My Dream… Inclusion For All! — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

My Dream… Inclusion For All!

by Maggie


I have a dream!  No really, last night I had this dream.  I dreamed 10 women were chosen to meet with Oprah Winfrey.  At the meeting we were privileged with the opportunity to chat with the powerful Ms. Winfrey.  I sat listening to the ardent pleas of these strong-willed and driven women who had been chosen — hand-picked by Oprah herself — to break bread with arguably one of the most famous and influential woman in the western world.  Each had a mission they were selling.  Oprah listened, smiled and nodded, impressed with their knowledge and drive. 

I sat quietly in the background off to the right.  I did not know why the venerable Miss O had selected me to sit in her court.  I am the mother of identical twins with Down syndrome who are empathically savant but who learn differently.  I am the mother of a beautiful Old Soul with Attention Deficit who is intellectually and creatively gifted… who learns differently.  I have a personal mission I fight locally under the banner, “think globally, act locally!”  In this group, I am an unknown in a field of knowns as I think my private thoughts about not belonging.  I feel less than.  Different.  The session ends and as we file out into the hallway, guided to the exit doors, Oprah seeks me out. 

“Why did you choose me to participate in today’s forum?” I ask her. ” These other women have worldly missions. They are powerful.  They seek fame and fortune.”  She looks me in the eye and asks, “What is your mission?  What will you do in this world?  What will be your legacy? And, how will you achieve it?”  I secretly think my legacy will be my amazing children and realize Ms. Winfrey will see that as a “cop-out” (to use a term my Dad favored).  She is right!  She is not asking me to list what my children’s accomplishments will be but to decide what MINE will be beyond gracing this world with their amazing presence.

I tell her, “I want MY children and all the children like them now and in the future to be able to ride the bus with their peers!”  A metaphor!  I want my children to go to the school down the block and be accepted as a natural part of that population – not to receive an equivalent-but-elsewhere education. I do not want them segregated either in a separate school or in a separate classroom where they’re “allowed to come out and have lunch in the cafeteria with the normal kids”.  I want them to receive the education they need to excel in life… with the support they need to claim it.  I want REAL inclusion and individualized education according to the needs of the child.  The laws support this notion but, where I live and in many other places, it doesn’t exist in practice!

I explain that our education system is broken here in NY and in the US.  In NY we are the second worst state in the nation at practicing inclusion.  We are known for our antiquated segregation of people with special needs. We segregate our challenged and our gifted children. In doing so we hold everyone back… denying them role models that push them beyond their current abilities! In the US we lag behind in educational statistics. We are educating to the Bell Curve instead of educating ALL of the children to their unique and full potential.  I relate my experience as a corporate manager — before having children — where I was required to identify the learning styles of each of my employees and create a career path/plan that accommodated their individual learning styles and needs in order to help them succeed in our company.  I marvel at the thought that our education system does LESS for our children…. These children are the future of our country.  The future of our world!  Miss Winfrey is smiling, nodding, silently encouraging me!  As I feel more empowered, I talk about what I want for my children and for all children with Down syndrome, Apraxia, ADD, for every child that learns differently than those “typically developing” children that live squarely under the bell curve.  I am talking about exceptional children – those who fall above and below the bell; those whose needs are not met through the current middle-of-the-road system but who require unique support and accommodations to achieve their full potential. 

I go on, explaining that I’ve been accepted to train in the New York State Partners in Policymaking program.  I want to make a difference – not only locally in the elementary school where my children will be embraced with open arms and an education plan that will meet their exceptional needs… because I will fight to make it so — but, I want to make a difference “globally”.  I want to drag New York State out of the dark ages and push us forward into a time when our exceptional children are educated side-by-side with their peers, where they are provided the appropriate accommodations within that setting to meet their greatest potential.   I want role models for every child at every level to push each to the next level of his or her potential.

I want to be the force that realizes the implementation of the laws as they were meant to be implemented…  set forth as a result of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts!  The laws that allow exceptional people — minorities of all kinds – to ride the “regular” bus, go to their local school, drink from the same water fountain and eat in the same cafeteria as everyone else.  I want to be part of the solution that sees our education system over-deliver to all populations exceptional and typical.  I want to be a catalyst to the change I wish to see!

