3 Ways to Increase Opportunities for Inclusion

Inclusion is more than just plopping a student into a general education setting and calling it good. Being actively inclusive means that regardless of the potential barriers, all student’s needs are considered and addressed; ensuring that they have the same opportunity to achieve as their peers. The school district that I work for has a handful of “autism programs” sprinkled throughout some elementary, middle and high schools. These programs are considered “self-contained” and have high ratios of paraprofessionals to students. Being that my students are primarily in this setting, finding meaningful opportunities for inclusion is crucial; key word: meaningful. It is our job to be proactive and create as many meaningful opportunities for inclusion as possible, here’s how.

1. Invest in Your Relationships

 

Ask any educator what one of their biggest barriers is and I guarantee 99% of them will tell you it is a lack of time. Teaching and supporting students with a variety of needs makes for a rewarding, yet jam packed day. I mean seriously, what is a “plan time” anyways? However, investing in your relationships with the general education teachers that you co-teach with is so important. We all have our own insight and perspective to bring to the table, and teaching students with such a wide-variety of needs means it is an all hands on deck kind of job. Getting to know your colleagues allows for them to see your intention and allows them to want to collaborate and invest in you and the goals you have set for your students. As Sasha says, your team needs to know the “why”. Having “buy in” from general education teachers is just as important as having “buy in” from your team of paraprofessionals. Show them some love and make sure they understand how fabulous your students are. This foundation will make for a smooth collaboration and plenty of opportunities for inclusion. 

2. Talking About Autism

 

Each school year, I aim to make my way into every classroom and talk about autism. What is autism? Why does said student get under their desk? What should they do if they see a friend having a hard time? As I mentioned, I work in an elementary school that has an “autism program”, meaning I work towards getting my students into their general education classrooms. Our school community is tight knit, so it is so important that all students feel comfortable and informed in order to be the best peers that they can be. Before doing any of my talks, I always get permission from my students family members. I let them know that I am going to talk about autism with their child’s peers and that if they allow, I would like to highlight their child and how they are unique and special. Not only does talking about autism inform the students, but it also informs some staff members who may not have had many experiences working with a student who has autism. Immediately after I talk with a class, it is clear how much more confident and comfortable students are. I swear I had a student who had 4 classmates pushing him while he was on the swing. Four! Being open and talking about our differences instantly creates a sense of natural inclusion. 

Here is my checklist when planning my talks:

  • Gather permission slips to discuss my student’s diagnosis with their peers
  • Send out a Sign Up Genius to general education teachers to secure a time for the talk (Tip: Ensure that your student is not in their general education classroom during this time so that you can have a natural conversation and peers feel comfortable asking specific questions)
  • Choose a video or book to start out with (I talk with kindergarten – 5th grade, so that is how I make my decision). Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Create a Power Point that will engage the students and keep you on track. I try to make a generic presentation that I can use within all grade levels to minimize the amount of prep work that I need to do. 
  • Allow time for questions! Kids are curious, and they may be holding back on their friendships just because they have unanswered questions. 

 

3. Create a Peer Model Program

 

Once I’ve made my way throughout the school talking about autism, I reach out to my fellow teachers about beginning my PALS (Peers of All Learning Students) program. By having a PALS program, you can create opportunities for reverse inclusion, meaning peers come into the self-contained setting. This is a great option for your students who may be moving into the general education setting at a slower pace. For 15 minutes a day, my students have a PALS time on their schedule. During this time the students do a craft, play a game, bounce a ball around, seriously whatever is preferred and engaging. Spending this time together in an environment that is comfortable for my students allows for them to open up and build friendships with their peers in a more structured way. They are working on communication, social skills, turn taking, you name it. Not to mention, once those friendships are formed, they will carry over throughout all school environments. I see PALS playing on the playground or choosing to sit together at lunch. The peers take a sudden role once they “become” PALS and they make the inclusion happen without any work on my end being necessary. To read more about setting up a peer model program in your school, read Ashley’s post!

Reagan Strange, MSEd
Latest posts by Reagan Strange, MSEd (see all)

3 Comments

  1. Love this! My daughter Ady has been able to build some really close relationships with peers at her school with programs similar to pals. Her teacher always goes the extra mile. There’s always time set in her schedule to have engaging opportunities with her friends.

    Reply
    • Thank you for reading, Susan! I love hearing that there are other buddy programs within other schools. It is truly something special.

      Reply
  2. I’m am the one holding his hand and we are really great friends ❤️

    From Piper😊

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.