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How I Became a Believer in Inclusive Education

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I have to admit, I wasn’t always a believer in inclusive education.

The idea was first introduced to us when Eric was about 2 years old. One of the early intervention specialists suggested it might be time for him to go to preschool and strongly encouraged us to enroll Eric into an inclusive community school, where all children can attend.

“There’s no way that would work,” I thought.

Eric had complex medical needs. All of his food had to be pureed, and he used a G-tube for his liquids. Eric had reflux, so any food that went in would often come out. Eric used a wheelchair, and he required a special seat to support him in a regular chair. He couldn’t talk and he was hard of hearing. He also had behavioral difficulties.

“How could they ever take care of him?” I wondered. “This is our responsibility.”

We decided to enroll Eric into a preschool that was more tailored to children with a disability. I was still not convinced I should hand my child over to anyone, but I knew at that school, he would be surrounded by people who specialized in teaching and supporting children with special needs. It was a safe decision.

Every morning when the school bus arrived, Eric would get excited. This told me he enjoyed where he was going. He looked happy when he came home, and we felt comfortable with our decision.

One day, about six months later, I had to pick Eric up from school for an appointment. As I sat in the lobby to wait for him, I had a major epiphany. I suddenly realized that while this was a good school and Eric was enjoying himself, he and the other children who attended were isolated from the rest of the world.

“This isn’t right,” I thought. “I have to get him out there.” I believed it was the only way others would get to know him, and by doing so, they could begin to learn about the kind of support he needed and hopefully make changes accordingly.

As soon as I got home, I called our family support coordinator and said it was time to enroll Eric into an inclusive preschool. I could sense her delight, and planning began for this important transition.

This time, I had no doubt or worries. I felt it was the right thing to do.

After touring a few options, we chose a school called Storybook Early Learning Center. The director of the school was warm and welcoming, and the staff were friendly and approachable. The overall attitude was that Eric belonged there, and they felt confident with him being there. We worked as a team to ensure the proper equipment and supplies were in place, and off he went.

It didn’t take long before pictures were sent home of Eric and his friends.  It felt so good to see other children talking to him, holding his hand and involving him in their play.

And remember what I said about getting the kind of support he needed once others got to know him?  Well, the preschool director quickly began to understand what challenges could arise in ensuring Eric’s care. When he would get ill, she knew I was taking care of him by myself, and that it could be difficult. So she applied for flexible funding to our local government office that was responsible for children’s services. This meant the funding provided for him at preschool could be unlocked, so that on the days when he was too ill to go to school, a staff member from the school would come to our house to assist in his care. It was approved!

After that, I knew we had made the right decision, for Eric, for us as a family, and for others.

Taking that first step was quite intimidating. We didn’t know what to expect. Looking back, we know it made a difference in our lives. We no longer made decisions based on what was comfortable and safe, but rather on what we felt would raise awareness, teach others, promote change, improve accessibility, foster inclusion, and most of all, provide a better life for Eric and all children with a disability.

Everyone is on an individual journey, at their own pace. You will know when it feels right for you. I believe teachers and educators want to make a difference in the lives of all children. As a parent, you can provide the leadership and the inspiration.

This article originally appeared on Family Matters.

Originally published: September 27, 2016
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