Spotlight TEDx Talk: Why separating kids with disabilities from their peers hurts instead of helps


Torrie Dunlap at TEDxAmerica'sFinestCity

Torrie Dunlap at TEDxAmerica’sFinestCity

Educator Torrie Dunlap believes that we look at kids with disabilities the wrong way. By calling their needs “special” and pushing them into “special” schools, groups and activities, we segregate them, sending a message that if you have a disability, you aren’t welcome to participate in “regular” activities.

What we really need to do, she suggests, is question why our “regular” activities aren’t designed to accommodate kids of all abilities, why “regular” is discriminatory to those with disabilities.

“I believe that a reason why, as a society, we have not embraced children with disabilities as full participants in our schools and communities is the limitation of our own mental models around disability,” she says in a talk at TEDxAmerica’sFinestCity. “We have moved from hiding and institutionalizing children to a world where kids with disabilities are special and receive special services in special settings with special caregivers, and they — and their families– are disenfranchised from the community at large  …

“I believe that ‘special’ has become a euphemism for ‘separate,’” Dunlap says. “When we create a separate, special place for children where their ‘special needs’ can be met, we are teaching them that their place is over there, with people like them and not in the full community.”

These alienating activities range from “special” proms for high schoolers with disabilities to a particularly disturbing example from Dunlap — a night for “Challenged Buckaroos” at a rodeo. “No special adaptations for disability are needed or offered [at the rodeo] that I can tell,” she says, “[so] why do children who have a disability label need their own special rodeo? What message are we sending to kids when we create a separate rodeo just for them?”

Watch Dunlap’s whole talk below:

Insight from the TEDx office — why we like this talk:

The speaker tackles a difficult issue, society’s models of disability and how they affect children, and looks at it from several angles, using evidence culled from years working with children with disabilities. She is passionate about the issue, ties her experience to greater sociological theories of disability and offers a challenge to the audience to think differently about an entrenched idea.


  1. Inspirational talk:)

  2. Nancy

    Send this to all schools and put it on the news. I’ll share this for sure as I am behind you 100%

  3. Linda J B

    I have to somewhat disagree on your statements. there are a number of high functioning people with disabilities who can be mainstreamed. However if our classrooms were highly populated with those with very low I Q s, it would take the students 3 years to get through freshman biology, many just could not keep up, they would be ridiculed even more than they are now. Look at the case of the families who insisted a special Olympic student remove the letter from his jacket, because their sons and daughters worked hard for their letters. Makes my blood boil but this is how many of them are treated, I know because I have worked in disability ministry foe 25 years. we do not have set aside programs but try to maintain one on one and we are ridiculed for that, but they absolutely love it. Groups like yours want them included in All activities but due to their limitations and let’s face it they have them, Why do we accept ethnic group settings, women’s groups, men’s groups, youth groups, etc etc? because like people enjoy being with like people. different is not always bad. Instead we do need to celebrate and accentuate their gifts, abilities and talents, but we have to come to grips that maybe they would rather be at that prom with people who accept them and are like them, than standing on the sidelines watching everyone ignore them. I am sorry to rant but everyone who is so staunch on inclusion wants other people to do it but they don’t have this population in their own social groups, Bible Study, etc. I can say I do!

    • Emily

      I think that you may have a small point when it comes to the classroom but children with disabilities should never be excluded from social settings like a prom. I would think and hope that the adults chaperoning the prom would stop any type of bullying or harassment. In fact- the whole point of putting them into an inclusive environment in early education is so they and their peers learn to accept each other. This is not a theory- there is real proof that full inclusion is effective and that both disabled and non disabled peers learn to accept each other and work together.

  4. Maria

    I have a hard time with this post. Our son who has Autism does require special attention in a school setting. He was placed in a general education class his first two years of school, terrible experience for him and I. He was bullied often, never invited to birthdays or play dates, teacher with 30 other kids didn’t have the time to assist him with his sensory overload at times.

    We are fortunate that our school district has a setting for high functioning autism and down syndrome youth. He has flourished in this environment!!! 10 kids in a class that stay together every year with the same teachers and utilize visual tools and therapy in the class, lots of structure!!!! They have monthly movie and bowling nights. He now has lots of friends because in their eyes no one has a disability, no judgement. Please please don’t make these kids fit into something looks ideal in your rainbow world where other kids don’t judge and bully.

    • Anne

      Have you ever thought about what will happen when school is over? Isn’t it important to move our children towards independents? Give them the tools needed to adapt in world that does not contain accommodations and structure? By having a substantially separate environment are we truly helping them to embrace who they? Everyone needs to feel included and everyone deserves an enviable life.

    • The issue is often whether schools are adequately equipped for effective inclusive education. I think there needs to be an alternative when school inclusion isn’t working, because our kids don’t deserve to be the guinea pigs that force the issue with people who aren’t prepared to make it work.
      However, my kids (both with autism and communication impairment) went this year from a school that thought it was inclusive (but didn’t address their learning needs) to a school prepared to include them both socially and academically – and it’s been a beautiful thing.
      When inclusion is done well, it really benefits everyone.

