Inclusion – It’s Everybody’s Classroom

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Inclusion in educational settings is a basic element of human rights. Integrating special needs children with normal peers in the classroom facilitates learning and decreases behavioral problems, especially in those with autism.

Hud in class with his teaching aide Mrs. Ellie Rowe (from Instagram: @esmpinegrove6)

One of the schools I had applied for my son Hud, who suffers from autism, wanted a special letter from the student-written to the principal giving his reason to choose this school. Below is the letter written by him for his admission to grade 7.

“I am a nonverbal autistic boy. I am really great at doing academic work in the regular class rather than in a special classroom. I like working when I am challenged and regular class easily provides me with that. That your school is including children with disabilities to a great extent gives me hope of getting the best education. I have a right to it just like everyone else. Besides that, I have to mention that my mom got me trained in this technique of typing to communicate in the USA. This is not known much over in Dubai and I want to create awareness about it. I want this to be life-changing for children like me as it was for me.”

Children with special needs greatly benefit from inclusion which means integrating children with special educational needs into mainstream schools. Fully inclusive classrooms are an ideal location for the implementation of social interaction interventions and behavioral interventions because of the availability of peers to interact within a natural setting.

Hud remains nonverbal even after the vigorous occupational, speech, and ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapies done from the age of 3.  As a result, there was no choice but to keep him in a special school in Dubai.  However, the sudden discovery of his ability to type at the age of 9 years changed everything for him. He was trained to type and communicate with a technique called Facilitated Communication through typing (FCT).

One of the goals set by Hud’s speech therapist who trained him for FCT was that as his communication skills developed, his educational program should be re-evaluated. She encouraged us to consider an inclusive program where he would have access to the regular age-appropriate curriculum and an opportunity to mix with other more typically developing children his age. I did not see that happening in Dubai.  I took him to Syracuse, New York State, the USA for further training in his communication skills. The fact that Hud used FCT was recognized by East Syracuse Minoa school district, which made him eligible to be in a regular classroom of grade 4.

Hud was very well accepted by his teachers and his classmates. Being nonverbal never prevented him to participate in the extracurricular activities like drama and concerts. His teachers and his classmates always managed to make Hud a part of whatever they were doing, with great help from his teaching aide Mrs. Ellie Rowe, who was provided by the school. Inclusion is practiced to the core in the East Syracuse Minoa school district. Ms. Kathleen Colucci, Director of Special Education at the ESM school district says “The ESM special education department bases all of our programming on our philosophy of presuming competence of all students. As a result, we seek the most rigorous and inclusive setting for each student. Inclusion is imperative for all students to not only become an active member of their school community but to have the opportunity to maximize their intellectual potential.  Inclusion may look different for each student but must be based on seeking the least restrictive environment that can be crafted to meet the student’s needs. The inclusive environment needs to be developed with the accommodations and modifications to allow the student to demonstrate their potential.”

Under the leadership of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and in accordance with ‘My Community…A city for everyone’ initiative the Inclusive Education Task Force, in collaboration with all education providers, is committed to achieving educational excellence and is therefore determined to establish a quality inclusive education system across the Emirate of Dubai. The focus on inclusive education is part of the wider vision for Dubai to become a fully inclusive city by 2020. When Hud moved back to Dubai in 2017, he was accepted by a regular school in Dubai.

Planning goals by using the principles followed by the East Syracuse Minoa school district can make inclusion possible for all children like Hud, as far as education is concerned. This in turn makes inclusion possible also in future environments, thus leading to integration of more families into the community.


References:

  1. The importance of peers in inclusive education for individuals with ASD. The Oracle(September 2016), Organization of autism research. Retrieved by https://researchautism.org/the-importance-of-peers-in-inclusive-education-for-individuals-with-asd/.
  2. Supporting Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders in Inclusive Settings. Hammil Institute of Disability. Intervention in school and clinic. Retrieved by https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1053451209338395?journalCode=iscc
  3. Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework 2017 Knowledge and human development authority. Retrieved by https://www.khda.gov.ae/cms/webparts/texteditor/documents/Education_Policy_En.pdf
  4. Dubai, an inclusive city by 2020; Travel and tourism news middle east; November 2015. Retrieved by http://www.ttnonline.com/Article/16237/Dubai,-an-inclusive-city-by-2020
  5. Kids together, Inc. Information and resources for children and adults with disabilities. Retrieved by https://www.kidstogether.org/inclusion/benefitsofinclusion.htm

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