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LD and Inclusion Gone Wrong
Q: I have an 11-year-old son who was diagnosed with CAPD three years ago. This is his first year in middle school (sixth grade). We found out on the first day of school that our middle school has been chosen to be a pilot school for inclusion this year. I know that the parents with children in Special Education were not prepared for this, and I believe that several teachers were unprepared also. My son seems to be having a much harder time this year. In the three years he has been in Special Education, his teacher could not get him to memorize his multiplication tables. This year his teacher has told him that if he does not have them memorized by November first, he will fail sixth grade. Also, another teacher has told him that if he misses more than one spelling word, he will be sent to the principal's office. This is the first time I have e-mailed for help. Is threatening a student with a documented learning disability a common teaching practice for inclusion? What do I do?
A: Despite abundant research that tells us that inclusion can only work if it's well planned and if it has appropriate resources, here's yet another story of inclusion gone wrong. It's wrong to spring inclusion on parents, kids, and teachers, and you see why. Your son has a very specific condition that requires at the very least an understanding on the part of the regular teachers. In addition to that, he needs to have the services of people who are knowledgeable about Central Auditory Processing Disorders and the kinds of interventions that are necessary to allow children with this condition to be successful. When I hear that a teacher has turned what might be reasonable goals for children without special needs into veiled threats to kids who have neurologically based impediments to learning, there's something woefully wrong with the "solution" we've come up with called inclusion. Would a teacher say to a blind child, "read print by December or else?" This, they "get" since the disability is visible. But it's not until a child with Down syndrome starts to pull out his hair (true story!) do teachers begin to realize that this mentally retarded child might be under incredible stress because of the expectation that he now act "normal".
I recommend that you request a meeting of the parent-teacher association and the special education parent council and hold a forum on this important issue. If necessary, encourage fund-raising or grant searches that support your school's professional development efforts around inclusion. Invite guest speakers who are experts on inclusion to speak to teachers and administrators and implore your superintendent to authorize a study that measures the impact and success of the inclusion program as formulated in your town.
In the meantime, make sure that your son's IEP contains guidelines for teacher behaviors, includes resources about CAPD for them to read, and makes specific mention of how your child's performance will be evaluated and how he will be graded. The myth of inclusion is expressed in the often-heard comment that "all kids are special." In truth, some are more special than others and a "one size fits all" approach will just not work.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.