Anita F. Miles
Alta Vista, VA
  Reprinted from © Down Syndrome News, The Newsletter of the National Down Syndrome Congress, Vol. 21, No. 9, p. 122

My definition of inclusion is simply that students with disabilities should be integrated into general education classrooms whether or not they can meet traditional standards of the curriculum and should be full members of those classrooms.

I remember the first time I ever heard the term Inclusion. Though I am a first grade teacher In a public school, school was not where I first learned this term. I first heard it from my sister Dru, Her son, Taylor, was born with Down syndrome 12 years ago. From that point, Dru began educating herself about Down syndrome, and channeling that Information to our extended families. She now works for the National Down Syndrome Congress located In Atlanta, GA. She refers to herself as Taylor's CEO, a position to which she has given her utmost.

Before Taylor entered kindergarten several years ago, Dru started using the term Inclusion. Through Interacting with Taylor as he has grown and a series of lengthy conversations on the subject, I realize my philosophy on Inclusion has come full circle. I saw It first from a teacher's standpoint, then from an empathic sister's standpoint, then back to an (enlightened and educated) teacher's standpoint. The culmination of my changing views was a trip to Phoenix, AZ to attend the National Down Syndrome Congress Convention. I was able to get to know many youth and adults with Down syndrome, and attended a workshop on Inclusion.

When my sister first started mentioning Inclusion, I (the teacher) had arched my back, rebelled, and defended teachers In general with thoughts such as, "How can you expect a teacher with 25 students to teach a student with special needs too? That one student would take up too much of my time! I'm not trained to teach special education! How would I grade him and be fair to everyone involved?"

After a while of watching my precious nephew grow, seeing his sense of humor and individuality, and seeing how he learns, my view of Inclusion changed. This time I saw it through the eyes of a sister and an aunt. I saw the difference It made to Taylor to change his placement from a "handicapped" class (kids with Down syndrome labeled severe to moderate, and kids with cerebral palsy, paraplegia and quadriplegia) to an inclusive setting. Children with Down syndrome learn an incredible amount through modeling from their peers. Think about it-on that basis alone there Is a strong argument for Inclusion. But there are other benefits as well; I will never forget the day Dru called with excitement In her voice to tell me that Taylor had been Invited to his first "real" birthday party. He had been totally included in the party planning by a friend who is a typical kid. Milestones such as this are so important. Studies show that occupational success or failure Is tied to the acquisition of social skills.

This brought me full-circle to the view of an enlightened and educated teacher. I am excited about the challenges and possibilities of inclusion and willing to try it in my first grade classroom.

I have learned much about collaborating with other teachers how to make a mutual partnership successful, through trust, respect, time management, and space and role boundaries. I look forward to the challenge of implementing these skills. By having a working knowledge of co-teaching methods, a creative, trained teacher should be able to assess the situation and the needs of the student and use an appropriate teaching method.

I was especially motivated by a workshop presentation I attended at the NDSC Convention in Arizona. Pathway to a higher I.Q. (Inclusion Quotient): Teaching Salient Achievable Information, was presented by Christine Hockel, a sixteen-year-old with Down syndrome, her morn Judie Hockel, and two education professionals. The first step In the IEP process for the Hockel family is finding the Teachable Salient Achievable Points. This requires the classroom teacher or someone familiar with the curriculum to edit down the course content to the information or objectives that Christi most needs to learn.

The workshop discussed strategies such as communication, accommodations, modifications and adaptations to successfully carry out inclusion. Often, some of the vocabulary would be pre-taught. In the Biology class, for example, the special education teacher compiled a study guide with important vocabulary that the typical students probably already understood, such as "biodegradable" and "taxonomy." The special education teacher used her expertise to come up with creative ways to teach the study guide vocabulary, and In some cases bound the study guide for reuse. To learn "biodegradable" the two students with Down syndrome visited the teacher's compost pile and a recycling center where they helped sort the recyclables. To teach taxonomy the teacher made up sign language. For ten legged creatures, they signed with 10 wiggly fingers. Eight legged creatures became 8 wiggly fingers plus the sign symbol for "A" for Arachnids. Six legged creatures were 6 wiggly fingers plus the sign symbol for "I" for Insects.

If there were a lesson that Christi did not need the special ed. teacher would use that time to teach something more meaningful to Christy. For example, the time might be used to preview a video that would be part of the next day's lesson with her typical peers. Previewing the tape had the advantage of being able to start and stop the tape for discussion, and to review critical vocabulary. All of these require excellent teacher planning, communication, and coordination, but It is well worth It.

The issues of grades and the fairness of assigning those grades no longer seems like the "Big Hairy Monster" I once perceived it to be. Once you have your IEP and your Teachable Salient Achievable Points, the grade can be assigned with a "modified" notation.

Inclusion is an evolving process which requires communication, planning, coordination, and sometimes trial and error from everyone involved, from the administration to the custodian. I'm ready to sink my teeth into it.

"When your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme..."
—Jiminy Cricket