Why Inclusion in Special Education Is Not Enough and Parents Should Demand More

Updated on August 25, 2017
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With a master's degree in education and a son with autism, I'm passionate about getting the right services for students in need.

Some States Remain in the Dark Ages When It Comes to Special Education

When our family moved to Central Oregon – escaping the traffic, crowds, and high prices in the Bay Area – we left something of immense value: high quality special education services for our autistic son. We had no idea Oregon (like many other states) remains in the Dark Ages when it comes to early intervention support such as speech and occupational therapies. The help that's given routinely in the Golden State is unavailable here – considered too costly and too questionable.

California Understands Early Intervention Services Are An Investment, Saving Money in the Long Run

States such as Oregon exist in the Dark Ages, seeing occupational therapy as unnecessary and unproven.
States such as Oregon exist in the Dark Ages, seeing occupational therapy as unnecessary and unproven. | Source

They Drank the Kool-Aid, Making Them Believe That Inclusion Is the Be-All and End-All in Special Education

Most frustrating is Oregon's asinine insistence that inclusion is the one and only solution for all issues in specials education – autism, ADHD, Down's Syndrome, or anything else under the sun. When speaking with professionals in special education, it's as if they all attended the same Saturday morning workshop where they got indoctrinated into the cult of inclusion – reciting by rote its benefits and never questioning its enormous limitations. They drank the Kool-Aid and all rational thought is gone.

Armed with a master's degree in special education as well as our recent experience in California, I knew these folks were like used car salesmen, persuading me to buy a clunker. However, my decision was far more important than an automobile purchase; it determined the very future of my child. With their single-minded focus on inclusion blinding them to other options, these educators made me lose all faith in them as advocates for my son.

I was left on my own to secure for him the services he needed – in the private sector, not the public school system. I was fortunate enough to have the background and wherewithal to do this, but not every parent is in that place. That's why I'm urging moms and dads to understand inclusion alone is insufficient and their youngsters need concrete services: direct instruction, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.

Children With Special Needs Thrive on the Guided Learning of Direct Instruction

Direct instruction is a misunderstood but powerful teaching method, especially with children who have special needs.
Direct instruction is a misunderstood but powerful teaching method, especially with children who have special needs. | Source

What Is Direct Instruction in Special Education?

Direct instruction is the explicit teaching of concepts and skills in a systemic, guided step-by-step manner. In direct instruction, the teacher is the expert, delivering information in an orderly fashion so students master the material. Direct instruction typically involves clearly defined objectives, on-going practice and review, and frequent teacher-student interactions.

1. Direct Instruction

No strategy is less understood, less used, and less championed than direct instruction. Even some professionals in special education cannot explain it adequately. With charter schools today offering flashy options such as arts education, project-based learning, and global studies, direct instruction often comes off seeming dull, uninspiring, and old-fashioned. But, unlike the other choices, it's proven essential in helping students with special needs learn effectively with its emphasis on clear, concise step-by-step explicit instruction.

To clarify what direction instruction is, let's use an example from middle school: Binder Boot Camp. Ms. Stevens, a special education teacher, has noticed some sixth grade students have difficulty transitioning from elementary school to middle school – going from one teacher and one class to multiple teachers and multiple classes. They don't keep track of due dates, forget to turn in assignments, and lose materials. They lack adequate study skills. They're intelligent, but their lack of organization is causing them to fail.

Therefore, Ms. Stevens initiates a 6-week-long Binder Boot Camp for her 7 students at the beginning of the school year. She's the expert, taking them through the paces to create their own orderly binders with separate sections for each class, an agenda to jot down homework assignments, and a calendar to chart both long and short-term projects. She teaches them how to use a three-hole punch to put handouts in their binders so they don't lose them. She instructs them to spend ten minutes each evening after dinner going through their binders – recycling unneeded papers and placing important ones in the right folders. She teaches them to use index cares in preparation for tests – keeping them in the binder and pulling them out to study while riding on the bus or waiting for class to start.

As the weeks roll along, Ms. Stevens words eventually soak in and the students begin to care for their binders by themselves – taking pride in their ability to organize their materials. Assignments get turned in on time. Grades start to rise. Parents notice the difference and the students feel more confident about life at middle school.

Direct instruction is effective in small doses – as little as 45 minutes per week for 6 weeks as was the case with Binder Boot Camp. Because it's intense with lots of teacher-student interaction, it's optimal when the group size is small and manageable. In some cases, direct instruction is best when it's one-on-one as when a student is struggling with a particular concept in math.

Speech Therapy Is Not Only for Articulation. It Also Helps With Social Communication.

