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All children must learn life skills at one time or another in their lives. Most average children will not only learn life skills at home but will also learn them at school. Special needs children may not have the ability to learn the normal life skills at school as they are generally segregated from the average students. What are life skills, you ask? According to Wikipedia, "Life skills are a set of human skills acquired via teaching or direct experience that are used to handle problems and questions commonly encountered in daily human life." .(Wikipedia.org) Unicef states, " "Life Skills", this term refers to a large group of psycho-social and interpersonal skills which can help people make informed decisions, communicate effectively, and develop coping and self-management skills that may help them lead a healthy and productive life. Life skills may be directed toward personal actions and actions toward others, as well as actions to change the surrounding environment to make it conducive to health." (Unicef.org) Life skills are learned by watching others or being taught by another. Average children learn the life skills needed to become successful adults in society without any problems. Most do not even realize they are learning a life skill at the time. How are special needs children supposed to learn these life skills if they are continually segregated from general education students? Inclusion of special needs students into at least elective style classes to learn life skills is a very important step for education.
Segregation of special needs students has always been an issue in the education world. One special educator stated, "When I started teaching, it was expected that students with significant special needs would be placed in segregated special education classrooms. I noted at that time that these students didn't have access to the same opportunities as the students who participated in the regular education classrooms. Their curriculum was watered down and did not provide exposure to the real world. Their school environment was isolating, and they had only each other as role models and peers." (Lipsitt, A 1998) In following what she wrote, I see a strong problem with trying to teach a special needs student life skills when the ones they are modeling do not have life skills themselves. This is where inclusion helps to change that problem.
Inclusion into elective classrooms is a great first step into getting your special needs students into the mainstream of your school. All students deserve the time to socialize with their peers and to learn how to become social accepted. Elective classrooms are a more relaxed and have a less regulated curriculum than core classes. Elective classes pose a more positive situation for the special needs student to feel more relaxed and not so pressured to fit in academically.
It is not just a special needs students that need to learn how to fit in, average students also need to learn how to handle being around a special needs student. As an average student of the 80's I do not remember ever having a special needs student in any of my classes. I am not sure we even had that many special needs students at our school, those that were there, were never seen in the regular areas of the school. Today that is something that needs to be changed. It is time to make things equal for all.
Everyone deserves to be treated the same regardless of their condition. "A person with a disability is not a disabled person." (Lipsitt, A. 1998) This is so true when it comes to a special needs student. Some special needs students are students that just need a bit more help with comprehension, some are physically not able to get around, but are able to understand what is going on around them. Some special needs students are "labeled" non-communicative. That is wrong on so many levels. A student that does not communicate by normal means is "labeled" that way, yet they do communicate just not the way you or I would. Each has their own way of communicating what they need or want. Why should we segregate them because we can't understand what they are saying. Maybe we should be segregated for not understanding, and then maybe we would understand what they go through on a daily basis.
Inclusion is such a wonderful solution to such a horrific problem of discrimination. One day I hope to see all students sharing all classrooms. Teachers being able to work together to teach all students, the life skills that are necessary to become very successful adults in society in each ones special way is the goal we are after.