Inclusion and Mainstreaming

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Mentally disabled child in my daughter's classroom

August 2009

I need advice on how to deal with a mentally disabled student in my daughter's classes in Orinda. The school district's policy is to have mentally disabled students in classes with above average and gifted students. (This is the fourth consecutive year for my daughter.) For the first few years we didn't think much of it, but last year she didn't do so well. I passed this off as normal development for my daughter - I was dead wrong.

Today after school she tearfully confessed to me the problem she is having with school is not the material, but the mentally disabled child. The child cannot sit still, has minimal control of extremities and spontaneously cries and make noises similar to a roaring elephant. She gets startled, can't concentrate on the lesson and the teacher has to repeat the lesson over and over for the disabled student.

This is a public school in Orinda. They try to mainstream disabled students even if it is to the detriment of gifted and above average students. The counslors tell me No child is left behind. I'm finding no child gets ahead even if they want to.

Help - I'm wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience, and what did you do? Where your efforts successful? Thank you Anon

As a public-school teacher, my first advice to you is to schedule a visit to your daughter's class. I don't doubt that your daughter is having a difficult time with this other student, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that there are other factors at play as well. In your visit, watch your daughter--not the other student. When does she focus? When does she get distracted? Does she have clear assignments that she can work on at times when the teacher is working with other students? (Remember, of course, that your presence is also affecting your daughter's behavior!)

After visiting, you may be able to arrange a joint meeting with your daughter and her teacher to plan some strategies that will help your daughter learn at her own pace in a heterogeneous classroom. These might include sitting elsewhere in the room, having an enrichment project to work on when she finishes an assignment before her classmates, or reading aloud with a partner when it's difficult to focus on silent reading.

Like it or not, your daughter will be in mixed-ability groupings all her life. She'll benefit much more from learning to thrive in this environment than she would from having a ''problem student'' removed from her class. Lara

I don't know if this will be at all helpful, but one of the students in my son's class last year had a great deal of difficulty with self-control and other similar issues (the child was of at least average intelligence, however). The district provided this child with a full-time aide. This aide could not only assist the child with assignments (there was some difficulty writing and such) but could also assist with control (I know the child was removed from the room if behavior deteriorated, for example, until the child calmed down). Unfortunately, I believe this comes from an agreement with the parent and the teacher, so it's not something you can ask for directly. However, if you know the parent, perhaps a suggestion would be in order, or perhaps you could speak with the teacher. anonymous

Your post saddened me especially as a parent of a special needs child. I wonder out loud what type of special education department in Orinda would allow such behavior to be displayed in the class setting you're describing, as special needs children have specific legal criteria they must meet in their IEP's, and I really find hard to believe that the special ed staff and your child's teacher would allow a distracting child, as you described, to be placed in your class setting. FYI, special needs children meet certain criteria to be in the least restrictive environment, which means they can be placed in classes with the general school population but with tutors and/or assistants. I noticed you did not mention an assistant, and I know that child would not be there without an assistant. If the child was that disruptive as you described, proper protocol would be to have the child removed and placed back in the special needs class. So, I would suggest, if what you say is true, I would specifically write a letter and/or discuss the child's issues with the head of the school along with the head of the special ed department so that they can find a win/win situation and inform the parents of the child of your complaints, as your daughter also has the right to a proper education as much as the special needs child. -proud parent of a special needs child

Please have compassion for those who are less fortunate than you and your daughter. My child has special needs and is mainstreamed. It is the district's legal responsibility to both make sure that everyone can learn in the classroom environment and to include children with challenges in the classroom.

Why don't you speak the your daughter's teacher and talk about the problem your daughter is having? Perhaps the child with challenges needs some additional support to behave appropriately in the classroom. Perhaps your daughter needs some additional support and sensitivity education to function appropriately in a diverse school environment. I would encourage you to voice your concerns and to educate yourself and your daughter about the reasons why children with special needs behave as they do. Maybe if your daughter understands why the child with special needs is making noises and can develop compassion for this child, then perhaps she will not be so upset by the behavior. Perhaps there needs to be more communication/education about acceptance and tolerance in the classroom as a whole in order for your daughter to feel comfortable. How are the other kids in class handling the behavior of the child with special needs?

As the mother of a child with special needs (as well as one without special needs) I strongly feel that, like racial diversity, cognitive diversity is really healthy and important for all children to be exposed to. Our world is diverse and your daughter can learn so much about tolerance, diversity and her own strengths by being exposed to children whose brains function differently than the norm. -we all have special needs sometimes

My advice is to be extremely grateful that your child isn't the mentally disabled child you described. Think of the parents of this child. We are all in this together. I'm sorry if it is hard for your daughter, but we need to accept all people. Gratitude for what you have is in store. Also, a big heart for others that are less fortunate than you are. -Be grateful

Our children are gifted and advanced, and have had special needs children in their classes for many years. Our children attended a wonderful school in El Cerrito, Castro Elementary. This school was a ''full inclusion'' school, with special needs kids in almost every class. In my son's first grade, there were four special needs kids out of 20; in my daughter's fourth grade, there were three special needs kids in a class of 32 kids.

