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Inclusion Column

What Should I Tell My Child?

Part of the wonderful discussions that came out of the Open and Caring Inclusion Night for Parents, was the repeated question of what to say to our own children when a child in their class displays needs or behaviors that are visibly different. This article hopes to address that question.

First of all, we do have a specific philosophy around the different needs of all students at ASFM. We do not seek a diagnosis to attach a label. If there is a diagnosis, it is confidential. We try to understand each child individually, and build a program that will respond to the child’s individual needs and the classroom environment. Even though children with exceptional needs are only present in some classrooms, inclusivity is practised in all classrooms.

The important or appropriate question is not, “What does he have?” or “What is wrong with her?” We encourage parents and students to ask different questions:

  • “How can I get to know this student better?” or
  • “What can I do to help this student?”
  • “What does this student need”
  • “How can I understand what will make them happy or feel like they belong?”

Many of these questions are the same questions we ask all students, to promote positive social interaction, making friends and showing respect to all classmates. Sometimes the need or difference is not visible, and students perceive a student as receiving unfair attention. We have to introduce the concept that we all need something different, and that “Fair is not always equal.”

There are other questions that require more sensitivity in response and not all parents feel like they have enough information to answer appropriately. If your child asks you, for instance:

  • “Why doesn’t he talk?”
  • “Why does she have to be in a wheelchair?”
  • “Why does he flap his arms or make funny noises?”
  • “Why does she sometimes lose her temper and break things in the room?”
  • “Why does she/he need hearing aids/glasses?”
  • “Why does he get more breaks in the classroom?”
  • “Why does that classroom have an extra teacher?”
  • “Why does she take longer to reply?”.

In those cases it is important to be honest in letting your child know that:

  • Not all children communicate by talking, that some use other means to say what they want to say.
  • Not all children move by walking, some may use wheelchairs or other ways to get where they want to go.
  • Not everyone understands things in the same way, some of us need to hear, see and try new things several times.
  • Sometimes children cannot control the way their body reacts to their environment.
  • Sometimes children don’t understand their own behaviors and need help learning how to react.

All children have something that they are working on. The word YET is really powerful in these situations.

If your child seems uncomfortable or even afraid of a difference they have noted in another child, it may be necessary to reassure them. Some children worry that this might happen to them. Some may just find the behavior or movement “strange.” Experience has shown that over time our children are very resilient and grow to accept and support many differences that initially present as challenges for the class or the learner.

Finally, student safety is always paramount. We have behavior safety and response plans for students with elevated needs. These plans are developed with the support team, administration and the parents. They are respectful of and responsive to the students in the classroom, the educators working with the class and the individual students. We seek support and training through community partners and evidence-based practice in behavior and social-emotional learning.

We are all part of a process. If every person commits to taking even one step towards inclusion, our vision will become our reality:

ASFM Vision for Inclusion

By 2020 ASFM will be a fully inclusive community where each individual has a sense of belonging:

  • Every student will experience success, and a sense of safety and belonging to the school community
  • Every educator has the capacity to respond confidently to the needs in their classroom
  • Parents will embrace inclusion, understanding it enriches our whole community
  • We will all feel valued as vital members of the ASFM community

If you still have questions and would like some coaching around how to respond to a particular question, please feel free to contact me at:

Yours in inclusion,

Laurie Behan