Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

An Open Letter from the Parent of a Teenager to Parents of Younger Children

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

An Open Letter from the Parent of a Teenager to Parents of Younger Children

Article excerpt

Dear Parents,

Exciting times are here. Students with disabilities are being educated in the regular classrooms of their neighborhood schools with increasing frequency for at least part of the day. in some cases, they have access to teachers who have the proper resources to teach them. Since these students are liked by their peers, they are included in the social activities of the school as well as the classroom.

I would like to encourage you, as younger parents, to strive for this vision of more inclusive education. While it may not be a realistic vision for everyone right now, it is an option to consider and work toward. In November 1989, I attended a local workshop presented by the Centre for Integrated Education and Community. This center, based in Toronto, Ontario develops ways to bring children with disabilities into the regular classroom. What I learned at this workshop filled me with much hope for the future.

You might ask me why I am excited when this type of integration has not been fully successful with with my own daughter, Amy. Amy, who is 19 years old now, was one of the first wave of students with disabilities to be accepted in the public school system after the passage of Public Law 94-142. Prior to its passage, she would have been limited to attending schools where all the students had disabilities. Even after investigating many programs, she still spent most of her life in segregated schools out of our own school district. Despite rough times, Amy has grown up to be a happy young woman.

There are new challenges and more inclusive choices awaiting you younger parents, and I would like to encourage you to think about them and the consequences of settling for a more segregated education. Your children may be able to spend at least a part, if not all, of their school day in a regular classroom in the neighborhood school. For my Amy, this choice did not exist. What follows are drawbacks of a segregated classroom that a properly implemented, more inclusive education would solve.

Sincerely,

Nancy J. Fratini

1. LONG BUS RIDES

For many years, Amy rode on a bus for one-and-a-half hours to a remote school. My other children had a five-minute walk to school. In my experience, separate classes are often in non-neighborhood schools, necessitating long bus rides with other students with disabilities. As a result, Amy was given less time in a learning situation and more hours on a bus than her "normal" siblings. She needed traditional behavior models, but instead was placed with many students with unusual behaviors for long periods of time.

2. OBSTACLES TO FRIENDSHIPS

Amy had no classmates in our neighborhood and her brothers and sister and their friends were the sole source of her social stimulation. Separate classes often impede friendships with typical students who provide a more stimulating environment. Parents and teachers must spend a good deal of energy constructing situations for typical students to be introduced to the students with disabilities. Often these attempts do not result in spontaneous friendships, and interactions are often limited to planned activities.

Amy rarely visited classmates in their homes - they are too far away. Separate classes can limit not only the student's, but also the family's social contacts and supports. Inclusion is good for children and families. As the student's network of social contacts and supports grows, so does the family's.

3. DISTANCE FROM HOME

Segregation in school leads to segregation after school. Amy's job training occurs in the school neighborhood rather than in her home neighborhood. Job training in remote schools often results in jobs in remote locations. Today's students will be the employers and leaders of tomorrow. If they grow up having friends and classmates with disabilities, they will be more inclined to work with them in the future and live with them in their neighborhoods. …

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