Search This Blog

Sunday, March 25, 2012


A year ago—no, even a few months ago—if you had tried to tell me that Cainan should be in a regular classroom, in the general education environment I would have thought you were crazy.  I would have argued that you didn’t know Cainan, didn’t know what his needs were and I would have advocated for him to stay in his safe MAPS classroom where he is successfully learning the curriculum they are teaching him.  Why on earth would I want him to be in a setting where he might have a hard time keeping up, where the class size is so much larger and he would get less individualized attention, where other kids could be cruel and bully him and no one would notice?  I would have thought you were out of your mind to suggest it.

Now I am the one, not only suggesting it but actively championing it.  Why the complete 
turn-around? You could say I had my whole world turned upside down after just one short weekend at Partners in Policymaking, where my preconceived notions were challenged, my eyes were opened to the reality of disability in our culture and I was given a proper education on the possibilities for people with disability.  Each weekend at PIP thereafter, has provided me with even more information and tools to advocate for the best interests of my son.

The challenge now, is not just for Cainan to be included within our society at large, but getting the same message to other parents who are doing their best to advocate for their children’s needs, but like me, may not have ever received the whole picture or were able to dream of the possibilities.
I don’t want to overwhelm anyone with too much information, nor turn people off by getting on a soap box and preaching “Inclusion! Inclusion! Inclusion!”  Instead I’d like to leave you with a few bullet points to mull over and consider why inclusive practices may be a lot more important than you ever believed.  If you are left challenged and wondering what you’re going to do now, let me know.  I’d LOVE to give you the hope that I’ve recently found and connect you with other parents on the same life-changing track.  Here are some of the things that were eye opening for me:

  •  What do you hope and dream for your child’s future?  Do you expect once they graduate from school that they will live below the poverty level, isolated from their peers without the skills or resources to make it in the real world without their rights being taken away (e.i. guardianship) and being completely dependent on social workers?  Ugly picture isn’t it?  This is exactly what I had in mind for Cainan, but I never looked at this way.  I thought it would be nice that he wouldn’t have to worry about working when he grew up because he could rely on Social Security (which would place him below the poverty level).  I had hope that he might have some independence but I expected that we would probably get guardianship of him so we could help him with is finances and make important decisions for him (that means we would have to strip him of his rights, declaring that he is incapable of making decisions for himself and he would essentially be treated as a child regardless of his age or maturity).  I couldn’t really imagine a way for him to be independent because I had no experience with adults with disabilities that are successful and independent—they are out there and they can assure you it’s possible!!
  • If you grow up in a safe, segregated environment, what happens when that environment suddenly disappears and you’re expected to cope with the real world, with people not like you, who have never met you nor established any kind of relationship with you? How isolated would you be?  While Cainan’s MAPS classroom is a “safe” environment, it’s not a real environment.  What’s the most important priority for him: learning to read to the 12th grade level or having meaningful relationships with peers who will be out in the real world when they grow up, making decisions, voting on policies, determining where their time and money is spent?  I realized we can reinforce his learning at home, but we can’t teach him appropriate social skills (that’s best learned by immersion with those who have them naturally) and we can’t help him make life-long friendships unless he’s exposed to all different kinds of kids.  We can’t teach him how to advocate for himself unless he has the opportunity to address his peers, explain who he is and spend quality time among them.  Nor can his peers be expected to learn compassion, patience and appreciation for all our differences if they are never exposed to anyone with differences.

  • Do you believe that the general education classroom is a scary place for your child?  Do you think advocating for placement in a general education classroom means your child will be abandoned to make his/her way without the special education supports they need?  Do you agree that kids who have behavior issues or need a lot of extra support would be disruptive and unfair to the kids trying to learn in a general education classroom?  You can admit it if you do.  I believed ALL of these things.  That’s why I thought advocating for Cainan to be in general ed was CRAZY!  Can I just tell you, without going into a lot of detail, that ALL of these are MYTHS? I have learned amazing, amazing, AMAZING things about inclusive education that does not make the general education setting scary and data shows that, when done correctly, it is a great environment for ALL students.  Let me just ask you to consider this: Special Education is not a place, it is services (Thank you, Michael Remus).  Consider your child receiving all the necessary special education services they require integrated successfully into a general education setting where the teacher, aides, therapists and students (yes, I mean general ed students) all work together.  It is possible and being done in some districts.  Really, it is.
  • Does the IEP process intimidate you?  Are you concerned you don’t have the knowledge or experience to advocate correctly for your child unless you keep them in a special classroom where the services are a natural part of their day and they have lots of support—especially when their special teachers are telling you that’s where they belong?  I can tell you there are other parents out there who would be willing to assist you if you are interested in looking at a change.  There is support available to help you learn more about the process, what your and your child’s rights are and what the law says about education—without trying to push you to do anything you’re not comfortable with (I’m one of those parents—I’d love to talk to you!).  There are parents, right here within our valley, who have their children receiving a special education in a general education setting, among their same-age peers.  While it’s a bit more challenging in some of our local districts, it’s still possible.  
I realize, that even though I wanted to keep it concise, I’ve run on a bit.  I hope I have given you something to really chew over and consider.  I hope that if your child is in a “special” class, away from their same-age peers, that this has challenged you a little and made you think that there are other options out there for your child and there is a MUCH better hope for their future than you might have ever imagined.  If you want more information, please contact me.  Also, consider joining a parent support group, like Families for Communities where parents support each other and offer resources to parents who are looking for the best future for their kids.


  1. My hat is off to you!!! Iit's hard to brave new challenges esp when it deals more with yoour children than you. I have 2 special needs grandsons who i love dearly and know through the strengh of their parents and support of us as family-- thesky's the limit!!! I worked with an autisticboy 14 yrss ago-- when mainstreaming was not overly excepted . Raymond and I were a team and he learned his opions-- to stay in class and meltdown-- or to step back and ease into the class changes our way saving class disruption and his pride. We battled not only a very few ignorant parents but teachers too. Raymond graduated college from what i hear. It's worth the bruises and headaches to see them grow and work into the community!! Heather Smith is my daughter and how she is with ourNoah is GOD working!!! May you find you battles few--- but very rewarding!!!