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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 or opportunity to learn 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)
Andy Humphrey wrote an article called, How to Understand Special Education Inclusion. In this article he talks a lot about how to understand what inclusion is. The following is an excerpt from that article.
So what is inclusion and how does it affect your child's education? The subject is surrounded by misunderstanding and controversy and it is important for both educators and parents to understand the concept.
All students are members of the community. Inclusion is based on the philosophy that all students, regardless of disability, are and should be a part of the school's culture. The belief is that a student that requires special services should have the services brought to the student, not the other way around.
Special needs students are educated in their least restrictive environment (LRE). Most special needs students are capable of receiving education in a regular classroom. Placement of special needs students into special education classes puts them outside the school culture and creates division, fear, and ignorance.
Special needs students are not necessarily required to meet the same standards as other students. They participate in activities with the rest of the class though may be given special considerations for their disabilities. For example, a student who is unable to speak would not be able to give an oral report when the other students do, but could make some other kind of presentation. A student who has difficulty writing, perhaps due to fine motor skill problems or vision problems, could be given extra time on a test or allowed to take the test verbally.
The examples given by Andy Humphrey are classic examples of how to work with
special needs students, in general education classrooms.
Life skills are learned by watching others peer model or being taught one on one by someone. 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. Special needs students do not have the same opportunities to learn social skills and life skills. Inclusion into certain general education classrooms give special needs students opportunities they may not have. Special needs students face obstacles such as physical disabilities, low comprehension, no morals, lack of knowing right from wrong, and the inability to control impulse actions and reactions. Allowing these special needs students into the general education classrooms allows them to learn from their peers.
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) Trying to teach a special needs student life skills, when the students they are modeling do not have life skills themselves is one of the many reasons for inclusion into general education classrooms. This is where inclusion helps to change that problem.
Inclusion into elective classrooms such as P.E., culinary, art, etc. is a great first step into getting special needs students into the mainstream of school. All students deserve the time to socialize with their peers and to learn how to become socially accepted. Elective classrooms are a more relaxed atmosphere and have a less regulated curriculum than core classes such as English, Science, or History. Elective classes pose a more positive situation for the special needs student to feel more relaxed and not so pressured to fit in academically.
In an interview with Nick Hoffmier, (a life skills special education teacher at Ottawa High School in Ottawa, Ks) he stated, "The students I have placed into several elective classrooms have learned so many different social skills; things that I would not have been able to teach them in a special education classroom." Mr. Hoffmier also stated that there are times when his special needs students have caused problems for the teacher trying to teach in the elective classroom. He said, that is when he would place a Para-educator into the classroom to help assist the special needs student in how to learn and listen by following the examples of the other general education students. He said that he would not pull a special needs student from a classroom for acting out, just like an average student would not be pulled from the class. Teaching special needs students that, there are in classroom consequences for behavior are one of the goals of inclusion in his program. Removing a student from a classroom for acting out or disrupting the teacher only teaches that student how to get out of the classroom not how to change the behavior.
Mr. Hoffmier works very hard to make sure that his special needs students are getting every opportunity available to them. He prides himself on teaching his special needs students how to survive in the "real world" among their peers.
Ottawa High School is just one of many schools in the country that are implementing inclusion in elective classrooms. In the 80's special needs students were not seen in classrooms, and most were not even seen in schools. Today that is something that is being fought for and changed. Educators and parents alike believe it is time for equality for all students regardless of abilities.
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 also 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. A student that does not communicate by normal means is "labeled" that way, yet they do communicate, just not the way the general public communicates. Special needs students have their own way of communicating what they need or want. Why should they be segregated because most of society can't understand what they are saying?
It is not just 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. Average students have no idea what it is like to deal with a disability in any form. Having special needs students in a classroom with average students will help teach average students how to handle the odd behavior or outburst that are uncontrollable for a special needs student. So many times special needs children are defined by what they cannot do, what help they will need, or how they will fall short. While those needs are important, the positive side of learning from others and how they may succeed is what inclusion focuses on.
Buddy systems have been used by many schools to help students from both sides learn to adjust and become role models. Special needs students learn from the average student how to be friends, how to learn and listen to a teacher, how to communicate openly. Average students also learn from their special needs peers. Average students often learn humility, patients, selflessness and humbleness. Most special needs students do not even realize they are different until someone points out the difference. They feel as if they are the same as others around them until someone makes a remark about what they cannot do correctly. The buddy system is designed to stop, both the intentional and unintentional harassment and judgment of special needs students. "If you treat people as if they are what they ought to be, you help them become what they are capable of being." (Goethe)
Another viewpoint on inclusion comes from Martin Block. Block says that "the least restrictive environment may not always be the general classroom for some students who would benefit from a smaller, quieter environment." He suggests, however, that both special needs students and average students can benefit highly from being in a general education classroom. (Block, 2000) Block is one of many for inclusion of special education students especially into P.E. and other elective classes.
There are several sides to the subject of whether there should be inclusion of special needs students. Some of the arguments against inclusion include, lack of data available on, social gains of special education students, harmful effects from inclusion on general education students, and overall effect of ability to learn in a classroom for either type of student. There are always going to be different opinions on any subject and with time and research everyone will decided whether they are for or against the subject. Inclusion is no different.
Research shows that inclusion is such a wonderful solution to such a horrific problem of discrimination and labeling. Maybe one day all students will be 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 of inclusion.