Thursday, October 3, 2013

This is how Inclusion should be!

Today I read an amazing story that brought happy tears to my eyes. Thank you to Single Mothers Who Have Children with Autism for sharing Tammy's amazing, wonderful, beautiful news! 

I'd like to share a very positive story about My Tommy. Tommy was diagnosed with Autism at age 4. From K-2 he was in special Ed class rooms. By third grade, because he was so intelligent, he was taking math, English, reading and history with the regular ed class room. It was decided that for 4th grade My Tommy would be in the regular class room full time, (with his one on one aide of course).
During the summer I met several times with the man who would be his teacher, his aide and the school counselor. And we were VERY prepared for 4th grade!!

During the first week of school, while My Tommy was at OT the school counselor came into the classroom and talked to the kids about Autism. And more specifically, Tommy's Autism. Why he "flaps", why he only wears sweats, why he keeps fidgets on his desk, his speech therapy, PT and OT. Tommy's teacher made a very spur of the moment decision, that has, since that moment, affected hundreds of children, both special needs and NT.... He instituted "Tommy's Buddy of the Day". Each child in the class would take a turn spending a day with Tommy, in his world. Sit next to him, have lunch with him, go to speech, OT and PT, play with the fidgets... So that his classmates would get to know him better. 
This was supposed to last 18 days, but after each child had a turn they begged to just keep going. So for the entire school year of 4th grade, My Tommy had a buddy every single day. In 5th grade the counselor again came into the classroom and talked to his classmates. There were 3-4 students who had been with Tommy in 4th grade class and they all begged the new teacher to do "Buddy of the Day". She asked that each student try it once, after that they could choose to have their name withdrawn. Not a single classmate withdrew all year. These students became Tommy's play ground champions, his lunch table was always full, children come up to us while we're running errands and talk to Tommy and aren't even phased if he's in a "mood" and won't talk back. He went to 38 birthday parties in those two years!!! 

When Tommy started Jr High there were absolutely NO Bully problems. Every child who'd ever served as his Buddy was now his friend. If anyone else dared to tease him he had 38 kids ready to be on his side. Buddy of the Day wasn't planned. And it was so successful that the counselor expanded the Buddy program. Now, four years after My Tommy started the 4th Grade, that elementary school (grades 3-4-5) does Buddy of the Day. Every Special Needs Child, even those in the special Ed room have a Buddy every single day. That gives every NT child a few chances every year to "walk in someone else's shoes". Bullying is unheard of in our district thanks to Buddy of the Day. Transitions to Jr High are easier and more successful than they have ever been. My Tommy changed The World. (Or at least our corner of it.)
How about THAT for inclusion folks? It didn't cost a dime, just a teacher who wanted to see all kids included and successful.  Listen up school districts! (Elementary schools in particular- mine especially!) Getting this started at an elementary level isn't something that takes a lot of time and ZERO money to implement.  I can just imagine how much easier life would be now in school for The Boy if something like this had been integrated- instead of isolating the kids in a special education classroom.  

Inclusion works for EVERYBODY involved. Teachers, special ed AND typical students alike can get so much from good, solid, inclusion practices. This story highlights that.  It just takes one teacher. One principal. One person to make a huge difference.  Are you up to the challenge?