Children with special needs deserve the same education as their peers. ‘Ordinary’ contexts provide children with opportunities, challenges and experiences that can not be provided in ‘disability-related’ environments.
Recently, in Catalonia, the Decret 150/2017 of inclusive education, regulates the educational attention of students with special educational needs. This decree facilitates different kinds of support to regular schools, in a way that any child, regardless of personal abilities, can enjoy schooling in ordinary settings.
In my daily practice with children with intellectual disabilities and special needs (3 to 6 years old) in an ordinary school, I witness their progress and success, along with their continuous efforts, and those from their teachers, to improve their autonomy. I truly believe that the right for access to ‘normal’ schools and “deserving the same as everybody else” alongside the specific needed support: it has to be a must. And while this specific needed support could come in different shapes and manners (also in the form of special education schools) I address here some of the things happening in ordinary settings.
I am currently working in a school with a specific service, working for the establishment of inclusive education (even when an ‘ordinary’ school should be an inclusive one, we are still far from that point, so we still need that kind of support). Is it called Intensive Support to Inclusive Education (SIEI, in its acronym in Catalan). This means that the school is ‘prepared’ to provide children with special needs with the support, attention and tools they actually need to guarantee their educational development.
I am working with several kids and their teachers, but I only want to mention one of them. I will call him Ernest. He is in preschool- 3rd grade and he has a rare chromosomic disability that causes a general delay in the development, intellectual disability, hyperactivity, speech problems, hypotonia and some facial features. Ernest is a kind and happy child that enjoys being in the classroom with his peers…most of the time. For those who have worked with 3-years-old children, you may know that, sometimes, classrooms can be a bit stressful and chaotic. In these kinds of moments, I take him from this regular classroom to another: a more calm and peaceful room where he (we) can relax for a while.
However, as the topic of this blog is on the value of diversity, I would like to focus not on him but on his peers: the ones with whom he is sharing his daily life at school. For me, what Ernest has caused in his peers without even noticing it, is the real value of diversity. It is well known that inclusive education is not only beneficial for kids with special needs, but also for the other children that will be influenced by them. As every child is different, so is their response to a kid with a disability. And it is in this response, in this interaction, in the bond they establish together, where you can see how important it is for children at this young age to have the opportunity to relate together.
We have observed how a group of 4 to 5 kids, has developed their own way to understand Ernest and has made them understandable to him, by giving him pictograms and using other personal resources. It seems that their own world goes slower when they are interacting together. These kids are able to adapt their own rhythm to Ernest’s and to share activities with him. They have learned that not all kids speak out loud, that some of them might play significantly different or that they have some particular interests. They are also learning ‘to put themselves apart for a while’, to look into the eyes of a ‘different’ kid and to be able to recognize him as a peer with differences like everybody else. And, in my opinion, these opportunities of being together, of belonging together, are the ones any school has to promote and provide as an investment for a more equal and inclusive society that really appreciates the value of diversity.
Reference: Catalunya. Decret 150/2017, del 17 de setembre, de l’atenció educativa a l’alumnat en el marc d’un sistema educatiu inclusiu. Diari oficial de la Generalitat de Catalunya, 19 d’octubre 2017, núm. 7477, pàgines 1-18
Olga Múries Cantán is a PhD student from Barcelona. Her thesis research explores quality of life’s perceptions of siblings of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her thesis is funded by the Faculty of Psychology Blanquerna, Ramon Llull University (Barcelona, Spain) and supervised by Dr. Alice Schippers and Dr. Climent Giné. She is currently working in a regular school supporting and assessing children with special needs and their teachers.
Olga has been related with Disability Studies in Nederland since 2015 when she did her Educational Psychology master’s internship about family quality of life.