The result? My children are caring, accepting, inclusive, sensitive, responsible people. They chose to partner with the special needs children on projects and for games as often as they did the mainstream children. When I think of what they learned about being human, I am so grateful that they had this experience.

It sounds to me like the child in your daughter's class deserves an aide. You do not mention one in your e-mail. If a child is disabled, they are given an aide by the school district to facilitate the learning. I would ask the teacher why this child does not have an aide, if she is indeed special needs. The teacher cannot be teaching to one child only, be it a gifted child or a special needs child.

If it is done right, having a special needs child in a classroom is an enormous asset. I am sorry that your school has not made this the case. -Been there, but at a different school

Sounds like your daughter is having a really tough time with auditory processing and loud sounds. It's possible that the real problem isn't with the other special needs kid but that your daughter has some sensory or auditory processing issues, especially if she's the only who finds it difficult. Check with other parents, talk to the teacher and try to work it out since -mainstreaming is here to stay.

This is a hot-button issue, and you will no doubt get many responses. Federal law requires public schools to provide appropriate education to all children, disabled or not. There frequently is tension among the needs of differently situated children, especially when money is tight. Disabled kids can demand more resources, and it can be at the expense of the non-disabled. That is a policy decision Congress made. Good people can disagree about its merits. But if you don't like it, your remedy is with your senator/congressperson -- or private school, which can exclude anyone. Have a little empathy here. What are you proposing the school do? Exclude the disabled child to better serve your child? How would you feel if yours was not the ''gifted'' child, but the disabled child? Wouldn't you want your child included as much as possible, treated like all the other kids? Would you want parents to demand their child be kept away from yours?

My son had an autistic boy in his class for several years in the Orinda schools. Many of us parents wanted our children in class with him. The school placed him with the best teachers. He had an aide, who was able to provide extra support for the entire class. And he gave our children exposure to the real world -- real people, with real challenges. My son had play dates with him, and enjoyed them. This boy was a challenge, to say the least. And there was a point where he got violent and his needs exceeded what an inclusive classroom could provide. But until that time, the kids got a fine education, and a healthy dose of tolerance to boot.

Take a good look at the message you are giving your child. She will take her cues from you. This can be a lesson about accepting differences, being patient and kind, and learning how to focus despite distractions. Or it can be a lesson that her needs come first, before the needs of other kids who are different, and maybe not so ''gifted.'' But remember, she is just a tumor or accident away from being that special needs child. Fan of Tolerance

Mainstreaming was a new trend when I attended Berkeley High School. As a student I hated it. The teachers who did it well essentially taught two lessons, or more properly a main lesson then a mini-lesson. I don't think anyone benefited.

That said, parents of the mentally disabled student may view inclusion as a civil rights issue, and they are backed by Federal Law (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, Public Law 94-142; now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). This all predates the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Your student may hate the situation also. But perhaps she can be challenged to apply her ''gifted'' advantage into staying focused. Future classes, dorms, and jobs will come with their own often annoying people, visual, and audible distractions. The ones who come out on top get past all that, and don't pin their own performance issues on the actions of others.

The ugly reality of NCLB is that the pace of education will follow the formulated mandates no matter how fast or slow the class picks it up. In other words: the slow kid is not altering the progression of the curriculum. -Bryce

BUSD inclusion programs

Nov 2007

I'm looking for information on special ed inclusion programs in Berkeley. My child with special needs will be entering the district next fall and we'd love feedback on other parents' experiences with the various inclusion specialists and programs in Berkeley. Our gut feeling is that we need a small school with a really supportive inclusion program where special ed teachers, regular ed teachers, parent and kids are supportive and accepting of kids with learning, physical, and speech differences. Our child will be in a regular classroom but will need a lot of support in many areas. Thanks! anon

My son is in Kindergarten at Berkeley Arts Magnet with his own 1:1 and I absolutely couldn't be happier. He's thriving there, his teachers are great, the other kids are great, I love the environment there, the other parents (for the most part) have been supportive. I like the principal, I like the Inclusion Support Teacher, and the best part is that he's actually learning. Feel free to contact me directly for more info. Jill

We have a child in inclusion at Le Conte. The inclusion specialist there is very dedicated, and the staff, especially the principle, are very supportive. It rubs off on the kids, too - my child has lots of friends who engage him on the playground or just yell hi when they see him passing, even though part of his disability is that he is nonverbal and has difficulty with eye contact, etc. I could write a book about our experience if I had the time. Please email me if you'd like to talk more on the phone. Jessica