INCLUSION, INVOLVEMENT and INTERACTION
Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. ®
~ Vernã Meyers ~
… And interaction is dancing. Having the opportunity to participate in life is fundamental for adults or children. But being included isn’t enough. There is a difference between inclusion and interaction. In the education system, inclusion provides opportunities for students with diverse abilities to learn alongside their peers in the classrooms. Interaction allows a two-way flow of information through communicating, reacting and influencing each other. Alongside doesn’t necessarily mean being included with peers and the class activities. The opportunity to interact with and contribute to the world around them is essential.
We make a difference by advocating for active participation and facilitating and empowering children to communicate. Are our children’s lives enriched and full of opportunities to contribute and express their ideas? Is there interaction? What are our students’ experiences?
Children feel more positive about themselves when they are able to be independent or be a part of life by interacting with others. I have seen children’s faces light up when they are able to give a message to someone or interact with friends. I have seen children become more animated and excited because they are able to communicate their needs and to actively participate in their environment. Everyone should have the opportunity to be a contributing member of the classroom, school, work and their own life.
In the article Inclusion/Integration Is There A Difference (Harman, 2006) the author writes, ‘…Inclusive schools and classrooms talk about helping everyone…When looking at the IEP, strategies will be used to adapt and improve the classroom so that all students achieve success. Inclusion is about helping everyone.’ Sam’s success at school was shared with his peers. When his teacher and I returned from a meeting, the class and Sam weren’t there. They had gone to the library. One of the students had changed the script in the Tech Talk to the library script and selected the correct level. By the time I got to the library Sam had his book and was thanking the librarian. He was so pleased with his independence.
The bonus for me was to see how his peers supported him. There was no need for an adult to initiate a connection or make sure Sam was supported. His peers were responsible and caring. They gained confidence and pride in their own abilities. The confidence that they could carry with them throughout their lives and the ability to achieve success.
THE HIGH SCHOOL SETTING
I’m a proponent for inclusion with interaction. We can see how students with diverse abilities fit into elementary classrooms. But being realistic, we know that some students need a different learning environment when they reach high school. The support room is a practical solution. It becomes a home base and provides the students programs matching their unique learning needs. As much as possible though, being included in other classes and extracurricular activities are valuable opportunities for interacting with peers. Non-academic courses are opportunities waiting to be explored – Cooking, Sewing, Art, Drama, Music, Choir, Physical Education, Woodwork. Special events, fundraising, and holiday celebrations can include all students. Depending on the student’s abilities, it’s all possible. The goal is interacting with the school population.
I know that we don’t live in a utopia. Providing everyone the support to reach for their potential isn’t always practical. But never give up on the possibility that we can improve lives by working together. Students with complex diversities can have enriched lives, opportunities to express their ideas and contribute. The communication and contribution may be small but it’s no less important to that person than Einstein’s contributions are to the world.
SITTING ON THE SIDELINES
Matt’s enthusiastic responses and huge smile inspired me to find more ways to involve him at school. One particular day, I was asked to support him in gym class when his regular assistant was away. We found his grade nine class outside playing California Kick Ball. (The pitcher tosses an inflated rubber ball to the batter. The batter kicks the ball and runs the bases as in baseball.) It was easy for me to ask the teacher if Matt could have a turn going around the bases while another student kicked the ball – but why should I ask? He could do that himself by using his communication equipment.
Before we got to the ball field, I recorded several messages in his BIGmack and Step-by-Step communicators. The single message in the BIGmack was, ‘Can I have a turn?’ The messages in the Step-by-Step were, ‘Pitcher has a rubber arm! Pitcher has a rubber arm!’, ‘Hey, batter, batter, batter! Hey, batter, batter, batter!’, ‘Great hit. Way to go!’, and ‘Run, run, run!’
Matt laughed as he used his head switch to play the messages while his peers played the game. His peers and teacher enjoyed it too. When the teacher came over, Matt pressed the head switch that was connected to the BIGmack, “Can I have a turn?” Who can resist this interaction and assertiveness? Sure enough, he had a turn at bat. One student kicked the ball, and I pushed Matt in his wheelchair around the bases – well, actually only to first base, thank goodness. Another time he could have asked some of his peers to push him around the bases. It was his gym class after all.
Matt needed one-on-one support for his lunch. Due to limited muscle use, he needed drink from a bottle while someone held it. It seemed impersonal to feed him while the other students were at the table. So, he had his lunch before the others. After he finished, Matt could watch a video or listen to a story on the computer. For the staff it was easier to have him do that than be at the lunch table. But where was the social interaction while his friends were eating their lunch? A few times we had him at the table too. We recorded his Step-by-Step, and he asked his friends what they had to eat, what movies did they like, and told a joke. Even though it took energy and time to set up the Step-by-Step, I wish we had included the lunchtime interaction earlier in the year. It was such a pleasure to watch the interaction and socializing at that lunch table.
Sometimes the easier route isn’t the best one for the student.
What does the student want?
 Helen Keller The Story of My Life.