How Parents Can Make Inclusive Education Better for Children With Disabilities
I’m a 28-year-old who has cerebral palsy. I work part time, drive a car, and lead a happy and fulfilling life. I had a mainstream/inclusive education and to look at my grades you would think my school life had been a dream. However, there are things that could have made my school life so much easier and less stressful.
1) Understanding of my disability.
One of the problems I faced was that many learning support assistants are used to working with students who have learning difficulties, not a physical disability. My first piece of advice to any parent is to ensure the school knows about your child’s health and disabilities and how they affect them. Make sure this information is passed to everyone involved in your child’s education. A good way to do this is through using your child’s home/school diary, or having a separate book, especially if your child’s needs and health can vary. Mine would be used if I’d had a bad day or fallen over at school.
2) Support with the social side of school.
This is something that in my case was either overlooked or completely misunderstood. Your child’s social development is just as important as any other type of development. A child may have no social difficulties per se, but miss out on social opportunities purely because of their physical difficulties. For example, if your child cannot access outside areas, they will miss out on playing games or just being with friends. I would often be allowed to be in the dining hall without an adult. This provided me with independence. However, when my friends had finished their lunch, they would move to another area of the school and I would be left sitting on my own.
This could be improved by:
• Having more lunch clubs to attend
• Having an adult there who would take me outside and observe from a distance, allowing me some freedom
• Small rooms; due to my disability, I find crowds and noisy environments difficult. Somewhere smaller and quieter would have made lunchtime much better.
Any of the above should be put in place after discussion with the student. If like me, they have difficulty with anxiety or struggle with feeling confident, the changes must be made gradually and in cooperation with the pupil.
3) Being aware of bullying.
Another thing that can have a significant effect on your child’s education is bullying. Bullying can be defined as an imbalance of power that results in repeated name calling and/or physical abuse – hitting, punching, kicking and being excluded from social groups.
Signs your child may be being bullied include:
• reluctance to go to school
• missing belongings
• unexplained injuries
• behavior that is out of character.
If your child tells you they are being bullied or you think your child may be being bullied, you can take the following steps:
• Listen to your child
• Keep a record of the incidents of bullying
• Read the school’s anti-bullying policy
Points of contact:
• Your child’s class teacher or form tutor should be the first point of contact.
• If the problems continue, contact the school principal.
• If the problems are still unresolved, you can contact your local superintendent or director of education.
I was bullied throughout my school life, and it had a significant effect on me. Although I had an adult with me most of the time, I was still bullied. This made my primary school years difficult. I was in a small school, so I couldn’t easily stay away from the person who was bullying me.
Sometimes I think I was bullied because I was different from other children; maybe children were scared. I think it is important to educate children about disabilities, so they grow up accepting that everyone is different and that different is positive. Children are naturally inquisitive and will ask questions about something they haven’t encountered before. Children’s questions should be answered honestly, and they should know it is OK to ask questions.
4) Communication with all professionals involved in your child’s care.
Communication between the school, parents, health care professionals and students (depending on their age and ability) is essential. All organizations involved in your child’s care need to be working together. This ensures that your child can receive the best possible education and health care. When I was at school, I had a visit each term from a physical therapist or occupational therapist. My advice to parents would be to ensure you know when they visit, and to attend.
The next thing that really helped me and my family was having a close link with my key worker — someone I could talk to about anything I was concerned about.
When I went into year 11, I had the option to drop a subject. This can be a good idea, but you should carefully consider what subjects are most valuable for your child’s future career goals. I somehow dropped ICT, the one subject I really needed.
5) Get the special equipment your child needs.
If like me, your child uses a laptop or iPad to complete their work, there are a few things I think are really important:
• Ensure your child always has access to their equipment. There was a time when my laptop stayed at school, but I think it would have been much better to have it at home as well.
• If like me, your child has a technology assessment at primary school, ensure your child is re-assessed regularly. The needs of your child change, as does technology.
These are the main things that would have helped me in my education. Each child is different and has different needs, but these are just a few things to be aware of if you have a child with a physical disability in inclusive education.
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Thinkstock photo by Wavebreak Media.