  5. Excellent talk!
    Congratulations, Torrie Dunlap for your job!
    I totally agree with all you said.
    We need to start by changing our mindsets, and many times, we don’t even realize we are discriminating, separating them.
    I gave a TEDx Talk in Montevideo, Uruguay (South America) about “truly” allowing kids and teenagers with disabilities enter, stay and finish general education, and being able to choose. It is based on my personal experience as educator and mother of a girl with Down syndrome.
    It is in Spanish, subtitle will be added soon

  6. Sandra

    This is excellent! I will make sure my daughter and her friend who have a conference to educate people to these very things see this!

  7. Mary

    I disagree in part. My son has sensory sensitivities that make crowded, loud events unbearable. I don’t understand how not offering special proms and caring Santas would help him. It would just mean that he’d be stuck at home, completely excluded, or run the risk of overstimulation, eloping, and self-injurious behaviors. How does it make him feel to have a meltdown in front of everybody?

    Special needs events tend to be quieter, less crowded, and less overstimulating. They work for him and allow him to experience things he wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Which is even more marginalizing.

    I do feel that kids with disabilities should be able to go to regular prom IF THEY CHOOSE. But what is wrong with providing options?

  8. Denise Bastoni

    where I could start? One thing is missing,,,is CC. On video.
    This great. She shoud go to Washington for schools over country.
    The kids she talked about would be adults ,,what then, most of kids have support,,,,, what then,,,these kids,, would be adults I,,,,there are no special support group at work place and etc.
    We needs people like Ms Dunlap.
    I like to hear from hers thought about adults life who is disabled!
    Thank you

  9. Elena

    This is fantastic. I have a son with Down Syndrome who is 5. I’ve just started to realize on our own journey that teachers, therapists, doctors, etc are always preparing me for his limitations rather than pushing him to be all he can be by assuming he can do it. I believe it starts with ideas like Ms. Dunlops. I’d love to see TEDx do more on the latest thinking on disabilities in the future as well. Well Done!

  10. angie

    My daughter with Down Syndrome was denied going to a college class because of her disability.

  11. christie

    Personally I think our daughter with special needs is in the right school. A special needs school, she has been taught to sign, make friends and has
    Been invited to birthday parties.she has a nurse at the school to deal with her feeding tube, if something goes wrong and there isn’t the right staff to sort it out it could mean she would need another operation which can have also have regular contact with other parent in the same boat and can bounce ideas off each other. When my daughter attended mainstream school I felt very isolated, children would run away from her the parents were unkind and insensitive to my daughters achievements and regularly said well she isnt going to achieve much. Please don’t send her to my child’s school as she will be a distraction,my child has a chance of a good future, without distractions like that. She never got invited to another child’s party it was the saddest time for us. We have also been told well its good to send a child like yours to mainstream as its good for the other kids. Well what about mine!!. Personally I feel the government have shut a lot of special needs schools down to save money!

  12. David

    Outstanding Talk! Please continue to make your arguments to whomever will give you audience. You are doing the good Lord’s work!

  13. Bravo! We are behind you 100% Let’s take it to the next level and get our children out of the MOID/MID self-contained classrooms in public schools and integrated back into the general education classrooms with accommodations.
    Contact me and I will get you speaking here in East Cobb County, Georgia!

  14. Lisa

    As the other of a special needs student and also a teacher, I feel this lady sells her idea well, but misses the point on a few issues:
    Children at special schools aren’t the special ones in the class any more. They are in a setting where all students are respected with the same behaviour expectations.
    At mainstream schools, teachers don’t feel they need to fix or heal these students.
    Special needs photo sessions deal more with reducing the sensory impact on children, rather than serving to segregate them from the general population.

    I felt frustrated while watching this video until I realised that my perspective is just different from hers.

    • Emily

      Hi Lisa, the point is that the general education classroom should be a place where these kids are respected to. They should not have to moved to be respected- there non disabled peers need to learn tolerance and patience from them as the disabled peers learn there pro social behavior.

  15. Robin Brewer

    An important message that special educators should watch as The Council for Exceptiinal Children readies for the National Convention in San Diego this week.

  16. Lisa

    As a mom of two children on the autism spectrum, your view is too simplistic as you definitely do not understand the true difficulties of placing our children in ” regular” schools. Your view is portrayed from only one point of view and does not take into consideration the other side.

  17. Felicity Wright

    Not bad, as far as it goes, but still very paternalistic. Wouldn’t it be better to have had a talk given by an actual disabled person?! Aren’t disabled people being marginalised by an able-bodied person speaking on our behalf? And Ms Dunlap misses several crucial points. For a start, a major problem is the lumping together of disabled children, separate from able-bodied but as a single demographic. It is as senseless & insulting as dividing the population into “white” & “non-white”. The whole concept of disabled people as a homogeneous group needs to be dismantled. My personal disability related requirements are all around wheelchair access & physical assistance, but people with other impairments often have very different needs. Oh, and I hate the name “Kids Inclusive Together”. It’s still making a point that some of the kids are disabled, therefore it’s still stigmatising them.

  18. Laura

    I am the mother of a 27 year-old son who has Down syndrome. He was fully included in general education classes with supports and modifications from preschool through age 21 when he graduated. He now works two jobs in the community which pay real salaries, participates in community recreation and leisure activities and is an active self- advocate. Yes we had to litigate and fight the entire time he was in school. No he is not an aberrant”high functioning” person with Down syndrome. He has needs that require support. But he has a real life in a real community. School prepared him, and his peers for that. I, nor his father will live forever, we wanted him to have the most independent life he possible could and wanted his education to prepare him for that. Just as education did for his siblings. Inclusion works.

