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An open letter from the parent of a teenager to parents of younger children.

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.


Nancy J. Fratini


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.


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.


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.


Students in the regular classroom were denied the opportunity of knowing Amy. She seems to bolster the self-esteem of students who work with her. When schools are structured to benefit students with disabilities, all children benefit. For example, in some classes, class clowns or potential dropouts have found a new reason for going to school after realizing they enjoyed helping a classmate with disabilities. Those "at risk" students solve problems, learn cooperatively and utilize discovery learning to meet the special student's educational and social needs. Not all education comes from books. They come up with creative solutions to unique challenges. As teachers learn how to individualize instructions for one group of students, all students benefit.


In a special class, many of Amy's interactions were with teachers and therapists, e.g. paid professionals. In a more mainstreamed setting, there is increased interaction with peers. Breaking down the separation between the regular education system and the special education system leads to better use of both resources. The special education classroom can become a resource room for anyone who needs it, whether they are "gifted or "retarded." Special education teachers can help other teachers adapt their curricula, texts and supplementary materials.


Although we moved only once (we were out of town for one semester), Amy moved from school to school, attending six different ones over the course of her public school education. Unless inclusive education is pursued, students can be tossed about from one school to another.


Marsha Forest from the Centre for Integrated Education and Community has developed ways to facilitate the welcoming of all children into their local school. Often, other educators have previously presumed these children require the exclusive attention of specialists. She has developed two strategies that involve family, friends and professional and informal associates of the child with a disability.

In the first strategy, MAPS (Multi-Action Plan), the above-mentioned people discuss the history of the student and his or her dreams for adulthood. The biggest difference between MAPS and the IEP procedure is that in the MAPS process the team is asked to list the strengths, weaknesses and needs of that child to accomplish specific goals. The emphasis is on strengthening the behaviors necessary for the child to participate in a regular classroom and learn in that setting.

The second strategy, "Circle of Friends," is a process in which the student is surrounded by peers who can both teach and assist with social and physical needs. These peers might also challenge the student to be a responsible and sensitive friend. These friends come from the school setting and their interaction is facilitated by an integration team for six weeks until the circle bonds. Later, the circle continues to function with school advisors.

Often parents are concerned about the possibility that their child will be teased. It is an inevitable part of growing up. I have never encountered a serious problem here, but I do know some parents who have. Preparation and openness on the part of teachers and students is essential to successful inclusion. Thus, teasing can be minimized.

At one point, while my husband was on sabbatical, Amy was in a neighborhood school for eight months. She was the first student with severe developmental delay to apply to the school. She was mainstreamed into their developmentally delayed class; expectations were higher and she learned more.

Initially, the principal was against her acceptance into the school. However, when we left at the end of the semester, he was very sorry to see her go. The next child with disabilities to enter that school had the chance for a better initial reception due to the positive experience Amy had there.

Unfortunately, Amy's placement did not work out in the next school we encountered because the curriculum was not adapted to accommodate Amy's needs. So while my own experiences have been both good and bad, I do believe we should continue to strive for this ideal.

Parents of young children, whenever possible ... Go for it ! Nancy J. Fratini lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband Albert and her four children, Albert, Jr., 23, Angela, 23, Amy, 21, and Andrew, 16. Fratini is a temporary program developer for the University of Dayton in the Continuing Education Department and teaches religious education at St. Albert the Great Church. She has a master's in education in social agency counseling from the University of Dayton. In the June 1990 issue of Exceptional Parent, Fratini shared her daughter's Best Summer Ever! with a peer companion.
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Author:Fratini, Nancy J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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