This is Inclusion
When all students are engaged, beautiful things can happen.
Later in the day, my son gets mad about missing No. 11 on the math assignment. Your son leans over and says, “You’re already on No. 11? I’m stuck on No. 3!”
“Oh, No. 3 is easy. Let me show you,” my son answers, his frustration forgotten as he eagerly explains the problem. Your son laughs as he realizes his mistake.
“I added instead of multiplied. OF COURSE.”
My son laughs, too. “I do that all the time.” He flutters his fingers in front of his mouth.
Your son has to know. He takes a deep breath and asks, “Why do you do that?”
“Oh, my stimming? It’s just what I do when I have a lot of energy. It helps me stay calm,” my son says.
“Oh, okay.” That isn’t so weird. “Want to work together on this?”
“Yeah!” My son relaxes into the friendly interaction. As they work together, he notices that your son does not melt down over errors. Maybe mistakes aren’t catastrophes, he thinks. My son finishes the math period without yelling at himself, biting his arm or having a panic attack.
The beauty of inclusion is in these interactions. Different types of thinkers challenge each other. Complicated, uncomfortable experiences lead to growth, both academically and personally. We end up redefining ourselves and our relationships with the people around us. We learn new skills—multiplication, patience, how to recite the U.S. presidents in chronological order, and hopefully, most importantly, how to appreciate and find value in every single person we meet.
Inclusion is what educators and psychologists consider “best practice” for both disabled and nondisabled children. But it requires teachers to be given tools and training.
When implemented well, it transforms traditional instruction into a multifaceted and authentic approach that recognizes all learners. It becomes potent pedagogy, benefiting students across the board.
Will my son’s autistic behaviors distract your child? Maybe at first, yes. Will this keep your child from learning long division, the parts of a cell or how to read?
Consider this: Your daughter is reading a challenging chapter book in her language arts group. She feels a deep connection with the characters, and in particular with the outsider who is the main character. She has met kids like this in real life, too.
She writes about this feeling in her book report. Other students hear her presentation and are similarly moved. The experience snowballs, engulfing the class. It enters their discussion during social studies that afternoon. It continues the next day in morning meeting, when the school counselor talks about character and bullying.
It spills into recess, where kids play tag together, then later into after-school math club, where a child who struggles with reading teaches everyone advanced origami. That evening in orchestra rehearsal, the autistic first violinist stands to play her A for the rest of the musicians to tune to. Nobody even notices her rocking back and forth. There is music to play.
This is inclusion.
Hannah Grieco is a writer, parent advocate and former Arlington teacher. Her three kids attend Arlington public schools.