Support for inclusive education can involve many things, including:
- The help your child receives for personal needs he or she has;
- Various “accommodations” children with disabilities may need to participate in regular school and classroom activities;
- The overall support from the school including the leadership and commitment necessary to include all children;
- Different ways of thinking about what and how children are taught so that all children can participate in regular classrooms and school activities.
Personal Support and Accommodations
Different children will require different kinds of support to participate fully in school. Some children need physical supports such as help with personal care, changes in seating arrangements, alternate forms of communication (for children who do not speak), and extra help to participate in activities which would not otherwise be possible.
There are a wide range of possible accommodations that are available to children with disabilities. Click here for a list of accommodations that have been developed by the Department of Education.
It is important for you to know the specific support or accommodation needs for your child. Make sure you write down the things that your child will need help with. These needs should be addressed fully during the SEP process and other meetings with your child throughout the year. Be careful not to assume that there is only one way of doing things. Also, make sure that the support that is provided allows your child to participate in activities in the classroom and school as well as to develop friendships with other children.
Many educators now realize that children who are learning the same subjects can have different educational goals. Going to school does not require that every child learn the same thing. In fact, children can be working on different things and skills during the same lesson. The secret is to find out how the subject being taught in the regular classroom can be used to benefit a particular child.
It is important not to assume too quickly that your child cannot learn the same things that other children are learning. The question that you need to ask first is: Can your child participate just as other children are? Also, your child may only require small changes like different expectations (for example, fewer math problems) or different class materials. Try to find out if your child can learn or handle the regular curriculum with some accommodations. You may not want to assume or want others to assume that your child is not capable.
In school terms, modifying curriculum means significantly simplifying the content and concepts of a program or course. This usually happens when a child is having a lot of difficulty that cannot be dealt in other ways (for example, by providing accommodations or changing teaching techniques). Remember that making accommodations for your child does not mean that his or her curriculum is being modified.
Decisions to modify subjects should only happen after discussions with parents (and sometimes students) have occurred and after you have agreed to it. When a decision is made to modify curriculum, people involved in planning for your child’s inclusion in regular classrooms should look at each subject to see what information, concepts or skills may be relevant for your child. For example, during an English class, your child may be learning words from a story while other children are learning how to analyze the story. Click here for two short stories on modifying the curriculum.
Key Roles of Principals and Regular Classroom Teachers
Leadership from principals and teachers is often crucial to creating an inclusive school. If principals and teachers have a commitment to meeting the needs of all children, the inclusion of children with disabilities in the school and in regular classrooms will likely happen.
Your child’s school principal has the overall responsibility for running the school. He or she must make sure that teachers and other school staff are doing their jobs and that the programs and services are working smoothly. More importantly, the principal is responsible for guiding the school’s approach in a way that supports the inclusion of all children. Principals can support inclusion by taking a real interest in making sure that children with disabilities are part of the school. Principals can also support teachers and other staff by helping to find ways to make inclusion happen (for example, by providing teachers with opportunities to learn new strategies or to take time away from their classrooms to meet with parents).
Get to know the principal of your child’s school. Try to find out what he or she thinks about inclusive education. How does the principal provide leadership to make inclusion happen?
Regular classroom and subject teachers are also important for setting the tone for inclusion in the regular classroom. Inclusion will be successful when regular class teachers know how to:
- Create a feeling that everyone belongs regardless of ability.
- Change and adapt the teaching styles, activities and curriculum to ensure the success of all children.
- Help the children in the class accept each other.
- Help children find ways of supporting other children who may need help.
- Take full responsibility for the education of all children in their classroom.
Taking responsibility for teaching all children does not always happen. Sometimes, teachers believe that others (for example, resource and methods teachers or teacher assistants) should have the main responsibility for teaching children with disabilities. However, taking responsibility for teaching all children does not mean that teachers must do it alone.
Ways to Support Teachers and Your Child in Regular Classrooms
Within the school, there may be various sources of support for teachers and children. Three of the main ways to provide support are through resource and methods teachers, teacher assistants, and other children.
