found her intimidating and thought she was ancient. She informed me she was still subbing at age 85 because she loves being a teacher. “Good for you,” I replied. As it turns out, however, maybe not so good for some of the kids she ends up teaching.

She proceeded to launch into a critique of all things new that she doesn’t like: Parents are too busy and often there is just one parent. Kids spend too much time on the Internet. No one disciplines kids anymore. And finally, “they” let kids with “issues” participate in regular classes. “Integration,” I think she called it.

“I really don’t understand the integration (inclusion) thing that’s going on. How can a teacher manage a class that includes kids with ADHD and autism and kids that have behavior problems? They scream and throw things. No one should have to have kids like this in class. They don’t belong there.”

I pointed out that “those kids” are probably unhappier to be in classes where no one is meeting their needs than their teachers and peers are having them there. They scream and throw things for a reason.

I wondered afterwards if her attitude was the lament of a woman far too old to be working with children or if it reflected how some of her colleagues felt. Her slip of the tongue calling it “integration” was no accident (thank you, Dr. Freud). My friend, Rhonda Cohen, Cherry Preschool Inclusion Director, often says the rights of children with special needs to as much educational inclusion as possible is akin to the civil rights movement in which schools were racially integrated. Back in the 1960’s, many people felt those children didn’t belong either.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 8.4% of children ages 3-17 are diagnosed with ADHD. One in 88 children is diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Overall, about 1 in 6 children in the U.S. had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism. That’s a lot of kids to leave out! Yes, bringing them into classrooms with typically developing children makes teaching harder. So do poverty, hunger, and home lives filled with uncertainty and chaos. So do children who don’t speak English and children who have witnessed violence. But this is our world.

We cannot say we want our children’s classrooms to reflect the diverse world in which we live, but only in the politically correct pretty way that children are a rainbow of colors. Part of that diversity includes kids who scream because they do not have words, kids who throw things because they are filled with anger and rage, kids who act out because the adults in their lives have hurt them, kids who don’t listen to directions because they can’t process them with all of the other noises in their heads.

To love being a teacher is to love children and embrace them as they come to you. It’s easy to love the child who does all of the homework, has the right answers, stays in her seat, and colors in the lines. The true test of a great teacher is to be able to love the square pegs who will never fit into the round holes. To stop pounding on them in an effort to force them to fit and to start appreciating them as the unique but beautiful children they are. In a just and truly diverse classroom community, ever child belongs.


by Laurie Levy
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