August 08, 2014

The Magic of Inclusion

I am proud to say I grew up going to inclusion schools. My elementary school included two smaller "satellite" schools within it. One for physical and learning disabilities and one the Deaf. It was normal for our teachers to wear an FM transmitter when teaching, in order to help those with hearing aids. It was also normal to have children in wheelchairs and using adapted desks. One of the first things I got to learn in Kindergarten was how to lock and unlock the leg braces of one of my disabled friends and get him back into his chair in the case of a fire alarm. I was his "buddy" and it was my job to push him out of the building during fire drills. (Of course, I was not alone, the physiotherapist also came in right away to help, but I took my responsibility very seriously and with great pride :)

Inclusion word cloud by
Inclusion word cloud in shape of a butterfly

In high school, the school integrated into ours was for those with learning and behaviour disabilities. Wherever possible, these students took classes with us. Art, music, gym - we were all together.

For whatever reason, even as a child and not knowing I was disabled myself, I always gravitated towards those who were different, disabled or outcast. My mom always told me I rooted "for the underdog." Maybe I felt an affinity. Maybe those were the only people who would accept my own differences. I don't know, but I am grateful for those who were brave enough to be friends with a "weirdo" like me.

So in this way, inclusion saved me because it allowed me to have friends. While we're more aware as a society these days, and more children are getting better diagnosed and earlier, I'm sure some are still falling through the cracks. Despite that, even as a child, we still know we're different. Others know we're different also and tend to shun or bully us. But when you have inclusion, there is more of a likelihood these children will have friends. It's also a higher likelihood that those who are not disabled will be better aware of disability, less likely to bully, and more compassionate. Kids who go to inclusive schools are not going to be the adults of tomorrow staring at disabled people and making snide comments.

I recently read about the Assertive Community Treatment model recently. A small town in Belgium integrates adults with mental illnesses into foster home-like long term living arrangements. It improves the health of those with special needs by making them feel like members of a family. They get a private room in a house and are less lonely, as a result.

As a mom, I wish we had a model like that here. After my husband and I are gone, I want the comfort of knowing my son will still have a "family" who cares about him. People he can lean on for support. Inclusion benefits all of society, whether you are disabled or not.


You can read more articles about the town of Geel, Beligum here and here.

You can read a chapter of a new book about how children benefit from inclusion here

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