Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Literature Opens Doors for All Children: Inclusion Literature Can Broaden Perspectives for All Readers and Create Classrooms Where All Are Accepted

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Literature Opens Doors for All Children: Inclusion Literature Can Broaden Perspectives for All Readers and Create Classrooms Where All Are Accepted

Article excerpt

Problems with language and communication issues are among the most basic characteristics of children with autism. Oddly, literature may hold one of the keys to helping children build their language and communication skills as well as help the child with autism and those without it to develop social connections with each other.

In these times when childhood disorders are frequently discussed many authors have responded with stories told through the perspective of characters who are differently able. Sharon Andrews calls this "inclusion literature, a powerful tool for helping students without disabilities develop an awareness of and tolerance for those with disabilities" (1998, p. 28). These perspectives broaden horizons for all readers and help create classrooms where all children are accepted.

When selecting inclusion literature, teachers and librarians might consider a variety of questions before deciding if a book promotes empathy and depicts acceptance. In addition to promoting empathy and depicting acceptance, books should describe the disability or person with disabilities or illness as realistic and should help readers gain an accurate understanding of the disability or illness.

By using inclusion literature, teachers can ease fears fueled by ignorance and replace negative stereotypes with accurate information by providing a perspective different from textbooks, informational talks, or personal observations. Inclusion literature can help young people develop awareness and empathy by providing a genuine connection to the lives of individuals with special needs. Carefully selected inclusion literature demonstrates respect for differences and promotes positive images of the differently able. With such exposure, students better understand their own feelings and experience what it means to live with special needs.

Inclusion literature may resonate with adolescents in particular be cause it honors all of those who struggle--as all adolescents do - to define themselves. Adolescence is a time when youth search for the tools that will give them some sense of power over their world or help them to make sense out of life. Literature can be one of those tools. Because of deeply entrenched ideas about canonized literature and about what defines school-based literacy, some teachers reluctantly embrace young adult literature; however, integrating these books is a step toward relevance and accessibility.

Adolescents often connect with these novels because they identify with characters comparable in age whose lives are parallel to their own and who struggle with similar conflicts and issues. The topics of these books are likely to reflect the diverse realties that young people face. One of those realities is difference.

Countless studies reveal the marginalization and harassment faced by students who are different, who don't fit mainstream definitions. This alienation may arise from varied families, distinct economic circumstances, diverse ethnicities, unfamiliar experiences, home settings, religions, alternative lifestyles, and special needs. Living on the social margins presents difficult challenges for youth. The alienation that some young people experience as a result of their differences can be assuaged by books like those in the sidebar on p. 31. These books communicate that special needs youth are not alone in the world; they encourage us to accept--not ridicule--the ones who are different.

Without access to relevant texts and without the tools to empower them during this time of identity formation, adolescents disengage from literacy activities because they lack realistic purposes to motivate them to read and learn. Many studies related to student achievement support the notion of relatedness and motivation. Adolescents' low motivation for learning has long-term, significant, and pernicious results: poor grades, frustration with academics, low self-esteem, and pessimism. …

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