“Inclusion is more than just geography”

I wish I could take credit for the quote above, but it came from a great presenter I heard at this year’s AG Bell Convention, Dr. Sarah Wainscott (see my notes from her presentation, “AVT Model for Families Transitioning from Visual Language” HERE).


Inclusive education in Costa Rica (Photo Credit: EAB)

Back-to-school time is upon us and, for many students with hearing loss, that means an exciting year full of learning and growing in mainstream classes alongside their hearing peers.  Many students may be mainstreamed all day, others for most of the day, and some for a few classes or “specials” — whatever the situation, what does it truly mean to be included in a classroom community?  Inclusion, as Dr. Wainscott stated, is not a matter of plopping a child with hearing loss in a desk in the same room as other children.  Inclusion means giving our students with hearing loss the language and listening skills they will need to be on-par with their hearing classmates, and the self-advocacy skills to make their needs known.  Inclusion also means giving our student the social skills to be integrated members of their classroom, skills like manners, how to make friends, and the ability to initiate and join in play.


What are the hallmarks of an inclusive classroom community?

  • All students are valued for their unique talents, abilities, and contributions to the whole


  • Students’ participate, at their own level and ability, and are valued for what they bring to the table


  • Adults set the example that “special needs” are nothing to be scared of, including students in all aspects of classroom life, making modifications as needed


  • Students with special needs are not segregated or grouped together for partner or group work


  • Adults set the example that including those with different abilities is not a burden, but something to do gladly because what is gained from having all kinds of students in the classroom far outweighs the occasional inconvenience (For example, “It is not a burden to wear an FM system or always have captioned movies, because Johnny is a part of our class and we want him here, so of course we’ll make sure he can join in everything we do!”)


  • Teasing and bullying are not tolerated — “In our classroom, everybody counts!”


  • The classroom is reflective of the abilities (and other characteristics) of all of its students — dolls, toys, and manipulatives are accessible to all children, “heroes” with many different abilities are discussed, disability is seen as normal and neither pitied nor glamorized, and classroom literature reflects the experiences of students in the class



What skills can we give our children with hearing loss to help them in the mainstream?

  • A solid “home base” — a nurturing home environment full of acceptance and unconditional love is the first solid foundation we can give our children.  It is the bedrock from which self-esteem is born, and the starting point for higher-level skills


  • Rich literacy, listening, and language experiences at home that equip the child for the demands of the hearing classroom


  • A good support team at school, all on the same page as to the child’s needs and goals


  • Give children the social skills they need to succeed (this may mean you need to explicitly teach phrases like, “Can I play with you?  What’s your name? Do you like to play soccer?” if children have not picked them up incidentally)


  • Enroll children in extra-curricular activities that help them meet friends with shared interests outside of the demanding academics of the classroom


  • Arrange play-dates with other students in the class (your child’s teacher may be able to point you in the direction of other students who might be well-suited as good friends for your child, or friends your child has made in school)


  • Use photos, experience books, and children’s literature to prepare your child before school starts, and to help him learn the names of teachers, staff, and classmates once the school year begins


  • Above all, stay calm and positive about school, even though, as the parent, you may be shaking on the inside.  YOU set the example that education is a positive endeavor!

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