I remember the spring of 2005 like it was yesterday. I was very nervous as I headed into my son’s first Individualized Education Program (IEP) planning meeting. I had been working in the Early Intervention Field (EI) for the past three years and knew what I wanted for my son as he transitioned into the Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) program. I had made my list of priorities for my son’s educational experience and what was important to us as a family.
My number one priority was to make sure he was going to be receiving an inclusive education and have the same opportunities the other children were going to have, with proper individualized supports. As we started the meeting many of the educational team members had done their “research” on my son and read through his file and suggested that he be placed in a segregated setting with other students with autism. I asked how they came to that conclusion since many of them hadn’t even met him as of yet. The response was shocking to say the least… “Well Mrs. Morgan he has autism and doesn’t know the routine of the classroom so he has to learn this within a small group with one on one supports”.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, how could they just make such a snap decision based on a diagnosis? My response to them was very straightforward… “What three year old does know the routine of the classroom? This is, for the majority of them, their first time in a preschool setting. We should always assume competence and place children in the least restrictive environment, diagnosis does not drive placement.” I was then told that our son would be educated in an inclusive setting as the whole preschool is set up that way and that they would incorporate times for him to be with “typical peers”. I thought, do they know what inclusive education is? It appeared my definition and theirs was very different. Where was the collaboration and discussions about options?
It felt like it was us against them and my anxiety went through the roof. I was very upset and didn’t feel heard at all as part of the team. I truly believe that my son’s educational team were a group of individuals that genuinely cared for my son and the students that they were teaching, but highly misguided on two very important things: Inclusive Education & Collaboration of ALL IEP team members.
“Inclusion is more than a set of strategies or practices, it is an educational orientation that respects and builds on the uniqueness that each learner brings to the classroom, and supports and benefits all learners” (Kluth, 2010, p. 23). Inclusion is not just about sharing space or oxygen with other people but rather engaging ALL students in an educational experience side by side their peers while having access to enriching grade level curriculum. Anything can be modified and/or adapted for individualized learners.
In my opinion, collaboration is when individuals on a team share their perspectives, strategies and concerns with each other and develop a process, creating a win/win situation for all stakeholders, and is in the best interest of the student. Barriers that have continued to plague the collaboration among families and professionals were a parental feeling of given menu-driven options, mindset from teachers that they knew best, parental mistrust and a lack of interest by teachers and administration to explore the diverse cultures in schools (Rock, 2000).
Swick & Hooks (2005) suggested that there were four major beliefs that parents expressed regarding inclusive education: First, there was a desire from the parents for their children to live a comfortable, happy, healthy and normal life. The second was that the parents were to be an active member on their child’s IEP team and that they felt respected and valued by the professionals. The third and fourth beliefs focused on how restrictive self-contained classrooms were for their children both academically and with regards to social development.
Smith & Rapport (1999) pointed out how concerning these challenges were, as students who started out at the preschool level in a self-contained or segregated classroom, many times, remain in those placements throughout their educational career. It is critical to take a closer look at early childhood education and make this a priority. The law is clear and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) supports inclusive education and least restrictive environment for ALL students.
Through collaboration and many discussions we decided to have our son placed in an inclusive setting and worked together to incorporate push in supports for him within that classroom setting. Today our son is flourishing in general education classes and going into the 8th grade in the fall. I truly believe that providing an inclusive education for him from the very start (preschool) has provided an educational foundation for him to be successful.
It has not been a success only journey for our family. As we continue to strive for inclusion and acceptance in all aspects of life, we have hit a few bumps in the road but seem to always find a way to work through it. Our son is the oldest of four children, and many questions from his siblings friends have emerged. Due to some concerns my oldest daughter had (2 years younger than our oldest) at school regarding her peer’s lack of knowledge of autism and her brother, we decided to write a children’s book. Teaching self-determination and advocacy skills to each of my children is very important to me as I won’t always be there. To learn more about the background story on how “Building Forever Friendships – Strategies to Help Your Friend with Autism or Other Special Needs at School” came to be, go to: http://www.lindenwood.edu/alumni/connect/publications/docs/connection/2014Fall.pdf (pgs 4-5)
To purchase the book online please go to:
As a parent of a child with autism as an attribute, professional in the field of Special Education, & a Certified Autism Specialist (CAS) I believe, I bring a unique perspective to the table. I hold a bachelor’s degree in behavioral psychology from Western Michigan University, master’s degree in education with an emphasis in early interventions in autism and sensory impairments from Lindenwood University, & pursuing a doctoral degree in education with an emphasis in andragogy from Lindenwood.
Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and my passion is for ALL children to be given opportunities to share their gifts! Believe with your heart, not just what you can see, and the skies the limit!
I own and run two businesses in the St. Charles, Missouri area:
The Adam Morgan Foundation (non-profit) – Provide resources, equipment and interventions to families raising children with autism spectrum disorders at the age of three and older at little to no cost to the families. Website: www.adammorganfoundation.org
Consultants for Children, LLC – Educational Consulting business that assists in creating collaborative partnerships between families, educators, administrators, community organizations, etc. in an effort to promote positive outcomes for individuals with disabilities in all aspects of life. Website: www.cfc-stl.com
Rachel Morgan, MA, CAS
Kluth, P. (2010). You’re going to love this kid. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Rock, M. (2000). Parents as equal partners. Teaching exceptional children, 32(6), 30-37.
Smith, B. J., Rapport, M. J. K. (1999). Early childhood inclusion policy and systems: What do we know? Collaborative Planning Project. University of Colorado at Denver.
Swick, K. J., Hooks, L. (2005). Parental experiences and beliefs regarding inclusive placements of their special needs children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32(6), 397-402.