Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Inclusion at all costs...?

Over the years I have worked with children with a variety of diagnoses... autism spectrum, ADHD, brain-damage, diabetes, delayed language... also children with social problems with parents with drug or drink problems (or both) etc...

Sometimes we have been able to have a support pedagogue come in and help out with the group... to enable inclusion. Over the years there have been cases that I have felt that "inclusion" actually meant spending time apart from the group to learn the skills needed to be a part of the group.

 Just like small groups benefit children's learning, sometimes working one on one is essential... especially for language and communication.

When I first came to Sweden I worked with a child that had obviously not seen someone smile, I mean really smile... because every time I smiled (and I am  very smiley sort of person) the child would just stare at me in fascination, trying to work out what the expression was... This child was in a single parent family - and the parent was depressed. We did simple things like spend time apart from the group and look at fruit and vegetables at the market and talk about them, interacting on a one to one basis... lots of eye-contact, lots of body contact... and then one friend would come with us and then two... and the child's ability to be in the group harmoniously without hitting, biting and threatening improved drastically. Supporting the child in the group had not been working. I had felt like a plaster... always a step behind, because helping this child to decipher social codes in a group was too complicated for the child... but a month of 2-3 mornings a week of one on one time had given this child the chance to gain social experience in a safe and positive manner, that could THEN be applied to the group.

Sometimes I think our desire to make children be included is detrimental to the child and group. Its just not always fair. Sometimes to be able to be a part of a group a child needs extra "lessons"... in language, in interactions, in reading body language etc etc... and to be done where there is not a million distractions that makes it impossible to absorb this information if it is done in a group.

Danny Raede & Hayden Mears, Both Diagnosed With Asperger’s have made DVDs about aspergers/autism - 
and they make a very valid point in one of their films... that creating a safe environment where the child feels liked, loved and seen positive is a priority... some children do not feel "safe" in groups, or with certain sounds or with other sensory issues that put them into overdrive... it puts their system into a defensive nature/a survival instinct to be able to manage the group/smell/lights (or a mix of these and other sensory issues) - this means learning cannot happen... this means "teaching" children how to be social in a situation where they cannot respond or absorb the information/learning is not going to have the desired outcome. Which means the same thing is going to be re-enforced over and over again without success.
 For each child that does need support with the social skills, it can be a benefit to look at the sensory input/output of their day... if there are any regular triggers, if it is large groups, or even small groups, or certain activities, or transitions... and to take a look at THOSE. How can we create an environment that reduces the stress for this child (the kind of stuff that does not cause stress in most people - like a sock not being on absolutely perfectly can be extremely distressing for some  children - my son used to be one of those!!!)

If being in a group means the child cannot focus on the task at hand but only on what others are doing and agressively policing them... it could be a signal that this child needs more time with one to one positive interaction for the child to feel safe, liked and to learn how to positively interact. How can children learn to do this if they are too stressed about what others are doing to even start to reflect upon what they themselves are doing? They need to be given TIME and SPACE and adult SCAFFOLDING.

So my question is do children have to be in classes and groups for it to be inclusion. Is it real inclusion if that means being in the group before acquiring the necessary skills to be in there?
Is it exclusion if a child gets individual extra support to be able to be an active and positive part of the group? (and I am not talking about whole days... but several sessions a week - but if whole days were the best option, would you be prepared to do that?)

Doesn't each child have the RIGHT to the support that they need - it does say that in the Swedish preschool curriculum -
"Pedagogical activities should be related to the needs of all children in the preschool.
Children who occasionally or on a more permanent basis need more support and
stimulation than others should receive such support in relation to their needs and 
circumstances so that they are able to develop as well as possible"
Also to reflect upon... if a child is in a group and can only focus on what others are doing and agressively policing them... how is this going to impact the creativite and collaborative learning community? My experience is that it becomes completely stifled... it does not grow the way it should... but if we allow the child to be with a teacher for one-to one positive coaching and interaction - the group can also learn more about their social and collaborative capabilities and also be better equipped to respond to others regardless of diagnosis etc... To me it feels like a win win situation where ALL the children become better equipped to be inclusive - the Swedish curriculum states
The preschool should encourage and strengthen the child’s compassion and empathy
for the situations of others.

This cannot always be done in a group because not all children learn the same way, not all children view the world like the education system is set up, not all children have the same communication competencies to be able absorb information when there are distractions, or too many words etc.

"The preschool should strive to ensure that each child develop their identity and feel secure in themselves" continues the Swedish preschool Curriculum. So when seeing a child unable to to see their own actions but totally aware of everyone elses actions then we, as teachers, need to respond and meet this child's need to develop self awareness and feel secure in their own identity - to be able to focus on what they are doing.

You have to love/hate when children say "you not allowed to do this" at the same time that they are doing the exact thing they should not be doing... AND how can this be scaffolded so that the child can instead focus on the task on hand instead of thinking about all the "mistakes" others are doing as they learn... Again, time, positive role-modelling and one-to one support for those children that need it. 
Role-modelling is important - but is only a part of what is needed... for instance I never run inside - and we ask the children to walk inside (due to the fact that they HAVE crashed into each other and things... so we explain WHY, we remind, we role-model... but they still run!! Until they have practiced the idea of walking, the idea of controlling their body - because throughout the day that are opportunities a plenty for running... outside... and we DO have a room where running is allowed, because the space gives the freedom for that).

I have read posts and dialogues where some teachers think it unreasonable to ask the children to walk inside... but I feel it is about self control, from a safety point of view... in the same way that cars need to keep to speed-limits... driving slower where children play/schools are to make it safer... even if the desire/need for the driver is to go faster... Children are people too... and we are allowed to have expectations of them... especially if it is for their safety.... and as long as there is enough opportunities for running freely during the day (which we do have at Filosofiska) then I think walking from one room to another is not a too difficult demand to ask...

BUT back to the point... role-modelling is important but it is only a part of the equation. I don't hit, shove, bite, throw toys, rip books draw on walls etc etc... and yet these are actions that I have seen in every preschool I have visited/worked in... and it is all part of the learning curve of testing what is appropriate and what is not... so just as important as the positive role-modelling is appropriate response to inappropriate action, so that the children have the chance to learn what is acceptable and what is not... It is not always easy to give that reaction, because often it will make the child sad, or frustrated... but it is important, because the life-lesson is not about being happy now, but being able to understand how positive interactions function....

I have babbled a lot here... and its getting late... so i will have to finish of this trail of thought another day...

I would LOVE feedback in the comments to be able to have reflections and more insight about what I have just written...

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