An important part of making inclusion work is having buy-in from all stakeholders in the school. Teachers, admin and support staff are all key players, but we often overlook the most critical piece… the students! One of the coolest things about inclusion is that it doesn’t just benefit students with disabilities. It helps develop understanding and empathy in all children. Children are curious beings. If we don’t indulge their curiosities about students who are “different” then bullying or other undesirable behavior towards our students could manifest.
One thing I like to do within the first few weeks of school is connect with gen. ed teachers and set up a time that I can come in and teach a short disability awareness lesson. Last year another specialist and myself put together a short kid friendly powerpoint about autism. The students had a ton of great questions that we were able to answer and provide context on why some students do certain things. This year my focus is going to be how to be friends with someone who has autism.
After my sure to be AMAZING lesson about being a friend I am going to introduce the kids to a new and exciting program. What program you ask? Well it’s the Peer Buddy program! Essentially we partner each of our students up with 2-3 buddies in their class to be a friend and help them with various things around campus. We hold special lunches a few times a year and at the end of the year we get to go on a field trip together. Last year it was a huge success and it was a benefit to every student involved. You will be surprised at how many students want to help and it has brought a tear to my eye to see students develop true friendships with each other.
One of the things I love most about inclusion is that it provides an organic environment to practice social skills. Before I sign off I leave you with this thought. What is more effective for teaching social skills? Having a few students with autism practicing saying “hello” and “how are you?” with each other in a classroom, or having your students with autism learn skills organically through supported play and learning with their gen. ed peers?
How do you build understanding in your school and foster relationships with your students? I’d love to hear what other people do!