With the right support, all schools can be ‘special’ and inclusive

It’s a choice that parents of a child with disability should not have to make. Should they prioritise education outcomes or the necessary disability support at school?

For me, my parents chose mainstream education. It wasn’t an easy decision. Some local schools wouldn’t even consider my enrolment. Those that would still had some reservations, usually along the lines of there’s a special school up the road, they’ll look after him.

My parents insisted. We persisted. Mainstream school it was.

The sceptics had a point. My parents had to fight for me to have adequate support for my physical disability. We forced my primary school to build an accessible toilet. My secondary school needed to build a new ramp so I could access the classrooms. Throughout all my years of schooling I had to justify the need for a one-on-one integration aide to assist me with scribing and motor skill tasks.

Was it worth all the effort?

If you asked me at the time, I would have gladly skipped school and played video games instead. And yet, I did learn. I learnt how to spell, write, to do maths, languages, chemistry and drama. More importantly, I learnt soft skills. I made friends, navigated social cliques, traded lunchbox snacks, was teased, teased others, took risks and learnt from them, avoided girls then later discovered they weren’t so bad after all.

My mainstream school also asked me two important questions: what do you want to do for a job and what do you want to study at university? I later realised that it wasn’t so much the answer to these questions that was important, but rather the fact that I was asked them at all.

You see, many people with disability who have been through the Special Developmental School system are not even asked these questions. Many people with disability say they didn’t even know that further education or employment in their chosen field could be an option. Expectations are set low.

Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) caused a stir with the gradual closure of Special Developmental Schools as the centrepiece of its. On social media the reaction was swift; Disabled kids would get bullied at mainstream schools! and Teachers struggle enough! were among the milder responses.

But concerns can be addressed with one thing: adequate support. If students with disability (and their teachers) receive the right type and amount of support, is there really any excuse not to include everyone in mainstream education?

Let’s raise our expectations.

Carl Thompson is an advocate for people with a disability.

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