Impact Impact: Feature Issue on Early Childhood Education and Children with Disabilities
How Inclusion is Benefitting One Child Without Disabilities:
In 2006, my husband and I enrolled our son Dillon in Coralwood, an early childhood public school that provides an inclusive education setting for children aged three to six. Dillon is a typically- developing child, and his exposure to children with special needs has had a significant impact on our family. In addition to benefiting from a quality education, Dillon's behavior has shown marked improvement. He is kinder, more compassionate, and does not limit his friendships to children with abilities similar to his.
As a former director of a non-profit serving people with disabilities, I was aware that my life experience was void of interaction with the client base I served. I wanted my son to have experiences that would enable him to understand and accept the differences, as well as the similarities, of people with special needs. Coralwood School has given our family the skills and understanding I was after.
Dillon's classes at Coralwood range from 16 to 18 students; six to eight of the students in each class have special needs. Other than the students with physical disabilities, Dillon is generally unaware of who those six to eight students are. Students are not labeled; in the classroom, the children are peers.
One common misconception in an inclusive classroom setting is that students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) absorb more of the teacher's time to the detriment of students without IEPs. That has not been our experience. Teachers and administrators create an environment that expects all children, regardless of their abilities, to be their best.
In his first year at Coralwood, Dillon made fast friends and had a weekly play date with Michael. What Dillon didn't realize was that these play dates were in fact sessions with specialists who were working with Michael on various skills. Michael and Dillon both learned appropriate social behavior while improving their communication skills, unaware they were being taught.
Dillon's education at Coralwood is a similar seamless coupling of educating students with IEPs alongside students without IEPs. This past year Kendra, who is blind, was in Dillon's class. Dillon learned how Kendra navigates with her cane, the types of birthday presents appropriate for her, and how she uses a Perkins Brailler to write. The Braillewriter fascinated the children and they eagerly asked to use it to write her notes.
When I was invited to read to Dillon's class, he suggested I bring his Halloween book with built-in sounds because he knew Kendra would like it. And while driving to a party for a classmate, Dillon and his friend spent the journey discussing inventions that would allow Kendra to play without injury on the inflatable toys they had heard would be there.
Parents often join the students in the cafeteria during lunch, participate in classroom reading programs, and generously volunteer for special events. This atmosphere of openness and acceptance is a tone set by our principal. She makes it clear on day one that parents are welcome at the school and are expected to be engaged, and that families with children who have special needs and those with children who are typically developing are embarking on an education partnership that cannot succeed without parental involvement.
Our family's inclusive education experience has been enlightening and life-changing. We now advocate for inclusive education and have signed Dillon up to continue the program at the partnering elementary school in the area. We are grateful to the parents of students with special needs for participating with us in this educational journey, allowing our son and us to expand our understanding and grow from the relationship.