Expansion is not Inclusion

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Expansion is not Inclusion; Inclusion is not expansion.

What does inclusion mean to you?

Serious question.  I don’t have the answer.  What I think it to mean and how it plays out are two separate things and they don’t ever meet.

With most things I advocate for, I ask myself, “does this in any way benefit my children…or myself?”  If it doesn’t directly benefit any of us, I look to see if it benefits anyone else within the community.  If it does, I will advocate for it, if it doesn’t, I won’t.  Simple as that.

What is inclusion as it relates to education?  In theory, it’s a philosophy of acceptance.  It maintains that those with disabilities shall learn alongside neurotypical individuals in general education settings.

Sounds great, right?

It does, but implementation of a truly inclusive classroom is complex and multilayered, and given the overwhelming number of posts from parents and/or educators who are dissatisfied with the educating of their loved ones with disabilities, many schools are failing these students. 

This brings me back to my earlier question, does this in any way benefit my children or any other individuals on the spectrum?  And the answer is, no, not really.  Inclusion, as every single district and school my children have been in, views it, did not benefit MY children.  I would argue that it doesn’t benefit yours either, if your children are anything like mine.  This will be expanded upon shortly.

Honestly, inclusion benefits the neurotypical more than it did my boys.  It allows those without disabilities the opportunity to care for and to love on those like my boys, teaching them that good humans show kindness to one another no matter what. 

I have an innumerable amount of experience with teachers, paraprofessionals, and other educators approaching me to tell me about how much the other kids just love my boys.  How much they help Aidan and Josiah, play ball with them, and help them with their trays at lunch.  That is kind of them, but all I’m getting out of this is that by my children being in these environments, it’s teaching neurotypical children how to love and care for those who are different than they are.  Which is good, but how exactly do this help my boys? 

Inclusion, in some ways reminds me of integration. 

And there are many (good) arguments as to why integration was more harmful to the black community than it was beneficial.  The onus was placed upon the backs of black people to make integration work.  Addressing integration involved placing black students into overwhelmingly white schools, and slowly dismantling the black schools, leaving their black staff and faculty with no work and those black students with no support systems.  The burden of integration was placed on us.  Black people had to push their way through the door in the name of integration and we aren’t any better for it today.  Much like the burden of inclusion is placed on those with disabilities.

Regarding those critical support systems black students found in their black teachers, staff, and principals, this was no longer there post-integration.  The number of black educators was greater in the South pre-integration than post-integration.  This was because while white America “allowed” black students into their schools, they wouldn’t dare allow their students to be taught by black teachers.  This could be an entirely new post, which one day, I might actually do, but for now…let’s move on, shall we?

How does this correlate to inclusion in the school setting for those with disabiliites?

Because we automatically look at one of these systems (special education) as being inferior to the other (general education), much like the assumption that white schools were inherently better in all ways than black schools, meaning white educations were far superior to that of black educations.  And when using that assumption to guide the decision making, it was only right that the one in the “inferior” system needs to break into the “better” system.  Integration broke one system (black school/education) while not addressing the needs of the black students thrust into an entirely new system.

Much like inclusion. 

In our experience, general education classes did more harm for our children than good.  I’m not advocating sticking my children in rooms alone and away from other students.  I’m arguing that my children’s care, instruction, and needs are negatively impacted when thrust into general education with typically developed children and little regard to their actual disability and needs. 

I’m not saying that special education is the best thing ever.  I’m saying that inclusion doesn’t work for my boys because it didn’t address the actual needs of my children, whereas special education, specialized schools and programs, etc. attempted to. 

I’m saying that instead of making these current placements, programs, and specialized schools better, the powers that be felt it necessary to expand rather than be truly inclusive.  In other words, schools don’t really practice inclusion, but rather expansion.  They opened their general education doors to more students, but they didn’t really include special education nor it’s community in the process.  They don’t accommodate for their individual needs, nor the severity of their disability. 

I think for many, inclusion = sameness.  My children get the same exact education that neurotypical children get.  Okay.  But for me, that’s not what I ask.  Simply treat my children with dignity and respect.  Treat them as people.  Because that is what they are.  But also treat them as high support individuals with special needs, because that is also what they are. 

We sacrifice what they need in order for sameness. 

For example, the curriculum.  The curriculum is not designed for my children and their challenges.  The schools didn’t work on things my children really needed (like communication, social interaction, functional skills, etc.), instead choosing to focus on complimentary skills that had little to no value at this current stage of their lives, like math. 

Schools teach.  It’s what they do, but they teach subjects that do not help my children.  My boys were in classes, with other children who already know how to interact with one another or have the foundations for doing so.  This, they didn’t have to be taught.  Autism greatly impacts my children’s lives in a variety of ways in which makes learning in traditional ways in traditional settings incredibly challenging.

Fighting with the schools to focus on and/or introduce more communicative and functional skills is draining.  The response is always the same, “this is what the district (or state) requires us to do, but we accommodate for your child to be on the same level as the other children.”  No, they do not.  My children aren’t on the same level.  How does learning math help my son when he cannot communicate effectively?  How are you even teaching grade level math to a child who does not yet recognize numbers?  Let me give you the answer, you’re not. 

So, I ask again, how exactly is inclusion beneficial to children like my sons?

#InclusionWorks, I see this a lot, but how?  This isn’t rhetorical.  I really would like to know.  I want to be for this, I really do, but outside of the “good human” points these kids earn by interacting with my children, I don’t see much value in it.  Not for my boys.

If you only look at inclusion as being the practice of placing students with disabilities into general education settings because they deserve to be there and treated the same and as people.  Then yeah, I would argue it works. 

But if you dig deeper and realize that you can most definitely treat children like my boys with respect, kindness, and decency without sacrificing their right to be educated according to their current needs and severity of disability, you’d find that as it currently stands, for many districts, inclusion didn’t really help our children. 

How the school failed with inclusion and our boys.

When you have children like mine, moderately to severely impacted by autism and intellectual disability and you place them in a general education classroom with 18 other neurotypical students, one Gen. Ed. teacher, and one aide, how much time do you feel is devoted to making sure your child understand the material?  Sure, it’s nice that they are in the room with their peers, but realistically ask yourself, how much accommodating can a class that size accomplish?  Does your child actually comprehend what is being taught?  My son was assessed by the school that he functioned at the level of a toddler and yet they placed him in a general education classroom with typically developed 4th graders.  How do you think that worked out?  All for inclusiveness, all for the “least restrictive environment.”  My son did not thrive here, but I guess the other kids liked to take care of him, so I guess that counted for something (where’s my sarcasm font?).

Instead of throwing our children into general education for the sake of inclusion, we need to assess whether that the is truly the best place for them?  And having read so many of your posts over the last several years, it isn’t. 

Making the schools and their special education programs work better for their students is better than expanding general education to include more students they’re never going to reach. 

Let me repeat that:

Fixing special education, specialized schools and programs to be better equipped to educate these students is far better than simply expanding general education to include more students that they’ll never reach.

Much like integration, we’ve sacrificed one system in favor of another, because instead of fully including the prior system (special education) in the process and making it work better for its population, the result is students like my boys suffering more in inclusive environments. 

The (inclusion) movement has pushed our children through the door of general education, but now what?  Your kids are in classrooms with their peers, with little to no accommodations to meet their needs, learning subjects that in no way benefit them.

Expansion isn’t inclusion.  And inclusion isn’t expansion.