Letters to the Editor

CLASS ACT

To the Editor:
Congratulations on an excellent article on autism and inclusion ("Guess Who's Coming to Math Class?" RFT, April 14). The reporting was fair and thorough. It is refreshing to see the truth told about both the complex disability of autism and the even more complex maze of educational "opportunities" (or lack thereof). As an educator (I teach at Fontbonne College) and a parent of a child with autism, I applaud your efforts. Please considerfollow-up articles on applied behavior analysis and the profoundly positive results it's having for many of our children (including my son) -- and how DESE and school districts across Missouri are working to undermine this option for families. It's an article that could make a real difference for many children.

Deanna Jent, Ph.D.

To the Editor:
Kudos to Jeannette Batz on an excellent article on inclusion. My son attends Reed School with Daniel Droste, and I will admit that at first I was worried about the effect his inclusion would have upon the classroom. After several instances where I have observed Daniel and his interaction during the school day (I am one of the lucky fathers who has a job and employer who allow me to spend some time helping at my son's school), my worries have disappeared. I do think that it is essential to have an aide with the student, so as not to place an additional burden upon an already busy teacher, and some autistic children should probably not be placed in a regular classroom. It seems to me that it is very important to try and include these children as early as possible so as to determine the level of inclusion. I am also a taxpayer who recognizes that these types of programs can be costly. My retort would be, "But isn't it more costly in the long run not to try and move these children to become a more productive member of society?" Finally, my hat goes off to Daniel's parents for trying to get the best for their child and Mrs. Carl at Reed for taking on the challenge of teaching all the children in her class, autistic or not.

Doyt Ladd

To the Editor:
Thank you.
It is a relief to read an in-depth, researched article about the state of inclusion in Missouri. I also have a son with autism, and he is learning with the help of a 35-hour-a-week ABA home program and four half-days of early-childhood education in the Fox district. We hope that when he reaches kindergarten age he will be fully included because he has reached age level in all areas because of his ABA program. But, regardless of his or any other children's progress or diagnosis, why must we worry whether our child can go to kindergarten with the rest of the kids? All children belong in school together, just as all adults belong in our communities.

Gayle Bennett and the author of the article said it best: "The kids are doing inclusion already." It's the adults that are scared and hesitant. The parents featured in the article are forging new ground by making sure their kids get what everyone else's kids get without asking: a seat in a regular classroom -- all day long. Of course, the child with the disability benefits immensely from acceptance, peer models, high expectations, a continuing relationship with people from his neighborhood and a challenging environment. But what about the other kids in the class; what are their benefits? They are learning, along with their classmates with disabilities, values of respect, responsibility, caring, fairness and citizenship.

Why are all our schools divided into gifted programs, learning-disabled programs, autism programs, special reading groups and the dreaded behavior-disorder programs? Won't our children learn more from one another and from positive role models if they are taught together? The students have so much to teach each other, and we do them a disservice by separating them. Effective teaching for kids with disabilities is very much the same as effective teaching for all kids. We just have to change the systems, help the teachers by letting special-ed teachers, regular-classroom teachers and support staff work together to bring about a creative and meaningful way to teach all these kids in one classroom. We need to show our schools some successful models of inclusion that have been proven successful in other areas of the country. Studies have shown that full inclusion benefits all the students.

I want my children -- all of them -- to know that the world they live in is totally inclusive. People with disabilities don't belong in separate schools, classrooms, places to live or workplaces, just as any of us would not like to be limited in our choices. No one tells us that if you wear glasses, you have to live in a house with three other glass-wearers and work at a certain place that employs people with glasses. That outdated system of separation is not fair for anyone.

Lucky for us the children of today who "already do inclusion" will be the employers and neighbors of our children tomorrow. Everyone will benefit.

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