BEING DIFFERENT-BEING SPECIAL-BEING ACCEPTED- BEING KIND It Is All One Thing By Kim Corey
"When you are kind to others, it not only changes you, it changes the world." - Harold Kushner
I want to share with you a journey. This journey spanned a time of elemental change in the field of Special Education, and it provided opportunities for changing individuals and changing the world through the simple arrangement of allowing interactions between disabled students and typical students in the school setting. These interactions were structured around and tied together with the thread of kindness.
But first, a flashback to a scene in my office in the fall of 1990. A very angry fifth grade teacher enters my space and proceeds to scream at me that I have no right to "have these kids be in the third grade classroom to get their special education services." I stood up to this teacher in support of the changes that were coming. But then again I thought of my soon to be included student, Jeremiah, yelling at the top of his lungs...up to eighty times each day.
I came into the field of Special Education shortly after the passage of a law in 1975 that required schools to provide a public education to all students. At that time, the concept of mainstreaming was put forth as a way to have students with disabilities be a part of the regular education setting. Although some efforts were made to allow disabled students to have time with typical peers, the arrangements were minimal and mostly centered around physical education classes or a period of ten to fifteen minutes in a regular education classroom at the start of the day. Truthfully, these mainstreaming times did little to foster understanding and acceptance of disabled students, and mostly reinforced the implicit bias of special education students as "the other" or as people who were too different to be looked upon as being a part of the rest of the school, or of society in general.
In the early 1990's, court rulings determined that students with severe disabilities had a right to be included in the regular education setting with appropriate support and services to ensure their educational progress. This concept of "inclusion" meant that every effort needed to be made to allow full access to a regular classroom for any student, regardless of their handicapping condition.
During this time of change, students with multiple disabilities and extreme mental handicaps were fully allowed into regular education classrooms, with proper supports in place to ensure their educational progress.
As a teacher of students with severe and multiple disabilities, I saw this as a groundbreaking time where not only could students with disabilities benefit from being a part of a mainstream setting, but students with typical abilities could benefit from getting to know disabled students as individual human beings with unconditional merit.
As parents of disabled children embraced this time, the true test of inclusion and that their child had become a part of other kids' lives, was when and if their child would be asked to a birthday party. Somehow this simple act was to be the hope and dream that their child had truly been accepted as a friend of a typical child.
At times we had our work cut out for us. In order to assist the process of getting to know these kids, who at first glance appeared to be so very different, we would conduct an activity called "A Circle of Friends". Without the disabled student present, the teachers would facilitate a process where we would talk about all the things this child had in common with other kids, then set up a schedule during the day where students would volunteer to be with the disabled child. These times of day included recess, lunch, specials(such as gym class), walking from class to class, and before or after school.
As a teacher I observed many beautiful moments as these kids got to know one another and start relationships that would engender understanding and do away with implicit bias. I had a great hope for the future as I believed the typical kids would grow up and be in support of legislation that would support others with disabilities, and support humane opportunities for their lives to be as positive as possible.
Back to Jeremiah. He was a student with Down Syndrome. A third grade teacher and I worked together to help him be included in the third grade classroom with 25 other students. Jeremiah liked to yell. Yell loudly. At first when Jeremiah started in the third grade classroom, he would yell up to eighty times per day. The Special Education staff and I reassured the third grade teacher that with her help, we would be able to help Jeremiah decrease his disruptive yelling. We had Jeremiah on a program of ignoring his yelling, and the third grade teacher learned to ignore him and carry on as if nothing unusual was happening. The first few days were pretty rocky as students struggled to work and listen to their teacher with Jeremiah yelling and laughing(as he knew he was causing some trouble) in the background. After about three days, however, Jeremiah started to yell less and less as he realized he wouldn't gain any attention for it. His rate of yells went down to five or less per day. Success! And everyone in the classroom felt it as we had all worked together to help Jeremiah behave more appropriately in the third grade classroom.
And did disabled children end up being invited to birthday parties? Yes, they did, and many parents felt the joy of their child being viewed as a friend, and as someone worth being a part of the mainstream world.
Yes, acts of kindness can change us, and can change the world.
SedonaKind PO Box 3059 Sedona, AZ 86340
SedonaKind meets the 3rd Friday of each Month from September to May. We meet at the Sedona Library in West Sedona at 10:00a.m. We ask that only fully Covid vaccinated individuals attend.