Monday, 21 November 2011

Has Special Needs Inclusion Gone Too Far?

To integrate or not to integrate...  A question rarely posed to a parent of a child with special needs.  I certainly don't have an option, thanks to our fantastic government.  You would think that as a parent with a child on the autism spectrum, I should have a choice at least in the matter, but no.  No body gives a crap about what a parent NEEDS for their child.

I'm not sitting here talking about what I WANT for my son.  I'm talking about what I NEED for my baby, actually, what Dayton NEEDS for himself, not what I need or want.

I am very fortunate that Dayton has a teacher this year that 'gets' him.  But it wasn't always so...  And all it takes is one bad teacher for the house of cards to fall...  I've had two years of literal hell, feeling as though I was going to lose my mind, powerless to help my son in school, powerless to help the teacher or his educational assistant.  Feelings of absolute rage when the school principal decided to call the police on my then seven year old, fifty pound boy, the guidance counsellor calling CFS twice, and the shame and ridicule that I felt came along with those decisions.  I know I'm not alone in this.  I've met with other parents of children on the autism spectrum who have been mortified and gone through the very same issues as myself.

Is it really fair of the government to expect the school to know how to integrate our kids with special needs?  I'm not just talking autism here, but any disability.  I don't mean to sound rude or disrespectful, but I think there is a different expectation in regards to integrating a child not able to walk compared to a child with a cognitive disability.

Is it fair to expect all teachers be able to teach braille to a blind child?  What about sign language to a child that can not speak?  Do all teachers posses these skills?

How about cerebral palsy, spina bifida, epilepsy, down syndrome, mental retardation, ADD, ADHD, speech and language impairments, traumatic brain injury, pervasive developmental disorder, autistic disorder, learning disabilities, etc...  Are teachers supposed to know about every single disorder?  Are educational assistants?  Are principals, guidance counsellors or resource teachers?  Who exactly in our schools is supposed to know every single childhood disability in order to teach the rest of the school when it comes time to integrate a student with an individual disability?

Trust me, segregation is far from what I WANT for my child, but I do want the best education I can get my hands on for him, which begins with a knowledgeable teacher.  This is not meant to insult any of the teachers out there, please understand this.  I mean no disrespect.  Society NEEDS my child to become a contributing member of society, not a burden.  I have very high hopes that my son will be contributing to his generation.  But there are others out there who may not be so fortunate to have a positive outlook on their child's future.

Does a fifteen year old girl with the cognitive skills of first grader truly belong in a grade ten classroom?  Is it really fair to this girl to have to sit through seven hours of social studies, math, English, and metal work when she can not read or write?  Who's interest are we really focusing on here, the student's human rights or her parents' warm fuzzy feelings of having their daughter in class with her peers?  Does society really think this girl is happy with her social promotion?  And how about the teacher?  Do we really expect her or him not to lose their "cool?"  In a class of thirty students, chances are this teacher is already making twenty different class lesson plans...  As a former instructor myself, just having to create and re-create the one lesson plan was like getting a freaking root canal.  I can't imagine having to do twenty...

My son Dayton is in grade four.  He is finally beginning to learn how to read and write.  I wanted him to repeat grade three last year, but the principal refused, probably because she really had no choice, did she?  As much as parents get upset with their school teachers, principals and school divisions, at the core of this problem lies the government.  They make the law, and they're the ones that are not giving the teacher, principal, school division or the parent for that matter, the choice to do what is best for our children.  In the mean time, the government hides behind the schools.  As a parent, I don't get to talk to our premier Greg Selinger, do I?  Noooooo...  I get to throw my temper tantrums at the school staff and school division, right?  They're the only ones I get to speak to.  Trust me, I know first hand.

Me, freaking out on speaker phone with the Premier's office for transferring me yet again to Manitoba Education who is absolutely useless...  Take charge Mr. Premier!  Answer your phone!

It all boils down to social promotion...  It does not seem to matter to our government that our kids are not learning.  All that matters is that no child is left behind.  You know, that warm, fuzzy, lovin' feeling.  All the funding in the world is not going to help our kids if the government doesn't put some help in place for our educators to have at their finger tips, does it?  It's like going out and buying a low fat cookbook, but unless I use it, I won't be losing weight, will I?  That reminds me...  Gotta go through the cookbook and make out some menu plans and go grocery shopping...  When is government going to wake up and smell the coffee here?  I'm all for inclusion, but lets be realistic here with what we're dealing with people, shall we?

Social promotion.  Education.  Society NEEDS education.  The days of do your work, learn in class, do your homework and pass your tests are gone.  In place we have social promotion, to spare our children's feelings? I'll tell you what will raise our kid's self esteem...  EDUCATION.  My son is proud of himself for passing his spelling test today.  He got six out of six words right.  Yeah, that's right.  My baby rocked his spelling test.  But last year...  last year my boy had low self esteem, fits of rage where he questioned me why bother going to school, he was too stupid anyway (his words, not mine).  Last year's teacher wasn't the calibre of teacher Dayton has today.  Perhaps I'm a little too harsh, I wasn't really there to observe.  But I can tell you that this year, Dayton understands his teacher.  Last year he didn't.  Could last year's teacher been overwhelmed with too many lesson plans to keep up with, and this year's teacher doesn't have nearly as many lesson plans to create?  Is this year's teacher's assistant more on the ball, more experienced with autism?  Or has Dayton somehow found that magical button of compliance?  There are so many things that could be different, or a combination of things that just fit into that mysterious, multi-coloured  puzzle.

Our kids may have challenges, they may have a disability, but they're far from stupid.  They know when they're truly included in their education and when they're being patronized or simply tolerated.  So perhaps it's a combination of blame, the government and the teacher.  I think mostly the government though.  I like to blame it all on 'the man.'

Consider yourselves hugged,


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