  19. I agree with your message of more inclusion. It’s not so easy to achieve though. That said, I believe that our “special” people need to be more VALUED by society. I believe it so much that I wrote a book about it, Jack Saves the Day. This is about my son and based on real events. You never know when the “special” kid or person just might save someone’s life. By the way, it’s on Amazon.

  20. I agree that special needs people should be more valued in society. I’m not quite sure how to get there. I believe it so much that I wrote a book about it that is on Amazon. The book is Jack Saves the Day. You never know when the “special” kid or person may be the one who saves a life.

  21. I’m uncertain about disagreeing or agreeing with all aspects of this post. I feel each child with a disability has different needs so it’s hard to categorize one child’s needs to suit all. Its not possible. However, I will agree with this as a mom myself with a girl with Angelman Syndrome, she is extremely social and her peers at school all love and appreciate her. We live in a community where for the most part is fairly accepting. We are fortunate but that isn’t the case for all. When someone places themselves in a position to categorize all special needs children into a different category only proves how little they know about what the real world really looks like for our kids who are special. My daughter needs assistance at school because she could not attend a regular school without one but my friend’s autistic son cannot attend a regular school and goes to a special school. We are all different as human beings and I’m tired of these so called experts thinking they know what’s best for our kids!!

  22. I really enjoyed this Ted. As a person who grew up with disability, I can testify the need for this. It was the driving force for me to start Bridge II Sports. The medical model does not work for people like me, however, pity does not either. Opportunity creates change. I love the new word…. I will have to listen and learn the term. It was fun to hear as this is the way I speak too!

    Currently we have a Bill in the NC House and NC Senate to fund the beginning of creating opportunity within our schools.

    Keep going all! We will make a change!

  23. Rosemary Gould

    I think many of the comments here show how severe the discrimination is against the disabled in “inclusive” settings. Yes, my 15yo autistic son is homeschooled because we couldn’t get a decent school placement for him. He would certainly have been happier in a segregated classroom with a lot of individual attention and no bullying. That just shows how bad the regular ed. is. I believe Dunlap’s point is not that parents of disabled kids should force them into inclusive settings no matter how much harm it will do them but that those mainstream settings need to change so as not to be harmful!

  24. I agree with so much of your talk. As a mother with a daughter, age 5, with down syndrome. She is high functioning and if we were to stay in our current district for kindergarten she would go to 1 of 2 schools that is set aside for all children with special needs. It doesn’t matter the severity of the disability, it’s just where they are put. It would be a fight to have her not only accepted in our zoned school but a bigger fight for services she deserves. Moving to a smaller district we will be afforded the opportunity for her to be mainstreamed in general education with modifications fit for her and assistance of an aide. She will be set up for the best success for the rest of her life to live independently.
    I also a daughter who is 17, with an undiagnosed learning disability and bipolar. She looks like any other typical child and was afforded the same inclusion and services I fight for my youngest.
    I know that it isn’t perfect for all special needs, but it should be an option. Inclusion is the best option for so many!!

  25. Robin

    My daughter had ZERO self-esteem & thought herself a failure after 10 years with “inclusion”. Kids without disabilities are not her “peers”. They don’t understand her & don’t want to, that was clear. Once she got into a high school for kids with disabilities, she got confidence, she got friends, she got a boyfriend & she found her career path. We all need to feel understood, we all need to belong. She is not excluded from society, she is IN society. Just because she’s not in public school doesn’t mean she is not ️in society! Why are people so arrogant to think that people with disabilities will only be successful if they are with neurotypical people. They will succeed when they find their true peers & find their niche. My daughter is now visiting college programs for young adults with disabilities & the students in the programs are so happy in their social & vocational lives. Society is wherever my daughter is. She is not hidden. She is succeeding because she’s with people who understand her & who are educated enough to teach to her learning style & provide what she needs to be happy.

  26. some people here seem to be missing the point entirely…..IF the gen ed regular public school classrooms were set up to accommodate ALL learners, there would be no “need” for the special classrooms. Yes, some students may need a more restrictive environment due to some physical needs, but in reality, if everything was done well from the get go, there would be so many many fewer problems…..and so much more success. Needing support does not mean less worthy. Separate classrooms can be discriminatory….and we parents of disabled children are “taught” very early on just how “special” our kids are… even we believe that the separation is not only necessary, but good for every one. So sad. As a spec ed advocate, and parent to a disabled child, I work very hard to make inclusion (and communication) the highest priority in my work.

    • There is definitely a need for special classrooms. My son needs them. He has done so much better in those classrooms than in mainstream because his “abilities” are the focus and not getting up to speed with everyone else which is a false goal for him. We were both very stressed out before and now he can progress at HIS pace. Way better!!!!

  27. Indre Biskis

    While I am sensitive to the parents’ feelings and experiences in the comments regarding this talk, I would very much like to see/hear more comments from persons with disabilities regarding the question of inclusion.

    • michael carpenter

      As a person with a significant disability and over 5 decades of experience in living with a disability, I will say hands down that I would’ve rebelled much harder had I been put into a segregated classroom.

      That said, I’m fortunate enough to have done well in school so the educational system had less to stand on for placing me in a segregated classroom. I had the courage to stand up to teachers, administrators and student bullies – I would not acquiesce to stupidity.

