Many people may not fully understand the importance of an inclusive environment. Inclusion is not about being politically correct. “Inclusion is how you live your life every day and every minute. It’s a way of living – a way of thinking, believing, planning and acting.” Jeffrey Strully
I personally feel that having an inclusive educational environment has positive benefits for students with and without disabilities. My daughter, Alana (pictured in the above Inclusion cover), just started kindergarten at Eagle Ridge Elementary. Alana attends the school that she is zoned to attend and is in the least restrictive environment, where she can interact, communicate and develop natural friendships with children from her own community. This environment allows her to receive an education that meets her personal needs. Alana’s teacher, Mrs. Richards, and other staff have the training to integrate teaching practices, such as communication strategies and hands-on learning experiences, that have been shown to improve academic achievements for students again and again.
After Alana’s primary school day has ended, she attends the Kiddie Academy for after-school care, where Alana is in a classroom with typical children. This is where real magic happens! Children at this age don’t care about their differences, they just want to play with one another. Alana’s teacher, Ms. Jo, has first-hand experience teaching in an inclusive environment because she is both an educator and a mother of a child with autism. More importantly, she has the love, patience, and understanding to guide Alana. That is what all children need.
The importance of putting Alana in an inclusive environment is that she can see, hear, imitate and interact with typical children in her class. She knows that she is expected to do everything that they are expected to do. These natural environments allow all children to develop an understanding that everyone is different in some way. Children can gain social and emotional benefits, communication skills, and the opportunity to develop organic friendships. I feel strongly that if there were a greater acceptance of the differences of others, we would not have so many issues regarding bullying in the school system that we see in the news today.
The ultimate dream for a parent of a child with special needs is to mainstream them. The reality is that children with disabilities grow up and want to have careers, live and function independently, and have full, rich, high-quality lifestyles, just like everyone else. Without exposure to life outside of the disability community, the reality of life after high school might be very difficult. This is why I have embraced the use of “Person First” language. This language puts the person first before their disability. My daughter is a child with Down syndrome, but that is not who she is. She is a beautiful, smart, loving little girl who has hopes and dreams to do great things with her life, just like everyone else.
“No special needs. Needs are the same as everyone else, to thrive and belong.” George Estreich
-Written by Debra Sweeting, edited by KIT staff
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & afterschool programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.