by Cassandra Schmid
Welcome back! So far, Our Diversity Blog has covered what diversity is, and then went into depth about culture, race, and ethnicity. If you are interested in learning more about those topics, please go ahead and read my previous blogs. For this post, I would like to focus on disability: physical, mental, medical, and developmental delays. In the world of early education there has been a growing understanding of developmental delays and how to make sure that everyone is included and able to access their environments as independently as possible. As an early childhood special educator, this is my professional world so I do have a lot of opinions and focus on this topic of inclusion for people of all ability levels.
A pillar of my approach is inclusion for all students. The environments, academic materials, and supports need to be curated so that they can access and participate to the most independent extent as possible. Being a part of an inclusive environment has numerous benefits for both children with disabilities as well as children that are typically developing. I invite you to keep in mind all ability levels while exploring this post and the resources.
Children’s Read Aloud with Guided Discussion:
Just Ask by Sonia Sotomayor
“In a lively picture book based on her feelings of being different as a child, Sonia Sotomayor uses the metaphor of a garden to shine a light on a wide variety of differences. Just Ask encourages the reader to ask other kids when they notice differences, opening up dialogue rather than clouding differences as something to be ashamed of. Kids, of course, are naturally curious and do ask these questions. It\’s adults who hush them, tell them not to point, not to be rude, not to say anything.”
Access the read aloud video here!
Reading Guild for Just Ask
Ask: Invite listeners to picture a garden in their mind. Describe what you “see” in your garden. If needed, prompt them to consider what colors or sizes their plants might be.
Show: The cover image on the book is of Sonia pushing a wheelbarrow. The subtitle is “Be Different, Be Brave, Be You.” Invite listeners to pay close attention to how the children and garden in this book are different and brave and unique.
Connect: Before the story begins, the author writes “a letter to readers” in which she talks about her diabetes and the way it set her apart from other kids. She openly shares her purpose for writing this book and her hopes for the ways readers will see themselves in her characters. Read the letter aloud before reading the book.
Ask: Woven throughout the book, the author poses several questions to the reader. Allow children to pause and reflect on the questions. Use the think, pair, share strategy if you are reading with multiple children to allow personal reflection before sharing with the whole group.
Show: The character Rafael uses an inhaler. Show the page of Rafael painting and ask them to describe how he is adding beauty to the garden and why he might be doing that instead of digging holes and planting flowers. If needed, remind listeners that Rafael said, “Quiet time helps me slow down and catch my breath.” Notice the different ways the artist shows the children\’s unique powers.
Connect: We all are good at different things and express ourselves in different ways. Think about a team you have been on. What would have happened if everyone played the same position or had the same strengths?
Ask: Read the quote that includes, “… all the ways we are different make our neighborhood … more interesting and fun.” What is something that makes you different from other people in your family? In your classroom? How do our differences make our communities more interesting and fun?
Show: Show the pages at the end of the story that ask the question, “What will you do with your powers?\” What do you notice in the pictures? If needed, prompt the reader to look at the colors, shapes of plants, and the children themselves.
Connect: We all know people or have met people who are different from us. Thinking of how the kids in the book interacted with each other, what might be some ways we can build relationships with people who are different from us? What did the characters in the book have in common with each other and with us? What are things you can do to support people who are different than you are?
Access to the reading guide here!
Big Abilities – Autism, ADHD, and Other Developmental Disabilities
By: Amy Nielsen
Podcast (37 episodes)
“Big Abilities is a podcast dedicated to helping parents of children with developmental disabilities understand how to help their child overcome their struggles while also focusing on their strengths.”
Access the podcast, blog and resources here!
Just Needs: parenting children with disabilities
By: Exceptional Lives
“Some people think of disabilities as \”special needs.\” But as parents of children with disabilities, we know our kids just have needs… like everyone else. Settle in with our podcast for real talk about advocacy, friendships, developmental delays, evaluations, IEPs, sensory meltdowns, autism, and all the ups and downs that come with this gig. We don’t have all the answers, but we promise to try to figure it out with you. Join us.”
Just Needs is a great little podcast hosted by a mother of a child with disabilities. Each episode is rather short but packs in a lot of information. There are personal stories of other people raising children with disabilities as well as helpful information for how to navigate raising a child with disabilities. As an early childhood special educator I am finding this podcast a great way to start the work day and a resource that I can share with teachers and families. Each episode contains a list of resources that are mentioned. If there is a topic of discussion that you are interested in, I highly recommend using those resources as a starting point to gain further information.
“High school dropout turned Harvard faculty talks about how a simple new way of thinking helps nurture individual potential.”
This video is always included at the start of the school year training about inclusion and it is a great, concise speech about the importance of individuality and meeting everyone where they are in order to succeed.
Access to the video here!
Dive Deeper with Conversation
Read the poem, Welcome To Holland. This is a poem about the changes in a person’s life when they have a child with disabilities. It is a common poem when this topic is brought up. Please read it and then reflect on how it makes you feel. Do you agree with the message? Why or why not? Is this an experience that you can relate to? Maybe you know someone who is raising a child with a disability and you can have this conversation with them.
Now, I ask that you read the article, The trouble with “Welcome to Holland”. The author, like the author of the poem, is raising a child with disabilities. Her experience is very different from the blatantly rose-colored view from the poem. After reading this article, how have you views changed? And if they haven’t changed, why? If you are not raising a child with disabilities, from the two readings, do you think that you have a better understanding of what it may be like to raise a child with disabilities? If you are raising a child with disabilities, do either of these readings resonate with you? Do you think that there is a middle ground missing? What would it look like?
Article: The trouble with “Welcome to Holland” – Smith-Kingsmore Syndrome (smithkingsmore.org)
Research Based Publications
Is inclusive education really for everyone? Family stories of children and young people labeled with ‘severe and multiple’ or ‘profound’ ‘disabilities’
There is a myth that typically developing children miss out or are ignored when they are in an educational setting that includes children with disabilities. Has this debate ever crossed your mind? As an early childhood special educator, I do not think that anyone is missing out when there is an inclusive learning environment, however, like with all things, there needs to be the proper support in place in order for it to be successful.
There are some key takeaways from this research article that I think are very important and will highlight for you. I know that reading a research article can be a dull event, I have read plenty in my day, so let me take some of that boredom out of it for you.
Cologon, K. (2022) Is inclusive education really for everyone? Family stories of children and young people labelled with ‘severe and multiple’ or ‘profound’ ‘disabilities’, Research Papers in Education, 37(3), 395-417, DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2020.1849372
The Vermont Family Network and State of Vermont Agency of Education are two resources that can be used by those raising a child with disability. Both resources provide a comprehensive guide as to what steps can be taken to acquire services as well as home and family support. The world of special education is vast. Learning how to utilize the resources that are available is one of the best tools to take advantage of but it can also be a very intimidating task. I hope these two resources will act as a strong place to start and find some answers.
Vermont Family Network
“Parenting a child with a disability presents unique challenges and navigating the special education system can often be one of them. We understand and can provide the support and information you need to be an active and effective participant in the special education process for your child. We serve children and families with all disabilities (physical, cognitive, behavioral and emotional). ”
Access Vermont Family Network here!
State of Vermont Agency of Education
“Our resources are intended to help families partner collaboratively with IEP Teams and to make overall decisions about special education services for their children with disabilities eligible for special education services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). ”
Access Vermont Agency of Education: Special Education Resources for Families here!
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