When I sent my youngest child, and only daughter, off to school this year to start kindergarten I was terrified. She, on the other hand, was utterly thrilled. My daughter has Down syndrome, and up to this point she has flourished in a class room setting. She was one of the first students in her preschool class to recognize the names of her classmates at the check in table, many times even before her friends read their own names. She was only three at the time. She made friends quickly and learned how to work with others. She rapidly learned her letters, and colors; and various sight words that we worked on at home. In preschool children don’t have preconceived notions of other children; they haven’t learned to label or separate each other. In preschool you love your teachers and you love your classmates. Preschool, socially, is a rather safe environment.
In kindergarten; everything changes. Suddenly your child is labeled and they’re given a team of teachers who think they know how to teach your child better than you do, because they have been trained for the collective in higher learning. They are teachers, they have learned how to teach. They have their agenda for the year and bench marks to reach. They move at a faster pace than in pre-school and class size nearly doubles. Unfortunately, it becomes a race to the finish line and those who need more help are often removed from the class room because of the long held misnomer that they will do better in a resource room where they can get more one on one attention. On the surface this may seem like the logical choice, but in reality it actually hurts the child in so many ways. “No studies conducted since the late 1970s have shown an academic advantage for students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities educated in separate settings.” (Farley) Further more; the largest educational study, of 11,000 students with disabilities, discover that more time spent in the general class room resulted in the following:
- Higher scores on standardized test in reading & math
- Fewer absences from school
- Fewer referrals for disruptive behavior
- Better outcomes after high school in the areas of employment and independent living (Wagner, Newman and Cameto)
All children can achieve their own greatness when they are not held back by the prejudice of those around them who set limitations on what they can achieve. This change in protocol starts with parents who have to fight for the education of their children. How grateful I am for the mothers who have come before me and have changed so much already; like the enactment of the legislation of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Declaring into law that “(1) Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”
In addition, they have the right to a “(5) Least restrictive environment.–(A) In general.–To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” (U.S. Department of Education) It may be surprising for some to know that this legislation was enacted only six years ago in 2004 because people, like those with Down syndrome, were finally receiving the life saving medical treatment that they had been withheld prior to 1997 extending their lives for decades.
How unbelievably grateful I am that my daughter has been born in a time that values her life. We are also blessed to attend a school that recognizes her potential in academics with full inclusion, but she is one of the lucky ones. Even with the laws in place to protect the rights of these wonderful children many parents are unaware of their rights. Often times feeling like they can do nothing but go along with what the school, and district, does with their child. This means for most, that they are separated from their peers and isolated from the experiences they deserve.
School inclusion benefits all children, not just those with “special needs”. Does it make us feel better as adults to label children and others around us? To fit everyone into neat little boxes; separating the uniqueness of a person into manageable titles for the collective. Is it so we can keep things in order, the way we think they should be? These are questions I have been asking myself since the beginning of the 2011 school year.
This must change! In a time where people seem obsessed with “equal rights” there is a lack of true compassion and understanding for those who really need equal opportunity. I pray that I see this in my life time and that more people come forward to stand up for those who have been labeled with a limitation on success. For more information on research for the betterment of the lives of those with Down syndrome visit: Sie Center For Down Syndrome
Farley. “Inclusive and Heterogeneous Schooling:Assessment, curiculum & Instruction.” Baltimor:Paul. Brookes Publishing 1995.
U.S. Department of Education. ED.gov. 12 December 2010. 23 11 2011 <http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/idea2004.html>.
Wagner, Mary, et al. “The Academic Achievement and Functional Performance of Youth with Disabilities. A .” Report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). NCSER 2006-3000 07 2006: 112.