      Much more difficult is the situation with our son, who has Down Syndrome. But I believe that for him – as a personal decision for our son – that he should be afforded the same opportunity to live freely despite the difficulties he will encounter.

  28. Meagan

    Inclusion means fully engaged. You can be present in a room and not be a part of it. Students with disabilities can’t afford to waste time in a room where they get nothing just for our warm fuzzy feelings. Some need intensive intervention. Withholding that in the name of inclusion is not the answer.

  29. No. We are teaching society that they are not important, we just don’t want to euthanize them but don’t know how to fit them into the community. Corporations don’t find them profitable, so let’s hide them so they feel shame. Or, we can use them and abuse them and no one will care, cause they cant organize and stand up for themselves without executive functioning skills.

  30. Lisa

    Susie Christensen is exactly right. Nobody would advocate for a child to go into an environment that can make them feel excluded, anxious, marginalized or “separate”. What Ms. Dunlap is advocating is for no less than a paradigm shift to where the regular classroom, including the teachers, students, administration, architects, builders, school board, and custodians consider students with disabilities ARE simply another part of the classroom. That means changing the way people think about lighting, sound, medical needs, sizes of rooms, and the way curriculum is presented. So that a child, no matter what their needs, will feel welcome and included. So, would she want a child with a disability to go into the classrooms as they are now? NO! She is saying that the schools and everyone in them, must realize that they are still maintaining a “separate but equal” mindset. And that is no good for anyone.

    • Mary

      I can’t even imagine what this classroom would look like. My son is 10. Cognitively, he’s around age 2 or 3. At his age, students are expected to be able to sit at their desks and listen to the teacher. My son is not. He yells out often, throws things at people, and is nonverbal. He learns through Discrete Trial and needs a *lot* of repetition. He’s learning his colors and identifying numbers and letters. So would he be placed with students his age (and potentially embarrassed) or would he be a giant in an inclusive preschool room?

      My oldest son is on the autism spectrum, but is also profoundly gifted. School was as hard for him as it is for my 10-year-old, but he could follow directions and do the work. The teachers tried to differentiate when possible (or convenient, depending on which teacher), but my son was just bored all the time.

      It’s hard to not fit the mean. What would a classroom look like, that included the outliers, on both ends of the spectrum?

      • Amen to what Mary said. I totally agree!

      • Lisa Butler

        Hi Mary, I agree it is very difficult to imagine what a truly inclusive classroom could look like and how it would work. I guess that speaks to our complete indoctrination to the reasons why it would not work. If we can’t even imagine…that is truly sad. I would think that we would need to speak to experts in the field, such as Ms. Dunlap. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. We must remember, though, that there was a time when people could not even imagine that a child with Down syndrome was educable and was most often placed in an institution for “lunatics, the insane, feebleminded, madmen, and idiots”. No one could imagine how to include them in school, let alone with typical students. What would your wildest dreams for a truly inclusive education for all be like?

      • Lisa Butler

        Hi Mary, I tried to send this yesterday, but it didn’t work. In reply to your message, I agree that it is very difficult to imagine what a truly inclusive classroom would look like. Which is truly sad that we can not even imagine it. I believe that speaks to our complete indoctrination into the idea that it CANNOT be done. However, we must recall that there was a time that children with Down Syndrome were considered uneducable. They were routinely sent to live in institutions for the mentally ill (“lunatics, the insane, madmen, the feebleminded and idiots”). At that time, everyone “knew” that it could never work to educate these children at all, let alone with their typical peers! As for imagining a truly inclusive classroom, I would have to defer to the experts such as Ms. Dunlap. What would your perfect fully inclusive classroom have to have?

  31. Andrea Wasiluk

    As a para educator in a special ed classroom and the parent of a young adult male of 25 who has Down Syndrome I have had many experiences in this area. My son was mainstreamed, included, segregated and in high school he was in a self contained class in a regular public school in the morning and then went to a career and technical center for both non/disabled students where he received excellent job training. He now works part time as a clerk at Shoprite and is a roadie for a band on weekends where he is living his dream. Parents should advocate for what is right for their children. I see the best part of having children in self contained classes in regular public schools as being for society as a whole. While there might not be much interaction with the non handicapped students the shear fact is that the disabled community in this situation helps to educate their non disabled peers as to how normal handicapped people are. In their future this well help all to get along and have respect for each other. This is what we want for all of our children and the ” disabled” community are the best teachers of this subject!

  32. A shame rodeos are mentioned. Eco friendly and nature trips are great. It will still depend on each child. dig deeper prom?

  33. wanda wylie

    Inclusion is failing our children. My daughters’ first 3 years of “full inclusion” REALLY meant she was picked on, bullied, hit, excluded, pushed away, was picking holes in her skin, tearing holes in her clothes, ripping out her hair…. she finished Grade 3 with a kindergarten level education :(
    Now we’ve placed her in a special program with special teachers with special training and tools, my 9 year old daughter is no longer coming home threatening suicide, she’s caught up to a beginning grade 3 level. I am 1000% against inclusion IT DOES NOT WORK in most cases.

  34. cubedemon

    Indre Biskis, you said “While I am sensitive to the parents’ feelings and experiences in the comments regarding this talk, I would very much like to see/hear more comments from persons with disabilities regarding the question of inclusion.”

