Last week my friend Jenny from Our Little Chilli Tribe wrote a great post that really got me thinking. In it, she talked about how she wanted to get back to writing more honestly--she felt that though she wanted to write about certain topics, she was concerned about rocking the boat or that others would see her opinion as "wrong". I couldn't agree with her more, especially on my thoughts about the topic of inclusive education, even if my opinion isn't popular.
The American education system, in most simplest terms, is a "hot mess". Every state has different curriculum standards (although many are leaning towards or implementing the Common Core......which is another topic for another time), teachers get certified in a million different ways with no commonality, and while some parents have to hire lawyers to get basic education rights for their child, others barely have to ask. It shouldn't be this way at all, but it is. I don't have the answers for how to change all this either.
I read a lot of research, articles, and blogs and have been a member of several closed groups on Facebook about the inclusion of children with special education needs in typical classrooms. I've been an educator for 10 years with experience in the world of inclusion myself. I have friends with fully included children, some in self contained classes, and the rest are everywhere in between. I have always been supportive of their decisions and offered advice if asked. I don't take the subject lightly. While I would advocate for anyone who wants their child in a typical classroom with whatever supports s/he needs, I'm not one to stand on my soapbox and state that every child with an IEP should be in a typical classroom 100% of the time because I don't think it's true. Every child, every situation is unique and to subscribe to a one size fits all approach is not going to work. Should there be options? Absolutely. But I think that's also hard to implement in schools today when so much is driven by $$, which is why we see the push/pull of inclusive classrooms or self-contained classrooms with nothing in between.
My kid happens to be one of those who does well in small settings--whether it's swim class, a birthday party, a play group, or his classroom. When there are just too many bodies and voices in the way, he loses control and becomes overstimulated. He shuts down, refuses to participate, refuses to use his signs, and essentially becomes a shell of himself. I've seen it happen and no amount of coaxing from anyone is going to get him to join in. I would say he's always been this way since he was a toddler--when we would attend an ECFE class and children/parents were yelling/crying/talking loudly with a gazillion toys all around, he would have no idea how to take it all in and process it. He would often end up crying and wouldn't leave my lap, no matter how much I encouraged him. When it came time to discuss preschool, I knew I wanted him to be in a self-contained classroom and after observing him in a fully included classroom, that solidified it.
I find it frustrating to be told that I'm "setting my kid up for failure" and that the only way he's going to "learn appropriate behavior" is by being in a typical classroom. I don't believe that, not for a minute. Owen knows exactly what is expected of him at school, at home, at play, at church and beyond. His behavior isn't always perfect and he gets disciplined for it, but show me a 4 year old that has perfect behavior.......s/he doesn't exist. Typical kids have inappropriate behavior all the time and not every child in special education exhibit bad behaviors. Even if there are children in a special education class that exhibit "bad behaviors", it doesn't mean your kid is automatically going to start doing them either.
And the argument that he needs to be around children who talk? Hogwash......Owen's mouth motor skills have little do with simply not talking. He physically CAN'T......his motor processing and planning just doesn't work that way. It wouldn't matter if he was in a classroom where every child speaks perfect English in every single sentence; he still wouldn't be able to begin talking in sentences, even if he was in that classroom for a year.
I think this all inclusion or nothing approach is problematic because it seems that those of us that choose something somewhere in between are viewed as less than or that we aren't fighting hard enough for our kids and that's just not true. Every child learns differently and we should be supportive of all choices made. When someone asks me what kind of school Owen attends, I automatically feel like I'm judged because he's not in an inclusive classroom. I shouldn't have to feel that way, nor should I have to defend the choice we (the team--hubs, myself, teacher, school and private therapists) made.
This is about what's best for Owen and it shouldn't have anything to do with what everyone else is doing or what will make me look good as a parent. I've said before that I evaluate every year at IEP time where Owen will do best and that's how I will continue to approach this. Putting him in a place where he can't function.....that's setting him up for failure. I don't understand this constant need to judge what everyone else is doing and the thought that one way is superior to all others. Just like there are often 10 different ways to get to a particular location, there are just as many ways to achieve personal independence, learning, and maturity throughout the educational process.
I'll never apologize for our choices or continue to feel that I'm "setting him up for failure" because every decision I make is with Owen's best interests in mind. That's what I've done from the beginning and that's what I'll continue to do.