To Exclude or Include Those that are Different?

•June 14, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Matt Ravida

Ms. Melnick

ENG4U

June 14th, 2013

In the novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the main character and narrator of the story John Francis Boone, has Asperger’s Syndrome. This is a high functioning form of Autism. Through his interactions with people in his life and his own thoughts we are taken on a journey into a brain that works completely different than people without this affliction.  We learn that he needs a lot of time to do certain tasks and his educational needs are different. Christopher attends a special school for children with special needs.

A key question that arises after reading the novel is this: As a society are we required to make available special education for children with special needs?

There has been an ongoing debate about providing special education to children.   There are two very strong opinions: one for segregation and the other for inclusion. Segregation was the accepted model that since the early 60’s until inclusion became the new direction.  In the 60’s and 70s, special schools were built and teachers were specially trained to provide services for these children.

The cost of building separate schools was very expensive as they needed to have wheelchair access, modified classrooms and architectural differences, such as elevators.  The population of the school would be low yet all the services still have to be available.   In a regular school the services are used by a large population so the cost is more reasonable and the school is given money for each student. When you build a very specific school with all the amenities needed for special children the cost is astronomical and has to be covered by the government with tax payer’s money.

Then there is the issue of special training for teachers. The needs of the students are very different and specific. They need intensive training in the physical and behavorial needs that each child presents. This is again a very costly endeavour for the board of education as each special needs teacher requires extreme training to provide the care needed.  There are many types of needs they have to meet so a lot of training is required as well as on going training.  Children with autism and other developmental delays need a very structured routine often with one-on-one interaction.  There is also a need for support workers to help make sure the child’s needs are met such as toileting and eating.  In the article, Full Inclusion in Public School: Is It Best for all Special Needs Kids? by Paul W. Bennett, there is the concern the author states, “Full inclusion continues to be controversial as a “one-size-fits-all” special education policy.” (Bennett, Paragraph. 7). The Autism Spectrum of Disorder (ASD) spans a very wide range of authorities. In Christopher’s case with his Asperger’s his needs are based mostly on social interaction and appropriate behaviours in public. His teachers do have to monitor his eating and bathroom habits, but are more focused on his social needs and his need to be trained accordingly. He attends a special school as he needs the smaller classrooms and the one-on-one assistance. Christopher also has some different routines that he needs to be able to go through that make being at a regular school more challenging, things such as needed time in a quiet room away from others.  When he is having a hard day he is allowed to find a quiet place and read. He can take a long time to eat his lunch or do basic routines as everything must happen in a sequence or pattern.

The shift in Canada to integrate special needs children got stronger in the 80’s

Building inclusive schools has been a high priority for Canada’s

provincial school systems for the past two decades.  It is now generally

agreed that public schools should embrace an overall philosophy of

inclusion which supports the right of all children to the best possible

education. “Full inclusion” — the idea that all children, including those

with severe disabilities, can and should learn in a regular classroom has

also taken root in many school systems. (Bennett, Paragraph. 1)

This shift was largely due to funding issues and parents wanting their children in a regular school setting.  There was great debate but the decision was made to slowly integrate children into mainstream education.  The older children were allowed to end their schooling in the segrageted schools or move over to the regular stream.  It was up to the parents, unless their needs were too demanding for the regular program and they were required to stay where they were.  The move was on to slowly close down special schools and to get regular schools changed and ready to accommodate all students’ needs.

In Christopher’s situation he would require his own educational assistant who would work with the classroom teacher to provide him with structure and one on one time.  The cost of an assistant can sometimes be shared with two or more students and it is cheaper than having the children at separate schools.  It was a hard process for children who were moved and had to join the mainstream. Initially, the children were excluded and felt very isolated as the other students had no experience with them and did not understand their needs.  Autistic children can be flappers with their hands and arms, they sometimes will talk to themselves and this centred them out to the other students. A lot of autistic children have a very hard time making eye contact and do not like to touch or be touched, and many have a great deal of difficulty when their normal routines are interrupted. As the years went on and the children were integrated starting in Kindergarten a lot of the issues slowly disappeared. Their peers knew them and their special needs, schools were built that had areas for them to go when they needed some space and teachers received more training. They were accepted by the school as a complete person who just needed some extra help and the students were encouraged to help and include them as much as possible. These special students do not necessarily spend the whole day in the regular classroom they can be withdrawn at certain times of the day to an area prepared for them within the confines of the school, but they are full participating members of the school community.

This issue is very personal to me as my Uncle Ernesto was born with a brain damage due to a chromosonal disorder.  He exhibited signs of Autism.  He attended a special school, Vincent Massey, in Hamilton. My grandparents and my mother also were teachers of children with special needs. My uncle went to school in the 80’s so when integration occurred, my Grandmother made the decision to keep in his school.  This was the only stem of education he knew and he needed to remain in that safe environment with his teachers and friends.  He thrived on routine and consistency and this could be provided for him.  If he had been born, later he would have blossomed in the mainstream as he loved people, sports and being involved, and this was not available to him at his segregated school.

I feel inclusion works if it is done at the entry level of school and everyone is exposed to each other.  We all benefit as we learn tolerance and understanding for others and they can learn from us other life skills.  This debate will be ongoing as people still have strong opinions on both sides.

In the book, Christopher attends a school in Britain which is totally segregated, and serves children with a wide spectrum of needs. He talks about needing the extra attention for some of his thought processes and behaviours. Christopher has a hard time with the other students as their needs are so different from his. He is a genius in math and is very gifted in the sciences and the issue is that his school cannot really provide the level of teaching that he needs in these areas. His father has to make special arrangements with the school so that he can take his “A” level exams in math as they need a supervisor to oversee him writing them. This is the real crux of the problem – whether integration or segregation, neither can meet all of a student’s needs. What they gain in one area they lose in another.

To conclude, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time focuses on a theme built around segregation as a way to help a child with disabilities. It is reflected throughout the protagonist Christopher, while he is at his special school. He has access to the necessities needed to succeed academically but not the peers he needs in order to improve his skills socially. The exposure provided by integration is the best solution, for most special needs students. Being a part of a real school community is an invaluable experience for all students – special needs or not.

Works Cited

Bennet, Paul W. ““Full Inclusion” in Public Schools: Is It Best for all Special Needs Kids? Educhatter’s Blog.” Lively Commentary on Canadian Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 June 2013. <http://educhatter.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/full-inclusion-in-public-schools-is-it-best-for-all-special-needs-kids/&gt;.

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. New York: Doubleday, 2003. Print.

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Luke Treadaway and Paul Ritter playing Christopher and Ed Boone in the real life adaptation.

Socratic Question #3

•June 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Should children who suffer with developmental or mental disorder, such as Aspergers, ever be told a parent has died when in fact they have just left the family and will not be accessible to the child?

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Socratic Question #2

•June 9, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Do you think people with Aspergers should be held to the same letter of the law as the rest of the population?  Why or why not and please explain your answer.

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