    The first person on here who actually wants to the point of view from a disabled person. As an autistic person myself, I do appreciate people like you. Now here is my critique and my two cents. Personally, I wish I wasn’t socialized with my peers. I wish I was put into a separate school for Autism/Aspergers. I think it is time to lay it down harsh. My peers, when I went to school, were a bunch of oversexed morons who cared more about their stupid boyfriends/girlfriends, pop celebrities, were ghetto, disrespectful, rude and again morons. My peers were a bunch of Beavis and Buttheads.

    I don’t even understand what social skills I was supposed to learn from them exactly. The older generation wonders why kids today are so rude and narcisstic and ungrateful. What happens when you put your child with other children who are supposed to rear and socialize one’s child especially when the children lack wisdom, knowledge, manners and forethought? What happens when you put one good apple with a bunch of bad apples? The good apple becomes a bad apple.

    So, that’s my take on it as an Autistic person.

  35. When a child has a need for more support, encouragement and assistance than a “typically developing child,” they should be able to get the support, encouragement and assistance they NEED without feeling guilty about it. Our staff go to the homes, schools and communities of children who require additional support, encouragement and assistance. It helps them integrate into the broader community and — wait for it — it comes at no cost to parents whatsoever, regardless of family income (in 36 states). Check out for more information about “the greatest treatment funding secret ever concealed.” It’s free, it works and it’s available as an act of Congress since 1989 in all 50 states to children enrolled in Medicaid. Parents don’t need to get a 2nd, 3rd or 4th mortgage to get the help their children need! It’s hidden in plain sight.

  36. Inclusion without necessary support, encouragement and assistance is like pushing a nonswimmer into the deep end and yelling “Swim! Swim!” as if that is a good idea. Nonsense. Kids are entitled – as a Civil Right – to funding for the treatment of their disabling or challenging conditions through the EPSDT mandate of the Medicaid Act. This funding is available in all 50 states, and in 36 states, it’s available regardless of family income. This can mean the difference between success and failure in life for children with special needs. I’ve been providing help for kids with special needs for 30 years and without EPSDT funding, I might as well be talking to the wall. EPSDT funds 20, 30 or MORE hours of intensive, individual treatment every week. Learn more at

  37. What a shame that nobody is publicizing the availability of EPSDT funding (as a Civil Right) for children with behavioral challenges that will give them the additional support, encouragement and assistance they need to integrate more successfully into “the mainstream,” which is available in 36 states regardless of family income.
    It really is “the greatest treatment funding secret ever concealed” and places like TED could be helpful in telling the truth about it. Please do what you can so that people outside of listservs can be informed about EPSDT funding for the treatment of children with Autism, ADHD and other conditions that adversely impact on their behavior and ability to integrate into the community.
    For those of you seeking a winning strategy for defending a child’s need for treatment funding, have a look at this 10 minute video I just posed on YouTube:

  38. Sandy

    It would be great NOT to seperate the two, but all disabilities are different, and when it comes to autism for example, I would prefer that my child is in a special needs prom, because I wouldn’t worry about him being bullied, or made fun of. In an ideal world,I would agree with this but this is not an ideal world, and having special needs functions means peace of mind for some.

  39. Gabriella Feltrin

    There are many ‘special’ schools – there are specialist high schools for academically clever children – they are called selective schools, we have sports high schools, we have conservatorium high schools, in the UK there are school for blind children, hundreds of them attend participating in all kinds of activities from violin lessons to cricket and the like. There should not be the homogenisation of disability and ability, and the notion that disability is a social construct is just bunk and denies the inherent value and dignity of the person with disability.

    There are some children whose disabilities are so severe that only in a specialised environment will they be given the chance to blossom and flourish. I had a parent say to me that she felt there were so many children’s psychological, emotional, educational and physical well-being sacrificed on the altar of “inclusion at all cost” because their needs were made subject to the ideology.

    Parents not ideologues are the best placed to choose the schooling which best meets the educational needs of all their children, whether disabled or not. They know their children and each child is different, some choose the Montessori method, others choose full-on mainstream. Why aren’t all schools whether sports high schools, music high schools or specialist schools for children with disability be recognised as part of the general education system? Why is there this snobbery that only the mainstream will do? If in the end our sons and daughters gain the skills and confidence to be able to be part of our community isn’t that enough?.

    One of the most poignant things I read was the submission of a young man with physical disabilities who was intellectually mainstream. His submission was to the an Inquiry into the Education of Students with Disabilities – he said that mainstream schooling for him was the most terrifying experience and harmful to his self-esteem and his psychological well being. His parents then enrolled him in a specialist high school (which is now closed) and he said that when he entered that place he felt a sense of calm, and quiet recognition that he felt that this is where he belonged. Things are slowly changing if only we could wave a magic wand and make everyone be accepting, kind and compassionate to each other – but that is not the case.

    I recall the Prime Minisiter of Australia Ms Gillard saying the bright students in the bright class at her school called the less bright students in the lowest ranked class “the veggie class” so if we are aiming for perfection — it’s a moving target and that too must be accepted.

    The ideal is what we work towards and we’ve been working towards this for neigh on 1500 years — with enormous set-backs but as long was we keep moving forward and not down the road of perdition – it has been said that ideology so often paves the wave towards atrocity-perspective and acceptance that’s what we need the rest we can work out between ourselves.

