what inclusion means to us

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Where’s the data, Sue?

When I speak in the health world, I complement my stories with research and data.  This helps in two ways:  it addresses the left-brain thinkers in the audience, and it expands my topic (which is usually patient-centred care) from a philosophy that is just ‘nice to do’ to a practice that is evidence-based.  I never forget that many health professionals are also scientists, and that they believe in data and research.

I found out last week that the same is true in the world of education.  I was thrilled to be asked to speak about What Inclusion Means to Us to an audience of parents, teachers and leadership at my son’s community school.  I think this was a great demonstration of partnering with parents.  Giving all parents a voice at the school is an important step to authentic collaboration.

I prepared stories about our experience with successful inclusion.  I also talked about challenges with inclusion, and how Aaron has encountered social exclusion.  The Assistant Principal wanted me to be honest about our experiences, and I was grateful for that support – it elevated my presentation beyond just cheerleading.

There were three parents with typical kids who attended the presentation.  I was thankful that they took the time to come to a session on inclusion on a Wednesday evening.  It was clear, however, that one of the moms there had concerns about having our kids with special needs in her children’s classrooms, and she expressed that she felt that our kids took away from teaching time for her children.

This is what I needed more than my inclusion is the right thing to do message.  Bringing up research that proved that typical children actually benefit from having children with differences in their classrooms would have really helped.  When I got home, I threw out a wide net to my contacts to gather inclusion research.  Here’s what I found:

  • Dr. Jacqui Specht makes a crucial moral point that underpins all discussions about including children with differences:  It is still a popular belief that students are more or less deserving of an education based on “ability,” yet if we substituted other forms of diversity (such as First Nations students, poor students, or girls), this attitude would be unimaginable. (from School Inclusion:  Are we getting it right? on the Canadian Education Association website).
  • 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).
  • “As Roger Slee (2007), noted research in inclusive education observes, when we realize that persons with a disability can actually be a resource and not a threat to learning, we can begin to revise or transform our approach to inclusive education.”   -from Grace Howell, Canadian Research Centre on Inclusive Education, Western University.
  • Also from Grace:  “Peck, Donaldson, and Pezzoli (1990) found that ‘adolescents who had social experiences with peers with severe disabilities perceived that as a result of these interactions (a) their self-concept improved, (b) they grew in social cognition, (c) they were more tolerant of others, (d) fear of human differences was reduced, (e) they developed personal principles, and (f) they developed relaxed and accepting friendships.'”

I love stories.  Storytelling is my thing.  Last week I learned a valuable lesson:  next time I’m talking about Aaron’s experience in his community school, I will bring both stories and data with me.  Then I will have a more complete toolkit to answer any questions that come my way.

Note:  A special thank you to Jacqui Specht and Grace Howell from Western University’s Canadian Research Centre on Inclusive Education for generously sharing these references to research with me.

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