In recent years, inclusion has come to the forefront of discussion in both the education and special needs communities. Advocates have fought for desegregation of those with disabilities in the classroom and other programs, and have made strides in providing education and resources to those who have since been ostracized. However, simply putting kids with special needs in a room with their neurotypical peers is not enough to create an environment that is inclusive. Inclusion is not based in proximity, but rather in the mindset of everyone involved.
In her article, “There is No Place Called Inclusion,” Dr. Cathy Pratt points out the flaw in placing children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in a classroom with typically developed peers and thinking that this is inclusive education. She explains that inclusion is not accomplished until everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. If the setup of a classroom or curriculum puts someone at a disadvantage, then it disadvantages the entire class. This means we must not just change the child’s situation to accommodate them, but change the entire system to become capable of meeting each student’s individual needs. She goes into detail to explain ways to make this possible, such as teacher training, peer mentoring, a supportive administration, and having flexible schedules that bend toward the student’s interests, needs, and strengths. These strategies are to be used not only for children with special needs, but for all students. If someone isn’t included, then no one is included.
Dr. Pratt brings to light a mindset that should be adopted beyond the educational setting. Inclusion should not be only practiced in the classroom or even at E-Soccer on a Saturday morning. Inclusion is only achieved when each of us understands and acknowledges that we need it just as much as we need to give it. We need others to understand us, to acknowledge our humanity, to admire our strengths and make up for our weaknesses. We need to recognize the experiences of others different from us and understand that it is these very differences that can unite us. Feeling included and having a sense of belonging is a universal need, regardless of disabilities. Once we acknowledge this, we are on our way toward a more inclusive society.