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  42. True in many respects but there must be a true educational pathway to successful inclusion with a 21st Century specialist and socially inclusive model like ours that does not fit into an antiquated view of a special school from the 1970′s – it is something very different. This is a sophisticated not simplistic issue… from our perspective it is all about meeting the needs of students who are blind or vision impaired to excel in their education and individual lives ahead of them

  43. Sheree

    i am a mum of a very severely disabled child – non verbal, sensory processing disorder etc who after 6 years of special education is now in his 5th year of mainstream. I understand the concerns that other parents have raised in their comments – that their children wil be bullied, have no friends and couldn’t possibly learn when taught the ordinary curriculum. I was worried about that too. And I also hear that some of you have had bad experiences. My experience has been that you can’t just turn up to a mainstream school and expect them to know exactly how to teach your child. But my sons school has learned how to include him. And some of the other students have also learned how to welcome him and be his friend. The teachers have learned to change the way they teach and to adapt the environment so he is learning. He has great role models around him – the other kids are also teaching him. His friends don’t have disabilities so they have the capacity to look out for him and keep him safe. They can also drive and take him out. None of these things could happen at a special school. Imagine if all those fabulous teachers tucked away in special schools were found in mainstream schools. We would have more choice where we could send our kids. To those parents who are considering mainstream be brave, believe that your local mainstream school can be welcoming if given the right support, give the school time to learn and be supportive. Your child will have more chance of leaving with social connections that will help them in the future and your child will have been a great teacher of all the other students on how to be an inclusive person.

  44. Kathy

    I think its important to mention that this is NOT captioned so it is NOT accessible to millions of deaf and hard of hearing adults and children.

    Which is exactly why we need “special” services…..because if a talk can not be accessible from a presenter who is supposed to be an expert on disabilities, then how can we ever expect the rest of the world to understand.

    As many have mentioned, one needs to focus on the individual needs of the child- that why its called an IEP- Individualized Educational Plan. And for some children, a mainstreamed education IS a more restrictive educational setting than a special school.

    As a deaf person fluent in American Sign Language, I have memories of being excluded/marginalized during my “mainstreamed” education. It was not until I attended a deaf college with American Sign Language using peers and teachers that I was able to truly flourish both academically and socially.

  45. The first statement to me after the Dr. diagnosed my daughter with hearing loss, is don’t worry, there are special schools for her. There were, Chapin and Brown. That is my idea of special…

  46. RkR

    I hate it when people want to throw all of us with disabilities under one label. WE are NOT the same, and this goes for children too. Disability is very individual and there are many different needs based on that. No two children are alike. Some children are able to go to a regular school and others need more services and a public school may not be able to provide. They need to be in a place that specializes to those needs. There is nothing wrong with saying special needs when a child has those specific special needs that must be met for their benefit. A healthy mix is very important. Doing normal regular everyday activities is important such as being out in the community. participating in regular activities, going to a restaurant, a movie, the park, grocery shopping, heading to the mall etc. Taking them to a regular prom or show is great, along with taking them to a show or prom designed for them is also a good way to mix up social interactions. My nephew went to a special needs school when he was young. Finally in 9th grade he went to a regular high school. He also had his own personal aide and attended classes just like everyone else. There was 2 hours set aside for him and his aide to do specialized training. He went to the high school prom and enjoyed it, and went to a second prom for teens with disabilities. He enjoyed BOTH. He had a healthy mix of both which still occurs today now that he is in his early twenties. I have seen where parents tried to mainstream their child thinking it would be better and it turned out to be a disaster for the child. Many schools will work with families and design a program for the child so they can benefit. Others may not be able to due to the required needs that must be met. I myself went to a regular school, and I had two hours of pt everyday designed to meet my disability and other needs. My parents were very happy with the balance and this was back in the 80′s! I think it ultimately depends on where you live and what is available in your area. Also, having a good support systems in place is essential! The school has to learn how to include your child. Nobody comes with instructions on how to teach them. It might take time to figure out what works best for the individual to meet those needs. For some segregation (special schools for children with disabilities) is needed before inclusion can happen. These skills take time to learn and process depending on the individual. During that so called segregation is learning coping skills, encouragement, training, socialization, dealing many issues, and so much more goes into it. A public school would not be able to provide that which is why these places exist. For many it does not happen over night and it takes time and work. You can not throw every special needs child into a public school just because. It does not work that way for many. You have to have a plan, support system, and this is all based around that child’s specific needs, and most important how to meet those needs.

    • Lisa

      As a mother of two boys on the Autism Spectrum, I would like to thank you for your well written thoughts. You expressed everything so well and I agree 100% with you.
      Thank you!!!

    • Lori

      YES! Well said. With people arguing on both sides I sometimes feel alone being in the middle, and being a teacher that works with students on all sides of this spectrum of need. Thank you!

  47. Keith Doane

    First of all… The idea of inclusion is good. But it doesnt mean that one classroom fit all. The PL-94-142 law with its Least Restrictive Environment section is excruciatingly restrictive to the Deaf students.

    Being separate with a completely different kind of communication modality is necessary to the well-being of deaf students. If one student have an ASL interpreter for every class she or he go, it is great only for the instruction part. However, the classroom experience is not applied to the instruction only. Hearing kids don’t talk with deaf student when an interpreter is with this deaf kid by natural choice.