Thank you Oprah!  Yes, I have a dream… and I’m on a mission!

(Maggie blogs at

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I've become a self-proclaimed novice in the pursuit of [my own] happiness and in finding pockets of peace amidst the chaos of raising my 7-year-old identical twin sons who were blessed with an extra 21st chromosome (aka. Down syndrome) and my beautiful daughter (ADD) who vacillates between being helpful and being 10.

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1 Chaney February 20, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I was surprised to read that NY was near last in the nation for inclusion. We are very good at educating people with disabilities as a whole – perhaps even one of the best? I don’t know about the inclusion piece. I am pushing for my daughter to be included with her peers while the district wants her out placed. It is a slippery slope. A parent has to be intensely involved and if a parent isn’t willing to do that, inclusion is hard on the student, I think. I know that if my daughter was in a self-contained classroom, I would have less work to participate in the classroom activities, but she would get less of an education than other kids her age.

2 Maggie March 13, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Chaney — Well said. As for NY state, we are stuck in the brick-and-mortar age of segregated special education after deinstitutionalization… b/c we were a wealthy state able to jump on that bandwagon when that was the best thinking of it’s time. Now that research has shown inclusion to be more effective (and less costly) path, NY is lagging behind b/c of the infrastructure and the jobs associated with maintaining that infrastructure. They do not understand that no one would be out of a job, just that jobs would be redefined within the inclusion setting. Nassau County is 2nd worst county in the state(that’s where I am), still consistently trying to segregate children with special needs. We are second only to Manhatten/NYC who has one school and sends EVERYONE with special needs there.

It’s so true, an involved parent makes inclusion work for the child (and the district) in a system where they’re not quite used to doing it that way. Eventually, all of us passionate parents will generalize the results that research has already borne out… that inclusion results in the best academic, emotional and psychological outcomes for children with special needs AND for the children without special needs. Only then will inclusion with support be the accepted and functional norm. That’s what we’re working toward… social change!

3 Tammie February 20, 2011 at 11:24 pm

That was a beautiful dream! I too would love for the same to happen in Ohio. But because of our “exclusion” of children with special needs, I had to choose homeschooling. I know, so now he’s excluded from that experience, but I have to say he’s blossomed like he’d never done in our school system. Hard choices, but I’d like to see that no child is excluded and that they actually learn in school. That we don’t just teach what’s on the test. Give life experiences, and role models to look up to, teach each child in the manner that they are able to learn in, whatever direction that may be.

4 Maggie March 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Beautiful Tammie! We’ll get there eventually… without sacrificing our children’s educations or well-being. 50 years ago, our children would have been institutionalized. 20 years ago, they’d have spent their formative years completely segregated from the general population for education and socialization. That would continue if we let it. Imagine what will be going on in 10, 20 or 50 years from now! Keep up the fight. Just because you’re homeschooling your son (and I TOTALLY get that choice… but there are so many factors that go into that decision and it just doesn’t work for us right now). But homeschooling doesn’t mean that you’re not advocating for his full inclusion in the community, workplace and educational instititutions going forward.

5 MarjH February 22, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I have a kid in each scenario. One child fully included, blossoming and basically living everything I’ve dreamed of for him. Another in a non-inclusive setting. And I prefer him to be in a private school for kids with autism. He is safer there. The staff is better. The numbers are better. He gets far more therapy and attention. I never, ever want him to return to the local school. My older son? He can go there for the rest of his life. He’s doing great.

6 Maggie March 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Totally get that choice too, Marj. Ultimately, we have to do what’s best for our individual children first and foremost. The inclusion fight that’s being fought now does come with a lack of education on the teacher’s part on how to deal with our children’s special needs within the general population. How to provide the individualized support needed (by ALL kids with and without special needs). In those states where segregated special education was never fully implemented (generally b/c of lack of funding as it’s an expensive undertaking), the integrated, co-teaching models of their fully inclusive classrooms are amazing models to be emulated. As they say, it works if you work it.

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