Thursday, June 28, 2007

Advocates for Disabled Kids Take Issue with Journal Story

An Autism Bulletin reader pointed out to me today that a group of advocacy organizations for disabled children took issue with a story in The Wall Street Journal on June 25, "Mainstreaming Trend Tests Classroom Goals."

The Journal piece highlights the challenges that public school teachers are facing in helping disabled kids in their classrooms due to a lack of training and support. The advocacy groups interpreted the article as a slap against the idea of inclusion programs, because, it said, it gave voice to teachers' complaints that educating disabled children was difficult and driving some of them from the profession.

In response, the advocacy groups statement cites a litany of research sources that support the idea that inclusion, when done well, not only benefits disabled kids with a higher quality education than they would receive in separate classrooms for special education; the practice also benefits the educators and school community.

Find the statement here, on the website of the American Association for People With Disabilities. The groups helpfully post a copy of the Journal article, presumably with permission, on their website here.

Other organizations represented by the statement are: the National Down Syndrome Society, the National Down Syndrome Congress, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and international advocacy group TASH. A key passage about the value of inclusion programs reads:

Students labeled as having severe and multiple disabilities may appear to have such challenging impairments, and their needs appear to be either so basic (e.g. simple communication skills; appropriate manipulation skills; learning to sit) or so complex (e.g. requiring nursing intervention, G-Tubes, etc) that teaching these students in highly academic, typical classrooms seems improbable, and at the least, impractical. YET – research and best practice shows that this type of student learns more with the almost constant stimulation and numerous and spontaneous opportunities to interact with peers. Special educators, no matter how highly motivated or skilled, cannot provide the necessary ongoing stimulation in self-contained classrooms.

One factor not mentioned in the statement, which I would have expected: what are the benefits which typically developing students may experience through exposure to and collaboration in class with disabled peers? I would expect researchers to have identified some.

I read the Journal article differently than these advocacy groups, which is not to say their interpretation lacks merit. I took away the message, backed by evidence the reporter cited, that teachers in Scranton, Pa., lacked the proper training and support to make their inclusion settings work for everyone. The article suggested that this was a sad truth facing teachers, disabled kids and their families around the nation. Read more about the story here.

If you have thoughts to add about this important issue, please do so here or e-mail me at michaelsgoldberg AT

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the journal article was an example of main stream "dumping" which must go on all over the country.
we must continue to advocate for more money for support for the teachers to maintain their goals for all students.