    Deaf school or programs with a critical mass is as important as any other students in a regular classroom. Self-esteem, social skills, special friends in formation, and all other experiences that we all have experienced is more important than the idea of “inclusion”

    Even more, I couldn’t watch this video on this website page because it have no closed caption or subtitle… Inclusion works? It is how we, Deaf people, experience this kind of exclusion everyday. This woman apparently did not walk the shoes of disabled people.

    That is my and my friends’ experience. Inclusion- Whos own the inclusion idea?

    • Gabriella Feltrin

      Hi Keith thank you for making your comment. I really liked the final question you posed – who owns the Inclusion idea. Inclusion is one of those words that defy constraints. You can make inclusion as inclusive as YOU want it is a strictly subjective premise. That is why it has been used so liberally by those who have the power to say yes or no to whatever specialised assistance you might need. Best wishes

  48. Lori

    I think that most kids who attend the “Special Needs Proms” ALSO attend their regular proms, if they even attend a public school! They get to go to two proms! Also, students with exceptional needs are also able to serve as “mentors” when appropriate to other students with exceptional needs!

  49. My daughter is 27 years old, Autistic and mentally delayed. If you do not have a child with “disabilities” or “Special Needs”, then please don’t judge any of the fine schools and organizations that do their work on behalf of these children and adults. It’s a tough life and I find heroes every day. I have coached “Anything Goes” Baseball for 15 years and I treat them the same as I would any player and they have a blast. My wife, Sharon and I made a film called “Special Needs”. It’s a love story about a young man that falls in love with a young lady that will ultimately care for her Autistic brother and he doesn’t know if he can handle it. The tag line for our film is, “We all have needs, some are just more special than others.” So yes, we all have issues. I applaud any school, group or institution that offers guidance and help to those of us with “Angels” in our lives. I believe the word you are looking for is “divisiveness”. It is all around us in society; race, religion, social class, disabled, special needs and on and on. Do we need labels, probably not, but I believe they are more a diagnosis than a label, and only seem bad to those on the outside looking in. I know who my daughter is and if telling someone she is Autistic or Special Needs is necessary, I will. She doesn’t care one way or the other and has fun regardless if it’s a “Special Needs Rodeo”, “Special Prom” or a “Caring Santa”. So please don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back for preaching what has been preached over and over again for years. There are so many social levels and so much bureaucracy that parents must encounter to not only protect our children, but try to give them a wonderful, fulfilling life; at a cost to us that we gladly pay with each passing day. Life is short and we do the best we can. If you or any of your followers, without “special needs” children or adults, really want to do something for us and our children, ask “typical” children and adults to just go visit the people in their neighborhood with special needs. Take them out for an ice cream cone, take them to a movie, go outside and play, read a book, listen to music, go swimming, walk their dog with them, take them out to eat or there’s always that tough one… just talk to them a while. Be a friend when nobody’s watching. You see, it’s not our “community” that has any issues, it’s yours. All you have to do is just follow “The Golden Rule,” Luke 6:31 records Jesus saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Peace and God Bless.

    • Gabriella Feltrin

      Hi Scott

      Walking in the shoes you know where they pinch and how far you can walk before you have to sit down; and if they really hurt it’s hard to keep the pain off your face.

      You speak from the lived experience of disability. There are some who would deny you your say because you do not have a disability so how would you know what it’s like? Yeah, for real that’s the vibe.

      I noticed a comment upthread that said we should hear from the people with disabilities themselves; and amen to that. But they are the people who can actually speak, engage with social media, participate in blogs, read and write, use email, telephone and the myriad means of communication. They can and should tell it like it is because they know their subject intimately because they live it. But what about the ones who can’t? Who speaks for them?

      My nephew is a great strapping lad, 25 years old. He enjoys life to the full but cannot speak, read, write, use email or social media etc… He has to be assisted in all aspects of his daily living and must be assisted to be physically present with his friends. And it is his parents who make that happen and give him every opportunity to live as full a life as can be squeezed in. My nephew attended a special school because that is where his educative needs would be met and he blossomed, just as my sibling expected he would.

      I for one am sick to the back teeth with the Inclusion Showpony, which is the one dolled up with the ribbons and walked around the arena, feted as the best and most wonderfulest. It should be horses for courses and people should respect the fact that all people with disabilities are not the same and that individual and personal needs should be met, not in an arrogant, ideological way but in an understanding accepting way –and in doing that is what embracing our diverse humanity really means.

  50. precy

    Inclusion is not for everyone, but I must admit most kids doesn’t need that. The main problem is the teachers who are incompetent in teaching the kids. My son has a mild ADHD. his problem basically is focusing but he’s a happy child and he’s teachable and very smart the way he’s reasoning. But the principal wants him to have a 1:1 because the teacher has 25 kids in the classroom and doesn’t have enough time to attend to him, to prompt him and give him cues. I said why not hire an ESP in the classroom so the teacher will have a helper? But they said they can’t budget wise so they want my son to have 1:1 so they can get a help, How ridiculous is that? Using my son just to get an ESP so that teacher will have a helper? So I think inclusion is not for him.

  51. Maria Cullen

    Its simple. Children with severe disabilities probably are better off attending a school adapted for them. Their life in a mainstream school may not be too pleasant. Lets face it – if your ears stick out – your at big risk of be bullied. Until you can sort the bullying problem out, I wouldn’t like to see vulnerable children entering mainstream secondary schools without a bodyguard!

