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Circle of friends.

A teenager's Circle of Friends helps make her middle school inclusion transition easier and more rewarding.

"Why is it important for your family to have Amy in an inclusion program in her neighborhood school?" This question brought forth a flood of thoughts, memories and emotions.

As parents of two teenage daughters, Annie, 15, and Amy, 13, we can see their adulthood on the horizon. Both of them need specific training and teaching to be successful in today's world. Annie attends the local high school, where she has the abilities to find her niche in life and achieve her goals in the regular education classes. Amy has a severe communication disorder and has always needed special help.

In our community's segregated school for children with disabilities, Amy was vegetating. There were no peer role models. Expectations of the students were minimal. The student/teacher ratio was high; individual attention was not adequately provided. In that environment, we could see Amy growing physically but not maturing emotionally, academically or socially. We knew she could do much more if she were given the right opportunity.

We have always treated Amy the same way we treat Annie, giving both of them responsibilities with expectations. As time slipped away, Amy became depressed, misunderstood and lost her desire to cooperate. At that low point in our lives, we learned about "inclusion."

Inclusion

Inclusion means meeting the needs of the student with disabilities through regular education classes, with the assistance of special education. After countless hours of educating ourselves, we shared our knowledge with the local special education administration. With much prayer and deliberation, we began Amy's inclusion process last fall.

With the consent and support of the middle school principal, Amy was enrolled in seventh-grade regular education classes, with one class devoted to special education. Each regular education teacher modified the lessons to help Amy be a part of the class. This has been an additional challenge for these teachers, but Amy now has eight different teachers creating environments that will prepare her for the future.

When she started middle school, everything was new and exciting to Amy. She loved it and felt like a champion. It was her first "real school." She quickly began to fit in with her peers.

Circle of Friends

Many young people came forth voluntarily to befriend Amy. Through these relationships a "Circle of Friends" was developed. Thirty-four girls and boys meet with Amy and her inclusion facilitator once a week to talk about Amy's needs, her likes and dislikes and ways to continue including her in their everyday activities. These classmates have provided Amy with the friendships she has needed and wanted her entire life. She finds comfort, peer role models, acceptance and help from caring friends.

The inclusion facilitator monitors Amy's activities. She often visits Amy's classrooms and meets with the regular education teachers to help them find alternatives to fit Amy's special needs.

Because of her communication disorder, Amy does have many special needs. To communicate she uses sign language and an electronic device called an "intro-talker" to enhance her limited ability to express herself verbally.

As parents, we are part of the educational team. We provide information about Amy's strengths, weaknesses and her way of life. We often program the intro-talker to fit her needs and help make critical decisions in her educational process.

If Amy should choose to do so, we would like her to get married or share an apartment with a friend someday. We want her to be able to work alongside her peers in the community and enjoy a full, healthy, happy life. To meet these goals she must be a part of our community's everyday life now. This will enable her to have a fulfilling and productive life later.

A New Beginning

Amy has had her challenges this first year of inclusion. She had come from a pampered, secluded school environment to the "real world." She has had much difficulty expressing herself, which is very frustrating for her. She is faced with occasional rude remarks and is having to overcome emotional immaturity.

But now, for the very first time, Amy can rely on her friends. They, in turn, have found self-worth and developed a deep sense of compassion and an appreciation of the simple, but important things in life.

Almost every day someone tells me of a heartwarming experience. kathy and Kin, two of Amy's Circle of Friends, invited our family to attend a Christmas program at their church. Kathy's mom was the sign interpreter for the program, which made Amy feel very comfortable. Amy was even invited to a birthday party at a friend's house this year. Because of experiences like these, Amy now talks more, walks better and wants to be like her teenage friends. All of this would not have been possible without the caring skill the inclusion facilitator provides each day, along with the willing creative ability of her regular education teachers.

Our family can see a brighter future on the horizon. We have peace of mind knowing we are on the right path with inclusion. It is not the path of least resistance -- it's a new beginning!
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Title Annotation:mainstreaming handicapped teenagers into regular education
Author:Boatwright, Nancy
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:860
Previous Article:Profound truths.
Next Article:Setting a precedent.
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