Last week NBC Nightly news aired a story on Ryan, a 6 yr old with Down syndrome who was recently in an ad for Target. (story and video clip at that link).
According to a Target rep they have been including people with disabilities in their ads since the early 1990s. I shared a picture (on Twitter) of an ad they had last summer that included an adorable little girl with Down syndrome. Ryan has been modeling since he was 3. He has also been in Nordstrom catalogs (and Nordstrom has been using child models with Down syndrome since 1997).
In the above article it is mentioned that Ryan goes to school (and as the video clip puts it, "a school for Down syndrome children...") at The Arc of Essex County Stepping Stones School.
In this extended edition of the news piece (this part I don't believe was aired on TV) his parents discuss a little bit about sending him to this particular school.
The description on their website is that the school "provides education supports to children ages three to ten who have Down syndrome or other cognitive impairments." It says children with other cognitive impairments, but from the glimpses on the video it looks like all the kids in his classroom have Down syndrome.
Reading about this school I have to admit that for a few minutes I thought ... 'Huh. Interesting. What if a school like this was available for us to send Kayla to. Would we?"
Initially I thought there sure are some positive aspects to sending my child to a school like this.
- I imagine IEP meetings would be a piece of cake. I mean, there would be no discussion about how much time out of the school day your child would be 'included' in the general education classroom vs the special ed classroom.
- My child would have access to "Expertly trained staff utilizing the most up to date and effective techniques and strategies for children with Down syndrome." So the teachers and therapists and assistants would have training, and probably attend workshops/conferences, (maybe through Down Syndrome Education International) and read books (like Classroom Language Skills for Children With Down Syndrome, Teaching Math to People With Down Syndrome, and Teaching Reading to Children With Down Syndrome) geared especially for teaching children with Down syndrome. My child wouldn't be the first child with Down syndrome to be in their classroom.
- My child would be surrounded with other children just like her. She would walk through the halls and not be the only one, or handful, of students with Down syndrome.
- Everything would be tailored and designed to educating a child with Down syndrome.
Ryan's parents made this school decision with what they believe is the best choice for Ryan. And it looks like he's happy there and thriving and that's wonderful.
But yet, even though in some ways it seems ideal, that's not where I would ultimately want to send my child. I'm not judging Ryan's parents for making a different choice either - it's their choice and it's working for them. And this is only my opinion of why I wouldn't send Kayla to a school that was just for kids with Down syndrome.
- Where is the diversity? Where are the peer models?
- Aside from speech therapy, (and the adults in the school) where would she hear and receive and pick up on appropriate speech patterns and language from her peers?
- She wouldn't have the experience of a typical classmate teaching her things like swinging. (Ok I'm well aware that being in a school with all students who have Ds that she could very well have picked this up from another student w/Ds .. this was just one example of her experience at a typical school.)
- The Stepping Stones school only goes up to age 10. So then what happens after that? All of a sudden you're in a regular public school; would it be an easy transition?
- I want Kayla and Lucas to go to the same school (and I'm still frustrated that she's not at her neighborhood school as it is.)
- Meanwhile typical students and teachers at the public schools are missing out on an opportunity to know and educate a child with Down syndrome. How will perceptions change?
- Research shows that inclusive classrooms have just as much benefit for the typical students as it does for those with disabilities.
- This is actually the complete opposite of what I want for Kayla. I want inclusion, not segregation. While I'm sure it would be nice for her to be surrounded by all peers with Down syndrome that simply is not the way society works. My vision is for Kayla to be fully included through her schools years, and admittedly we're not there yet. It's just ideally that is what I would like for Kayla. But I realize not every school is fully on board with full inclusion. For full inclusion to work the attitude has to be there from administration to teachers to have it implemented in a way to benefit all students.
From Down Syndrome Education: Training for inclusion needs to be a priority in the training of all teachers. Training teachers in inclusion leads to better teachers, who are more skilled at meeting the diversity of learning needs that will be found in any group of typically developing children, as well as being able to include children with disabilities in their classes, schools and communities.
Last weekend I attended a workshop on preparing for inclusion in life. This covered elementary school through college and beyond. The presenter said a number of things that made an impact on me. One of which was about changing the world.
She said, "The world isn't ready for inclusion because society doesn't have experience with people with disabilities. We have the power to change that. The more familiar people get with people with disabilities in society the more accepting society will be. It is not enough to enable students with disabilities to reach their full potential. We must re-educate future employers, neighbors, friends, and parents."
Students who grow up having other students with disabilities in their classrooms are more likely to hire those with disabilities.
We have to start changing the mindset of future teachers, employers, doctors ... society in general ... that there is a place for those with Down syndrome/disabilities and that place is belonging right in with the rest of society. They don't need to 'earn' their place in society. People with disabilities should be included in all aspects because disability is natural.
I think this sums up inclusive education nicely: If we wish to make a difference to the life experience of children and adults with disabilities, all children need to grow and learn together, so that the neighbours, friends and workmates of adults with disabilities have the opportunity to value the person first, to realise that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and that everyone has a contribution to make to a caring society. Anyone can become disabled through illness or accident and everyone will become less able with age. Developing caring, inclusive, communities improves the quality of life of all members of the community. From DSE's Education for Children With Down Syndrome: An Overview
What are your thoughts?