    Children with mild disabilities. Inclusion. They don’t need “special” schools. It could be bad for them. Make them feel like they have real problems. Why not let them repeat a year or two if need be. They do it is Eire and USA. No problem or stigma. Lots of kids repeat years and its just what they need. I don’t like children thinking that they have “problems”. UK schools are too rigid and need to change to make school inclusive without the labels. Eg: Mary is repeating Year 6 because the teacher thought that she could use a little more time on some subjects. Instead of Mary has learning difficulties and maybe needs to go to a special school.

    Spend money on good teachers, small class sizes and repeat years.

    Do not have tables – Top, Middle and Bottom in primary school. Children aren’t stupid, they know what it is from an early age. Maybe have individual desks like years ago so children are mixed. Stop labelling! Start including!

    Child like behaviour can be found in children!

    Parents stop competing with other parents – this creates unnecessary pressure.

  52. Diana Arellano

    I agree with you 100%. People like you should go to all school districts and open the schools eyes. It is unfortunate that people are still naive in the sense that they want to segregate children with special needs and why because teachers now dont want to take an extra effort to do adaptation to their calssrooms. It is sad that we are in 2016 and we still see discrimination,. All children should be treated equal no matter what limitations one has. We shouldn’t limit them from learning in a least restricted environment everyone should be able to learn in a environment that is enriched and full with joy. I have a niece with down syndrome, i am a preschool teacher and i would hate for my niece to been seen as she is not capable of doing just what other children are doing. Please dont limit them….

  53. Marie Nellist

    This is not something that could be done in a vacuum. Many factors are at play here, type and severity of disability, tolerance to other people, etc. A blanket statement for inclusion in the classroom does not account for the myriad differences in disabilities. My brother has no tolerance for loud noises, he makes a lot of screeching noises that can lift the hair off your neck. I am all for inclusion but I am also a realist and considerate of others and don’t make it a habit of taking g my brother to places only to get him agitated and upset or upset other people. Common sense needs to be used when attempting inclusion. Lots of considerations to thonk about.

  54. Charmaigne Hanna-Baker

    A friend of mine send this to me thinking this was something i should read. I’ve read most of everyone’s comments. When i was a little girl in grade school, in the very back of our school , now we’re talking 1970′s here, there were bungalow’s. We knew they were there but no one ever went back there, or was curious, but that was where they separated us from other human beings who might have more of a challenge. Never did we have the same lunch time, nor did we have the same play ground time. Remember, kids only know what we adults tell them, or what we adults are talking about infront of them. Some of my best friends have challenges. That’s okay, i still treat them the same as me. I learn from them they teach me. As an adult i have two daughters. I teach them to have understanding ,and acceptance in their hearts. They went to a school that was half deaf and DHH, Autistic etc, parents and teachers got along fine, classes were not divided. We all learned together. We played together, we ate together , we had school plays and songs together. We are one nation under God. Dont be afraid to embrace, I’m here to tell you people, THESE , THIS SEE LIFE SKILLS, THESE ARE SOCIAL SKILLS.

  55. Gabriella Feltrin

    Marie I agree with your comment. I think “inclusion” has actually become “immersion” to some extent as if being physically present somewhere ‘includes’ you.

  56. Harry Pott

    I taught for a # of yrs at BCI in Brockville where we simply included all students into our classrooms. It was amazing to see the support that fellow students gave to those who needed it. I’m sure that this practice is also going on in other schools. Unfortunately BCI has taken a step back since I retired and not often students are excluded from regular classrooms…YES the principal does make a difference……SAD reality

  57. Keleeh

    My son has ASD . The idea of inclusion is a good one but more all too often the reality is classes that are overcrowded, understaffed, and teachers who don’t have special needs training or understanding of the disorder. I know there are wonderful, caring teachers out there but, as a parent, I can’t chose the best qualified most caring teacher to teach my child. It doesn’t work like that. My son has all kinds of sensory issues that make being in a regular class overwhelming to him. If you want to get into the head of a person with sensory issues. Youtube it. There are some good examples of sensory overload from a first person perspective. I tried putting him in regular group activities with other children but they were too fast paced or there was too much going on and he would have a melt down, tune out and start rocking. When it came time to enroll him in school I looked at the options (my son has high functioning autism) I checked out some public schools> I asked a lot of questions (I came with a notebook!) they couldn’t give me answers that made me feel comfortable enough to leave him in their care which is sad to say. Their inclusion policy was sketchy and their system underdeveloped in my opinion. I decided to enroll him in a homeschool charter and teach him myself. Actually, There is a whole team of people that are involved. As far as social interaction, we joined a homeschool group that gets together on a regular basis. There are typically developing kids and kids who need an alternate environment in the group.

    He is also in little league and gymnastics for kids with special needs. He is 6 years old. There is plenty of time to introduce him to the larger world. We work with a speech therapist, ABA therapist, occupational therapist, and he is learning academics that are aligned with the state standards but are multi sensory based. He doesn’t have an intellectual disability but his sensory challenges and speech issues make communicating his thoughts and learning new things more difficult. He’s my child and no public school could meet his needs better than me, his father, our team of professionals, and our homeschooling community. He is a happy kid!

  58. Theresa Dieriex

    My friends daughter had to basically fight to get her child to be able to go the prom and have an interpreter because she is hearing impaired…she ended up going but was then segregated in a corner when they decided there were too many students on the dance floor…
    Whereas with my daughter…in 2004 went to the prom not problem

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