Imagine your child in the same classroom with his peers, side by
side, learning with them and from them-and thriving. Now imagine
not having to fight for the support and services that guarantee him
an equal education and a spot in that general education
Paula Kluth, a former teacher-turned-inclusion education
consultant, researcher and author of eight books on special needs,
says it's past time to abandon segregating special education
students into separate classrooms based on a child's label and to
move toward policies that educate all students together.
"I have seen so many benefits for kids in inclusive classrooms;
I am always going to look for opportunities in that setting," she
Q: What is inclusion?
A: "Inclusion is not a space and it is not a
place that we go, but inclusion is work that we do. ... Inclusion
should never be a kid-by-kid kind of commitment. Inclusion should
be a system-wide commitment where we think about differentiating
instruction, providing appropriate extracurricular activities,
being welcoming to families.
"To me, inclusive education is really not about disability. To
me, inclusive education is about supporting and honoring
differences and celebrating the uniqueness that each kid brings to
our schools. So in a true inclusive school, kids who would
typically be marginalized would feel more accepted; kids who have
family differences, cultural differences, will feel that those are
honored; kids who feel oppressed, we're going to respond to and
make them feel safe. There will be equity in the way we treat boys
Q: In your research, we see you've come across schools
meeting the requirements under law for students with disabilities,
but nothing more.
A: "I'm surprised there isn't more energy right
now. We're three decades beyond PL94-142, which gave students not
only free and appropriate public education but outlines to the
maximum extent appropriate with peers, that kids are entitled to a
range of supports and services and that the spirit of this law is
really to give kids opportunities in inclusive environments. ...
But we still find in 2010 a lot of kids who never get access to
these classrooms, who are separated and educated based on their
label (such as autism or Down syndrome). This is problematic
because I've never met two kids with autism with the same set of
needs; I've never met two kids with Down syndrome with the same set
Often, kids with disabilities are not seen as candidates for
inclusive classrooms because their needs are so different from
their peers, Kluth says. Yet, the idea of educating them in a
separate environment in order to access special services and to
meet their needs is a myth.
"No matter where you are educated you need individualized
support and services."
Q: What are some of the benefits of an inclusive
classroom as opposed to, say, a special autism
A: Communication and social skills are major
"If we are trying to teach a child to hit a switch to say good
morning, it is very helpful to have 25 opportunities to do
Social skills, such as learning the rules of a game,
turn-taking, friend-making skills and maintaining conversations,
all need practice. But she's also found a lot of academic benefits
for kids with disabilities.
"One of the reasons I feel so passionate about inclusive
education is I have worked a lot with kids with significant
disabilities in my career. This is a population of kids that we do
not know what they know, we do not know what they understand, we do
not know what they are taking away from any given lesson or any
given experience. ... We intend for kids to learn functional
skills in this environment, we intend for them to learn
communication skills, to possibly learn some early literacy skills,
but what we find is they learn academic content we never
"This is why I push for inclusive environments whenever
possible. ... Every single decade of research has shown us that we
are aiming too low for kids. Every single decade of research has
shown us that people with disabilities can do more than we
previously thought. What's very fascinating to me in 2010 is we are
on the brink of another complete revolution. We are going to find
out so much more of what kids can do now, that we have better
technology to assess them. I think even more so than in the past,
we will find we have been expecting too little."
Tamara is the editor of Chicago Parent and mom of three.
See more of Tamara's stories here.
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