In our first instalment of a series of articles about integrating children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms, we look at how parents can ease their transition
With a big push towards inclusive education rather than segregated special education, more and more mainstream schools are welcoming children with disabilities in their classrooms. Inclusive education is about accommodating all children, including those with disabilities, in the same classrooms in their local neighbourhood schools.
This is the policy in many countries around the world, and there is no shortage of research showing the benefits of inclusive education. We also know that sometimes teachers are not made aware of the background and needs of many of the new learners they have coming into their classrooms, especially at the start of the new year.
It is important that parents are encouraged to disclose their chlid’s disability, so that the school and its teachers can make the necessary accommodations.
This is often very difficult, as some parents might be worried that the school would reject their child’s application, whereas others – because of a lack of access to healthcare services, education and awareness – don’t realise that their child may have a disability, or are in denial.
While having inclusive education policies is essential, it is important that support is given to teachers in order to implement inclusion effectively in their classrooms. The next few articles will be sharing some ideas teachers might find useful when integrating a child with a disability.
Here are some suggestions of what parents can do to make the transition easier:
• Make an appointment to meet with the principal of the school to chat about enrolling your child with a disability.
• Discuss both the strengths and possible challenges that the child may have, and provide possible ways of overcoming the challenges. (For instance, “Our child uses a wheelchair, so we would like her to be accommodated in a ground-floor classroom.”)
• Be proactive and come up with a plan to show you are willing and able to assist, and what the school would be responsible for providing. (Does the child need assistance with going to the bathroom, eating or transferring, and who might be able to help?)
• It is important to keep in mind that not all children need assistance. Make it clear if that is the case.
• Be open and honest with the principal. Express the strengths and weaknesses of your child clearly, but also know to stand up for your child’s rights.
• Parents may want to bring along a friend, a member of an NGO or DPO, or someone who knows the child’s history.
• As this is an introductory meeting, it might be best for the child to not be present when their parents are discussing certain sensitive and personal information. If this is not possible, parents need to be aware of the terms they use.
• Finally, it is important that parents bring along all supporting documents from their local clinic and specialist. If possible, include a letter from a therapist, for example, motivating why the child should attend the school. If a child is being transferred from a “special school”, full documentation needs to be transferred with the child, including the learner profile, Individualized Education Programme (IEP), and completed screening, identification, assessment and support (SIAS) documents.
Dr Emma McKinney is a “children with disabilities” specialist, a post doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University and owns a company called Disability Included. email: firstname.lastname@example.org