Let’s start by defining the word inclusion. According to the NDSS, inclusion is an educational philosophy based on the belief that everyone has the right to have a full participation in society. But I would say, this definition is only the beginning of the story. Along with this right comes responsibility, and inclusion is not only about receiving but about learning to give responsible and committed parents.
Inclusion Starts at Home
Many families believe that inclusion starts at school, and therefore, they get ready for a fight what they consider to be unavoidable segregation. However, real inclusion starts at home, maybe a few days or months after your child has been born or diagnosed with a disability.
It may not be immediate or feel completely natural, because it’s just normal as parents to be surprised by the news and to not feel ready. We often don’t know how to include our child without making accommodations for them. Many of us parents have gone through tough stages in which we have been guided by our own prejudice or the few things we know about our child’s disability.
Many of us have believed, or still believe, that our kids are angels, that they are too fragile to be treated like everyone else, or that they are too good for this world. Applying that to reality, we are the ones limiting their potential. We defy their possibilities, instead of giving them full opportunities. For that, inclusion starts at home when parents are determined to work as a team to learn that, the child:
- Is a child first and always
- Needs to benefit from his or her natural environment in the most typical way
- Needs to be raised with love, respect, and expectations, which include structure and consequences.
When inclusion is natural since the very beginning, it facilitates inclusion in other areas, such as academic and social inclusion at school.
If the child has been included since his or her early years in a natural way, everything is going to be easier when he or she is ready to start school. Opportunities outside the protected family environment always help children grow and develop skills for independence. Only natural inclusion with non-disabled peers can help our children to self-regulate and learn from them proper behaviors and appropriate natural responses to the variety of experiences that children need to mature and succeed socially and emotionally.
A typical daycare is the best option for any child. Let’s not forget that younger children face similar challenges when it comes to communication and independence, disability or not.
Inclusion has its own challenges and as much as we want our children’s right to be respected, we need to respect other people’s rights as well.
Inclusion is not a tendency or the immediate response to a parent’s polite request or a child’s good behavior. Children are not included because they are cute, sweet, or act like little angels. As parents, it’s our responsibility to make this clear from the beginning. Our student should be included and to the most possible extent, exposed to the same things as all the other students. If the student with disabilities breaks the rules, it’s just natural to expect him to face consequences like any other child. Our responsibility as professionals and parents is to evaluate the reasons behind significant behaviors, but at the same time, we need to have expectations of the student as a person. We cannot blame the disability every time the student makes a mistake or acts out. If we prefer to blame the disability, rather than to take action and create strategies to help our child, then we are the ones excluding and limiting him or her.
Inclusion means shared responsibility. Inclusion doesn’t work without parental involvement.
The easiest thing to do is to blame the teacher when inclusion is not working. Truthfully, inclusion is not the teacher’s responsibility only. I dare say that there is no successful child without involved parents. Parents are active participants in the process and communication becomes essential to make it happen.
As parents, it’s our job to collect data, analyze our children’s progress, create strategies, and work as a team. We need to stay open and be humble enough to accept that there are many things that we don’t know, but we want to learn. Just like teachers and professionals, we know the logic, but parents have information that no one else can provide.
There is no magic recipe for successful inclusion. Because of this, every child will need an Individualized Education Plan along with the commitment of those who love and believe in him.
This point is last but certainly not least, and in my opinion. As my experience includes raising two very different children with special needs, I can honestly say there is no formula which makes sense for each and every child. We need to walk the walk in order to learn to recognize the very unique and individualized needs of our children.
Sadly, if as parents, we don’t assume this responsibility, no one will do it on our behalf. It’s an overwhelming and demanding job that never ends, but instead of complaining, we need to take responsibility and do our homework. When we truly get to work, we can help our children do their own work. This is the only way to become real advocates who have the ability to fight for and defend our children out of love, faith, and full understanding.