Making Friends, or Inclusion in School

Penny swinging with Anna

Penny had a playdate yesterday. Her second of the year, actually. Long term readers of this blog know that playdates have not always been easy in our household. I used to invite other kids over only to find Penny by herself, or, more likely, in the lap of the other kids’ mom. And the other kid was playing with William.

But this year, Penny asked if we could invite her friend Anna (I changed her name) over after school for a playdate. On the way home, they held hands and chatted. As if they were, well, friends.

Anna came back for the second time today. They held hands again. I asked them what the best thing about their days in school were. Penny said, “playing with Anna.” Anna said, “Playing with Penny, until she ran into a pole on the playground and had to go to the nurse.” Penny proudly displayed the bump on her head: “I was brave. I didn’t cry. I got ice.”

Cheryl Jorgensen, an advocate for inclusive education, wrote a letter to the New York Times recently: Inclusion, the Right Thing for All Students. As those of you who read this blog regularly know, I’m a big proponent of inclusive education. Penny couldn’t be in a better environment in her inclusive classroom, and William is also benefitting from his participation in an inclusive preschool. I highly recommend reading the entire letter, but here are a few excerpts to get you interested:

We have reached the tipping point where it is no longer educationally or morally defensible to continue to segregate students with disabilities. We shouldn’t be striving to educate children in the least restrictive environment but rather in the most inclusive one . . .

The largest study of educational outcomes of 11,000 students with disabilities, the National Longitudinal Transition Study, showed that when students with disabilities spent more time in a general education classroom they were more likely to score higher on standardized tests of reading and math; have fewer absences from school; experience fewer referrals for disruptive behavior; and achieve more positive post-school outcomes such as a paying job, not living in segregated housing, and with having a broad and supportive social network. These results were true regardless of students’ disability, severity of disability, gender or socioeconomic status.

Furthermore, as the recent WNYC story states, the achievement of students without disabilities is not compromised by the presence of students with disabilities in their classrooms. Some studies even show that implementing inclusion on a school wide basis improves achievement for all students.

Inclusion makes a difference for Penny as far as her educational goals, I’m sure. But, more importantly, it makes a difference in her friendships. And I trust that for Anna, and the other “typically-developing” kids in Penny’s class, growing up with a friend with Down syndrome makes a difference too.

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