When I first started Pathways for Exceptional Children, I looked for every adult I could find to volunteer. I begged teachers, coaches, and related service professionals who had experience and a heart for inclusion to help us develop inclusive after-school programs. However, volunteerism only went so far until people wanted to get paid. I also noticed inclusion was growing slowly and was not flowing the way I had envisioned it. It was clear I was overlooking something, but what?
Inclusion does not have to be Expensive
When it came to our programs, one thing kept going through my mind, “How am I going to be able to afford inclusion or get the money it would take to service the individual needs of all the children?” I began to adopt the belief that inclusion was too expensive and that trying to meet the variety of children’s needs would be impossible. Our resources were depleted and I was at the end of my rope. I began to wonder if my vision for inclusion of ALL children was attainable until the answer suddenly appeared right in front of me.
When It Comes to Inclusion, look to the children
It was a beautiful day and I was outside in my cult-a-sac trying to teach my son with multiple disabilities to ride a bike. I was a physical therapist so this was right up my ally. After a few minutes, Jacob got off the bike and resolutely quit. He sat down on the curb and sulked. I tried everything, but he refused to get back on the bike.
Our next door neighbor named Taylor, who was 12 years old, was sitting on his porch watching. I saw him giggling under his breathe at my failure. I asked for his help and Taylor immediately rose to the occasion. Within 30 minutes my son was riding his bike independently with training wheels. It wasn’t pretty and was painstakingly slow, but my son had a huge smile planted on his face from ear to ear. It suddenly hit me, I had the answer I was looking for right in front of me. Children are more motivated to learn from each other than adults, and our children teaching children model (CTC) was born.
Children are More Motivated to Learn From their Peers
Recently, we did a computer-aided design class. We had two children with autism attend and both were given trained mentors. The first class was very difficult. The children were completely disinterested in what we were asking them to do. It was clear we did not have a curriculum that was relevant to either child. Everyone left that day frustrated and defeated.
After that first class, the mentors and I put our heads together. We had the parents of the two children start bringing toys and objects from home that they could engage with and were motivated by. They used CAD software to design them on the computer. We also found the kids were completely disinterested in the adults facilitating the class. The adults backed away and let the mentors lead. Within the six week class, the two children met all the objectives in the class and became independent with the software. They also practiced social skills and made friends with the mentors. Without the mentors, we never would have succeeded. The mentors received community service for their time and Pathways substantially lowered our expenses while drastically improving our outcomes for inclusion.
Sometimes the answers for inclusion are right in front you. However, many times we get stuck in our own ways of doing things so that it becomes impossible to see anything else. Unfortunately, if you think you already have all the answers; you will stop searching for even better ones. Always remain open, keep asking questions, and looking for better ways to promote inclusion. If you don’t, inclusion cannot grow and you will become unable to keep moving forward. The sad thing about closing yourself off to new adventures is you will miss some of the greatest resources and opportunities right in front of you.
Please share and comment below on what you are doing to promote authentic inclusion. We all need to continuously keep bringing fresh new perspectives and ways of implementing and promoting inclusion into our families, schools, and communities!
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