Sienna is 2 years old and the differences between her and her typically developing peers are not obvious. She may not be walking, but from a developmental perspective, there isn’t much of a gap, yet. I have no doubt it will become more obvious over time, but I envision her future surrounded by friends of all abilities, much like it is now. We are blessed to have so many friends and family members that embrace Sienna for everything that makes her Sienna. I love watching her play with other children. I wish we could all be more like them. They are so accepting. If they have a question, they ask it. I love their honesty and purity.
Our goal for Sienna is to educate her in a mainstream setting with her peers. When I say peers, I mean other children. In my opinion, separate is never equal. Separate is separate. Equal is equal.
Children with Down syndrome are frequently asked to attend segregated programs for students with disabilities. More than 40 years after the federal government guaranteed the right of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, more than half of students who are classified as having an intellectual disability (typically the official special education designation for students with Down syndrome), are educated in classrooms segregated from their typically developing peers.
School officials often claim that attending a specialized school is in the student’s best interest.
Research suggests that this is not true. In fact, there is clear and consistent evidence that inclusive educational settings can offer benefits for students with and without disabilities. These inclusion-related differences can be substantial, with one study reporting that included students were approximately two and a half years ahead of their segregated peers on measures of expressive language and more than three years ahead in reading, writing, and literacy skills. In addition, included students with intellectual disabilities were nearly twice as likely as their non-included peers to enroll in some form of post-secondary education.
There is also evidence that participating in inclusive settings can yield social and emotional benefits for students with disabilities. Such social and emotional benefits can include forming and maintaining positive peer relationships, which have important implications for a child’s learning and psychological development.
Despite the clear evidence of the benefits of inclusive educational placements for students with Down syndrome, it’s possible that some parents may fear that inclusion will impede the development of their typically developing children. Again, research suggests otherwise.
In fact, in some cases inclusion may bolster the social and emotional development of typically developing students. One research study suggested that middle school students attending inclusive schools demonstrated less prejudiced, patronizing, or pitying behaviors toward students with Down syndrome. Another research study found that students who are educated in inclusive classrooms have more friendships and higher levels of peer acceptance than similar students in non-inclusive classrooms.
Sienna has the right to an inclusive environment. It’s what is best for her future, and moreover there are benefits to her typically developing peers. Don’t we want a world that fosters patience, love, and understanding?
My inspirational quote today comes from one of my favorites, Mr. Rogers.
“Love is at the root at everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.” -Fred Rogers