As far back as 1993, Walsh wrote of her integration experiences in Australia at the beginning of her high school years in 1989 saying, “We were segregated by invisible barriers of human unkindness and immaturity” (p.245).
Students at this city school have also expressed their thoughts and feelings associated with inclusion practices and how these affected them. Below I highlight the experiences of one student. This account arose from my observations and conversations I had with the student, her peers and teachers. Conversations were confidential so the name of the student was changed, and some of the information was omitted.
JC was diagnosed and identified as having an intellectual disability when she was an infant. She began pre-kindergarten at a special school for students with intellectual disabilities and when she entered public school at age 8, she was placed in a self-contained classroom.
JC progressed through elementary and middle school in self-contained classes, and entered high school in a work-readiness program. After one year of high school in the self-contained, work-readiness program, JC was placed in an inclusion setting.
Prior to this, she had all of her classes on the first floor. Now her schedule required her to go to the third and fifth floors. She was confused and wondered why she was being sent away to another part of the school. She reported being scared when she had to venture out into the other parts of the building that she had never seen before.
She became lost on several occasions and was laughed at when she entered the classroom long after classes had begun. She reported being teased and bullied because of her disability. When she informed the teacher, he ignored her or told the offending students to do their work. When these events occurred, she came to my classroom crying, always promising never to return to that class.
JC had no prior indication that she would be in an inclusion class; in fact, she had no idea what an inclusion class was. When I had the chance to observe her, JC was seated near the back of the class observing everyone as the lesson progressed. A student sitting behind her quietly made a comment, prompting JC to swivel around and shout at the offending student.
Seconds later, she was conversing with an imaginary friend, explaining why she never wanted to come to the class. This, I understood, took place whenever the teasing began and escalated to become a disruption. When she was asked to be quiet, JC stormed out of the classroom.
The teachers complained that they did not know how to handle her when she began “her scary conversations” and when she began to act out. After careful observations, we found that JC was displaying signs of schizophrenia and so her parents were called in and she was referred for psychiatric evaluation, which confirmed our suspicions.
JC was placed in inclusion without any education or training about what she should expect. Her regular education peers were not trained and did not know how to act or react and her teachers were at a loss on how to talk to JC. JC and her peers therefore acted and reacted negatively to each other, at times creating chaos in the classrooms.
Part 8 of the series examines how accommodations and modifications affect student experiences.
Walsh, B. (1993). How disabling any handicap is depends on the attitudes and actions of others: A student’s perspective. In R. Slee (Ed), Is there a desk with my name on it? The politics of integration (pp. 243-247). London: The Falmer Press.