A Hope for an Inclusive Tomorrow
One of the greatest fears that many parents face today is that their child will be diagnosed with autism or some other learning disability. According to statistics provided by organizations such as fightingautism.org and the US Department of Education, the skyrocketing number of new cases of students with autism in the last 15 years is a further illustration of why tri-state area parents are concerned. Many parents and educators are not properly educated or equipped to deal with the harsh realities of educating a student with severe and multiple disabilities. As a result, organizations such as The New York City Task Force on Quality Inclusive School, UFT Teacher Center and Parent-to-Parent NYS took action by recently sponsoring the first annual Supporting Inclusive Classrooms: Strategies for Students with Severe and Multiple Disabilities conference.
Inclusive education is the practice of educating students with disabilities in mainstream schools. Where necessary, education is provided with the use of supplementary aids and services. The conference focused primarily on a two-pronged approach aimed at empowering parents and informing educators of the resources available to them since the inception of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Chris J. Anderson, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at College of Mount Saint Vincent, began the conference by highlighting not only the struggles that parents and educators have historically faced with inclusive education advocacy, but the advances that have been made as well. Brenda Dressler, Ph.D., Co-Liaison, New York City Task Force on Quality Inclusive Schools, discussed the process of how the various professors from different educational institutions came together to form the conference and outlined some future goals of the conference.
Participants attending the conference viewed the documentary Songs of Our Children and received an informative resource handbook titled, Supporting Inclusive Classrooms: A Resource New York City Task Force on Quality Inclusive Schooling. Grade leveled strategy sessions (Birth–Grade 6 and Grade 7–Post Secondary) included topics such as: how to improve classroom management; creating optimal learning environments; and promoting high academic, functional and transitional expectations for all.
David J. Connor, Ed.D., Associate Professor of Special Education/Learning Disabilities at Hunter College, CUNY, spoke about the open denigration of students recently seen in the news, and how federal programs such as No Child Left Behind have left our country’s most vulnerable student population behind by enacting anti-inclusion policies. Connor also provided participants with a useful behavior management website that offers strategies for dealing with disruptive behavior.
For a long time, children with disabilities were educated in separate classes. People got used to the idea that special education meant separate education. Much progress has occurred with the inclusion of students with disabilities in their home schools and classrooms. The IDEA Amendments of 1997 has strengthened the role of parents in educational planning and decision-making on behalf of their children, and it focuses the student’s educational planning process on promoting meaningful access to the general curriculum.#