Speech therapy is done one-or-one or in small groups.
Speech therapy is done one-or-one or in small groups. | Source

What Is Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy helps with speech disorders and/or language disorders. Speech disorders are problems with the production of sounds, including articulation, fluency, and resonance. Language disorders are problems with social communication, including receptive (difficulty understanding what's being said) and expressive (difficulty using words purposefully).

2. Speech Therapy

While it was once seen as merely for lisps and stutters, speech therapy today is indispensable for kids with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum. These youngsters often struggle with not only articulation issues but social communication as well. This affects their ability to make friends, get along with classmates, and feel good about themselves.

Social communication involves all the ways we convey and receive information in our day-to-day interactions with people. It includes both verbal and non-verbal forms of communicating. While most of us interact with others quite naturally and effortlessly, children on the spectrum often struggle with basics such as sustaining eye contact during conversation, reading facial expressions and body language, and maintaining a give-and-take discussion.

Let's take an example of how speech therapy helps today in elementary schools. Mrs. Marquez, a speech therapist, notices some of the fourth and fifth graders are social outcasts – eating alone in the cafeteria, sitting on the benches at recess, and not getting invited to classmates' birthday parties. Having worked with some of these kids on articulation issues when they were younger, she's determined not to see them backslide. She wants to build their conversational skills before they head off to middle school where they could become easy victims of teasing and bullying.

Therefore, she launches a weekly 45-minute class for a group of 12 kids who struggle with social communication, 7 of whom have Asperger's Syndrome. They meet at noon on Mondays, dubbing themselves The Lunch Bunch. Mrs. Marquez conducts the groups in direct instruction fashion, serving as the expert while guiding the students in a step-by-step way to master the skills. Each week she introduces a different lesson: how to introduce yourself to someone new, how to talk in a group, how to ask someone about their interests, and how to read the signs that someone is annoyed with you. This is followed with role-playing, teacher-student interaction, and student-student interaction.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapists work with children who have special needs to ensure their success at school. They assist youngsters on the autism spectrum with sensory issues, helping them take in and process information from multiple senses. They also support children with fine-motor skills, such as learning to how to hold a pencil correctly and how to cut properly with scissors.

3. Occupational Therapy

Children on the autism spectrum benefit greatly from occupational therapy, especially when it's delivered as part of an early intervention program. Some youngsters with autism struggle with sensory processing. Their nervous systems cannot properly interpret messages from their senses. This causes the children to have unusual and often extreme responses. A youngster may scream “bloody murder” from an itchy tag on his t-shirt, cover his ears and hide when he hears an electric mixer, or refuse to go outside when the sun is too bright.

Children with sensory processing issues are often described as “floppy” with low muscle tone. They have problems with body awareness, motor planning, and coordination. They need help with skills in and out of the classroom such as holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, riding a tricycle, and pumping on a swing. They may need lots of exposure to textures that feel “icky” to them such as sand, mud, clay, glue, and paint.

Let's look at any example of how occupational therapy helps in preschool. Miss Nora is an occupational therapist with her school district's early intervention program. She works with youngsters one-on-one in a specially equipped classroom full of modified swings and hammocks, a balance beam, therapy balls, and scooter boards. One of her students is 5-year-old, Max, who has autism.

Max and his mother visit Miss Nora's classroom every Tuesday for a one-hour session. Since Max will start kindergarten in the fall, Miss Nora is working with him on ways to strengthen his hands muscles so he'll be able to hold a pencil correctly and cut properly with scissors. She's focusing on activities to enhance his pincer grasp, which is necessary for holding small objects between the thumb and index finder. Max will need a strong pincer grasp to hold a crayon or pencil in his hand comfortably so he doesn't get frustrated and fatigued. Max picks up small objects with chopsticks, peels stickers, pulls up duct tape, and makes pictures with stamps. He and Miss Nora play games such as Hi-Ho Cheerio, Don't Break the Ice, and Don't Spill the Beans.

This Is a Must-Have Resource for Parents Who Have Children With Sensory Issues

The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder
The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder

Even though I was an experienced teacher with a master's degree in special education, I was totally clueless when my son got diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. Thank goodness, we had a fabulous occupational therapist who guided me through my confusion. She recommended this book to me, and it became a precious resource. I tried so many of the activities with my son and found the ones that worked best for us. I saw him getting stronger, improving his balance and coordination, and having more fun with movement.


Final Thoughts for Parents

Parenting a child with special needs has its challenges. One is educating yourself about the best services for your youngster and then pushing with all your might to get those services. There will always be professionals who will try to convince you they know what's best for your child and to just put your child's future in their hands. Don't trust them. While there are many hard-working and trustworthy people in the field of special education, there are also those responsible for keeping costs down and services restricted. Those are the ones who will tout inclusion until the cows come home. Inclusion has its merits but, in no way, will it meet all your youngster's needs. Direct instruction, speech therapy, and occupational are the concrete services you need to demand.


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