Yo soy La Lay

adventures in family, faith, and Down syndrome

Advocacy #22: Inclusion Part 2

Students in the United States are guaranteed, by law, access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Here’s a handy infographic that describes the definition of FAPE:

Graphic of At a Glance: Free and appropriate public education (FAPE)

School inclusion is the practice of educating students with disabilities alongside their typical peers.  They have access to the general curriculum (the stuff that all the kids learn) and it is modified to suit their learning needs and challenges.

Inclusion is not the same as mainstreaming.  Mainstreaming involves teaching students with special needs in the same classroom, but with a different curriculum altogether.  It is not the same as providing access to the general education curriculum (the stuff that all kids learn). For example, in an inclusive environment, all of the students might write a report about the water cycle. Typical students would write a three-page paper to describe what that is and why it is important. A student with special needs who struggled with paragraph structure might write a 5-paragraph essay of one page over the same topic. Both learn about the water cycle. Both write a paper. In a mainstream environment, the typical class is learning about the water cycle. Typical kids still write the three-page paper, but the student with special needs is tasked with coloring pictures of the water cycle. He is not learning about the water cycle, he is not accessing the general curriculum, he’s working on a totally different assignment while physically present in the classroom.

Not cool.

Research has shown time and time and time and time and time again that school inclusion has tremendous benefits for all students, whether they have special needs or not.

From Wrightslaw.com, a leading website for information on inclusion and the law:

There is a strong research base to support the education of children with disabilities alongside their non-disabled peers. Although separate classes, with lower student to teacher ratios, controlled environments, and specially trained staff would seem to offer benefits to a child with a disability, research fails to demonstrate the effectiveness of such programs (Lipsky, 1997; Sailor, 2003).

There is mounting evidence that, other than a smaller class size, “there is little that is special about the special education system,” and that the negative effects of separating children with disabilities from their peers far outweigh any benefit to smaller classes (Audette & Algozzine, 1997).

Students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms show academic gains in a number of areas, including improved performance on standardized tests, mastery of IEP goals, grades, on-task behavior and motivation to learn (National Center for Education Restructuring and Inclusion, 1995).

Moreover, placement in inclusive classrooms does not interfere with the academic performance of students without disabilities with respect to the amount of allocated time and engaged instructional time, the rate of interruption to planned activities and students’ achievement on test scores and report card grades (York, Vandercook, MacDonald, Heise-Neff, and Caughey, 1992).

The types of instructional strategies found in inclusive classrooms, including peer tutoring, cooperative learning groups, and differentiated instruction, have been shown to be beneficial to all learners. For example, Slavin, Madden, & Leavy (1984) found that math scores for students with and without disabilities increased by nearly half a grade level as a result of working in cooperative learning groups.

– See more at: http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/lre.incls.rsrch.whitbread.htm#sthash.Rl3VXxil.dpuf

Inclusive education, while widely accepted as the best way to educate all students, is not always common practice… especially not in the upper grades.

We’re on a mission to change that in our world.

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Advocacy #9: LISTEN.

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Lesson #4: Being a “Magnet Family” is Not So Bad

This is part of the 31 for 21 Blog Challenge!

I will confess to you that I truly despise those little stick figure families that people stick on the back of their minivans. I have always been intrigued by bumper stickers, but in general have just found them silly. Why does anyone really need to express to the world their love and support for their favorite dog/politician/radio station/eating preference/moral belief? I really never understood it.

(My favorite was the time I saw an older man driving a car with SEVEN variations of a “breast is best” sticker.)

I’m sure that part of all of this is my father in me. For whatever reason, it has stuck with me that he never put stickers on any of our cars. I’m sure that when I was 16, I probably wanted some Backstreet Boys logo to be plastered on the back of our little white Buick Skylark and he told me no. But I digress…

This is all at the forefront now because one of our favorite parent groups, UPS for DownS, gave us a car magnet. It took me several days to feel like I could put the darn thing on my car. One of the balancing acts that we walk as parents with kids with special needs is the strong desire to accepted as a “normal” family, while still needing the support network of those people who are different like us. And so there is a small fear of branding ourselves as “that family who has a kid with Down syndrome” rather than just being “the Lays.”

I’m fairly positive that no one in our circle of family and friends gives any thought at all to our differences. If they do, they don’t show any sign of it.

In any case, the magnet is there now, in the hopes that another family who might need to get connected will reach out. Or so that some passerby in the Meijer parking lot will notice and understand that we are really not unusual. It’s been there for a couple weeks and it just kind of blends in. I would probably never even notice it if Ellie didn’t hide it in strange places all the time.

It’s just a silly little magnet that sort of sets us apart. There’s no reason for it to be a big deal and somehow, it is. And yet, somehow, it isn’t at all.

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