Resource and Methods Teachers
Most schools have specialist teachers who are not responsible for a classroom but who provide valuable support for classroom teachers. These are called resource and methods teachers. They may have some special training or experience for them to provide help to regular classroom teachers and children.
Resource and methods teachers provide support for inclusive education in a number of ways:
- They provide direct assistance to classroom teachers on ways to use the lessons to achieve education goals that have been set for children with disabilities.
- They can assist teachers by substituting for teachers so that they can meet with parents or others about your child’s inclusion.
- They can identify ways to give children with disabilities opportunities to make friends or to be supported by other children.
- They have a responsibility to coordinate SEPs and the services and supports some children will receive.
The resource and methods teacher is someone that you should get to know quite well. Your knowledge and expertise’s about your child will be helpful to the resource teacher in working out ways your child can be fully included in the school. Be aware that the resource teacher should not be seen to be your child’s teacher. Unfortunately, in some schools, children with disabilities are grouped together and taught by resource teachers in what are sometimes called “resource rooms”. This is something that should not be happening within an inclusive education system.
Teacher assistants also play an important role in supporting inclusive education. These are people who provide assistance to teachers in the classroom, library, shop or laboratory and who fulfill a number of duties, including:
- Assist with the physical needs of a child with a disability
- Ensuring the safety and supervision of children
- Classroom observation
- Assist with the preparation of teaching aids and the assembly of materials as directed by the teacher
- Assist individual students or small groups in performing activities in the school
- Follow and implement therapy programs set out by therapists (for example, a speech therapist)
- Assist with maintaining records and notes that can be used by regular classroom teachers to inform you of your child’s activities and progress
Many people, including parents, assume that every child with a disability in a regular classroom needs a teacher assistant. There is often the belief that if a child has some additional needs, these needs can only be met by another adult person in the classroom. These beliefs have led parents, teachers and other people in the school system to depend too much on teacher assistants to include children with disabilities. This can cause a few problems of which you should be aware.
One problem is when the regular classroom teacher feels that she or he has little or no responsibility to educate a child with a disability because the teacher assistant is there to do that. This leads to the teacher assistant being seen as the primary teacher of the child, often finding herself working at the child’s side and often at the back of the class so as not to disturb other children. Other problems are created outside the regular classroom. For example, a teacher assistant may be the only person who helps a child with a disability to eat, play, or do other things in the school. Other children may not approach a fellow student when an adult is present. Children may end up being segregated by a person who is supposed to help with inclusion.
Some children may require regular help from a teacher assistant. Most often, it will be children with significant physical needs that require ongoing attention. For most children with disabilities, however, having a “full time TA” can cause problems. As parents, you will need to be aware of the “danger signals” that will tell you if your child is depending too much on a teacher assistant. If this is happening, it will be time to start to think about other ways your child can be supported.
You know your child’s school may be depending too much on a teacher assistant when:
At a meeting, it is the teacher assistant who knows the most about what and how your child is doing rather then the regular classroom teacher.
The teacher assistant is the only person who sends a message to you in your child’s communication book.
The teacher assistant is always seen by your child’s side, both inside and outside the classroom.
Your child will mainly seek out the teacher assistant when in need of help.
Other children in the class call upon the teacher assistant when they notice that your child needs help rather then notifying the teacher or offering to help your child themselves.
Other students and school staff will talk to your child through the teacher assistant rather than directly to your child.
The teacher assistant is often working alone with your child at the back or the side of the class, frequently doing something different from the rest of the class.
Whenever a problem arises or a question is asked concerning your child, the teacher assistant is called upon as the “expert” in the school.
Your child spends his or her recesses, breaks, and lunch times with the teacher assistant rather then other children.
When the teacher assistant is ill, it is suggested your child stay home from school.
Support from Other Children
When a child is part of a regular classroom, it becomes natural for other children to get to know him or her as a classmate. This is more likely to happen if the teacher assistant learns to keep his or her distance and help other students learn how to support your child. When children support children, it brings them closer together.
When you are planning for and discussing your child’s education, think about ways he or she can receive support from his or her classmates. Make it one of your goals that your child will receive help from other children. This does not mean that adults with special training are not necessary. There are some things (for example, assistance with toileting) that are not appropriate for classmates to provide.