Saturday, January 21, 2012

Have Special Educators Given Up on Inclusion?

When it comes to including kids with autism spectrum disorders (and other kids with disabilities for that matter), we have a ton of work to do.  It seems to me that because of the challenges that arise, special educators are giving up on inclusion.  There are many instances in which kids are placed in inclusive settings without the appropriate supports, and the educators (general and special) agree "it just didn't work."  In order for kids with ASD to learn new skills in inclusive classrooms, general education teachers need support from special education teachers to provide effective instruction and intervention.  We shouldn't be sending kids with ASD into inclusive classrooms, waiting for them to fail, and then blaming general education teachers for the failures thinking "we can do it better in special education classrooms."  It is our job as special educators to redesign our roles when kids are in inclusive classrooms and become co-teachers, collaborators, consultants, facilitators, and coaches to ensure success for the kids and the general education teachers.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot replicate the learning opportunities that occur in general education classrooms in special education classrooms.  Instead, we should be putting our efforts into supporting general education teachers and joining them in structuring the classroom environment and learning activities so that children with ASD can have full access to the general education curriculum and learn individualized social and communication skills they need to fully function in this world.  The reason why I wrote, Bringing ABA into Your Inclusive Classroom and Bringing ABA into Home, School, and Play was to provide educators with a framework for embedding individualized interventions within the natural context of general education classrooms instead of removing kids from all of the wonderful learning opportunities these settings provide.

It never fails that the main argument against the promotion of inclusion is money.  I think that is a cop-out.  I know that school districts are faced with major budget challenges, however, providing the necessary services and supports to make inclusive classrooms work must be a priority.  We need to have co-teaching models in order to provide the differentiated instruction and individualized interventions that children with ASD need to benefit from general education classroom instruction.  Research shows that co-teaching models improve learning outcomes for all students so making this a priority is not just serving students with disabilities.  Yes, it may cost more money (in some cases it doesn't), but this needs to be made a priority.  I don't here that the cost of smart boards in the classroom, laptops,  IPADs, or any other forms instructional technology are too expensive so teachers have to stick with just using textbooks and overhead projectors.  Yet, it seems ok to continue to use archaic service delivery models for students with disabilities without moving to models that are socially just and provide students with disabilities with what research shows is best practice.

The typical service delivery model for students in inclusive classrooms in many states is this:  There is a resource teacher with a ridiculously large caseload who serves students in a pull-out model all or the majority of the school day and is also expected to provide support to the general education teachers who have the students in the classroom when they are not in the resource room.  Well, it is impossible for resource teachers to be in two places at the same time.  So what typically happens is the resource teacher rarely interacts with the general education teachers and focuses on providing academic intervention in the resource room.  This results in special education being a place; not a system of supports and services designed to meet the unique needs of individuals with disabilities across school (and community) settings.  The students are not receiving specialized supports and intervention throughout their school day; only when they are sent to the resource room.  When they are in the general education classroom, it is a sink or swim service delivery model.  Of course there are teachers, schools, school districts, and states who provide more than a pull-out service delivery model.  There just is not enough of authentic inclusion occurring across the county.  It seems that we are still in the mindset of getting the students ready for the general education classroom (which could take a lifetime) instead of getting the general education classrooms ready for the students.  In order to move to authentic inclusion service delivery models we need:

1.  Administrative Support: School district and building level administrators who commit to restructuring service delivery models moving away from pull-out models and increasing co-teaching models.

2.  Special Educators' Commitment: Special education teachers who will rise to the challenges (and the challenges are many) of making inclusion work.  This means working through the resistance they may face with some general education teachers by using effective interpersonal communication skills to form collaborative relationships to best serve all students.

3.  Training: Training provided to special education teachers, general education teachers and paraprofessionals on topics of collaboration, co-teaching, differentiated instruction, positive behavioral interventions and supports, evidence-based teaching practices for diverse learners, and progress monitoring procedures.

4.  Family Involvement:  Families of students with and without disabilities need to understand the value of effective inclusive practices.  This has to be communicated to families in a way that helps re-shape belief systems about what special education can and should be.  Once families are on board with supporting an inclusive service delivery model, they can be valuable contributors when setting goals, designing interventions, and implementing interventions.

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