My son, Paul, has already started his journey with inclusive schooling. There is a local pre-K for 2-year-olds Paul attends where he has been completely embraced. If Paul doesn’t have the muscle support to sit at a table, they bring the table to the ground and all the students sit with him. If Paul needs help with snacks, one of the adults feeds him. Paul tends to put nonfood objects in his mouth. They assured me this was not a reason to keep him from learning alongside his peers, and they created a schedule among their three teachers that would ensure Paul’s safety. He is thriving. His language is developing and his desire to walk and interact with others has coincided with his inclusive pre-K.
As an educator and the mother of a child with Down syndrome, I feel conflicted about what is best for my son. We live in Buffalo, New York, and while I firmly believe in inclusion, here inclusion is not done well. There is much resistance to it and there is a lack of basic understanding as to how it should be implemented. This often results in anxiety for the child and frustration for the teachers. Here in New York, children with Down syndrome often go to centers where other children with disabilities attend. Most pre-Ks and day care centers locally are not receptive to having a child with disabilities. Since most people cannot afford this, their children attend therapeutic centers covered by Early Intervention. This is certainly a sad state of affairs and is not setting up these children for inclusion upon entering kindergarten.
My take on the current situation in New York is that I must change it. I have been fortunate enough to have connected with Sara Jo Soldovieri, the manager of inclusive education policy and programming at the National Down Syndrome Society, who shares my vision and is doing all she can to create change within our local schools. My organization, 21_Connect, recently hosted a conference on creating and maintaining inclusive environments within our schools. Additionally, Sara Jo has offered her inclusion expertise with supporting the schools that were in attendance. Sara Jo has also presented conferences on inclusion to parents in the New York area and has worked tirelessly to create inclusive Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students. I feel, with the help of NDSS, my vision for system-wide change within the schools of New York can certainly become a reality.
Emily Mondschein, New York
Son Paul, 2