As a teacher you have already heard about the importance of inclusive education and accessibility, and you probably know how challenging it can be.  Educational systems can sometimes, unintentionally, present some barriers to learning or assessment that might affect some students more than others. It can result in students being unfairly disadvantaged. That’s why inclusive education is not an exhausted topic. It is essential for us to consider that it is a permanent question and object of research in many areas of knowledge.

Personally speaking, I freeze when a manager tells me I am going to have a student with special needs in my class. I often think I will fail and this is why I decided to give this issue some attention. I decided to focus my research on dyslexia, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder, because these disorders and disabilities are the ones I usually deal with in the classroom.

Let’s start this article, then, checking if we really know what inclusive education is: a conception of contemporary teaching that brings about the right of education to every student. It presupposes equality of opportunity and appreciation of human differences, taking into consideration the ethnic, physical, social, cultural, intellectual, sensory and gender diversity.

The school environment is the public space where we learn to participate in social life.  Education is a social process in which we participate as we make a choice between different values and goals. From a multicultural perspective, the school can enable students to recognize difference, respect and diversity.

The critical pursuit of the appreciation of cultural plurality is urgent, so that it is included in all actions of the school, working towards the formation of identities which are open to diversity in a perspective of education for citizenship, ethics in interpersonal relations, and criticism of social and cultural inequalities.

If teaching and adapting tasks and classroom management for students with special needs is challenging, dealing with their misbehavior or bullying can be even harder, as you don’t know which actions can be more effective. The advantage of an inclusive learning environment is that it plans on the varied needs of students and aims to enforce that all students have equal access to educational opportunities.

These five principles can help teachers to think of inclusive education: (adapted from https://diversa.org.br)
 
1. Everyone has the right of access to education
2. Every person learns
3. The learning process of each person is unique
4. Living in the common school environment benefits everyone
5. Inclusive education concerns everyone

Children with special needs tend to either be pampered or neglected. When pampering them, teachers can be underestimating the children’s strength and using their condition as a justification for low expectations. They can also be neglected because teachers are so afraid, uninformed and discouraged that they give up and happen to neglect these children emotionally. It may cause children to feel inadequate. It is very important to understand your student’s uniqueness. Get to know their likes and dislikes; appreciate their temperament; recognize their strengths and learning challenges. Teachers can find out something that child can do and give them some opportunities to share their expertise, making them feel successful.  Eliminating all expectations of perfection is also important, building a connection and a relationship that involves care and trust.

According to https://blogs.shu.ac.uk, a British website about Inclusive Practice, the following tools are essential:
 
Being Flexible – open to change and versatile
Being Equitable – ensuring consistency and accessibility for all
Working Collaboratively – involving students and stakeholders
Supporting Personalisation – recognising that successful learning and teaching is governed by personal difference
Embracing Diversity – creating opportunities to develop awareness of diversity and global issues  
Being Flexible – open to change and versatile
Being Equitable – ensuring consistency and accessibility for all
Working Collaboratively – involving students and stakeholders
Supporting Personalisation – recognising that successful learning and teaching is governed by personal difference
Embracing Diversity – creating opportunities to develop awareness of diversity and global issues

We know that young learners might have special educational needs if they present a learning disability that makes it more challenging for them to perform successfully at school than what it’s expected from children their age. If a young learner has special educational needs, they will probably need extra help organising themselves, behaving properly, understanding information or instructions, expressing themselves, making friends, reading or writing etc.

For supporting students with specific disabilities or learning differences, and building accessibility, studying and researching can be a lifelong task for teachers. With appropriate support and intervention, these children can achieve success in school. The link between prevention and support can help teachers identify strategies to be adopted in the classroom, aiming for a more effective inclusion and becoming part of the individual support system, improving well-being, and a sense of belonging in the school environment.

It is important to consider some adaptations that suggest changes in programmatic content, methodological aspects and evaluation, recognizing the diversity in the school community and the need to respect and attend to this diversity.

Adaptations can be small, but still significant and easily performed by teachers in the planning of small adjustments within the context of the classroom. Tasks and management should focus on the organization and didactic-pedagogical procedures aimed at student participation and learning. Let’s have a look at some characteristics of the disorders and disabilities I have been researching: Dyslexia, ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, and suggestions of actions that might be effective:

Dislexya

Characteristics

  • Trouble learning to read.
  • Affects a child’s ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds in language.
  • Kids with dyslexia have a hard time decoding new words, or breaking them down into manageable chunks they can then sound out.

Suggestions

  • Sit the student near the teacher.
  • Teach individually or in small groups whenever possible.
  • Encourage the student to repeat the given instructions.
  • Give more time to do the tasks.
  • Avoid noisier or distracting places.
  • Do not correct mistakes excessively, but rather value the correct answers whenever possible.
  • Explore all the senses in learning

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Characteristics

  • Not understanding expectations
  • Reaction to new routine / stress
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of different perspectives
  • Sensory disorder
  • Needs longer to process information
  • Lacks organization and planning skills
  • Struggles with background noise
  • Lacks social interaction and communication skills

Suggestions

  • Be clear and consistent.
  • Visual cues, videos and “drama practice” can help.
  • Keep the instructions short.
  • Say that a behavior is inappropriate.
  • Keep a routine in the class; prepare the child for any changes – advise them well in advance so they can get used to the new idea.
  • Visual stimuli.
  • Simplify instructions.

ADHD -Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Characteristics

  • Inattention: Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities. Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  • Hyperactivity
  • Inability to control impulses.
  • Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork.
  • Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties on time.
  • Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.
  • Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort.
  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.
  • Can’t seem to sit still.

Suggestions

  • Tasks should be compatible with their abilities so that they do not accumulate losses.
  • Place the student close to the teacher.
  • Avoid places with many stimuli.
  • Allow movement.
  • Provide visual reminders.
  • Increase active participation in the class.
  • Keep Calm. Do not react aggressively to the child’s bad behavior

All children have the basic needs of belonging and feeling significant. They come in all types, with different learning styles, background, and interests. It might seem challenging to cope with varying abilities, but that’s the best way to see children make progress, however they don’t always behave in the way we expect. It’s important to bear in mind that children progress at different rates and have different ways in which they learn best. Choose suitable ways to help all children learn, thinking of inclusive practices. Remember that, only specialists or doctors are the ones to diagnose learning problems or disabilities. Just because a child is making slower progress than you expected or they need different support or extra help in class, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this child has special educational needs. Evidence shows that children with special needs respond better to positive approaches. Then, I invite you to reflect upon inclusive education as a management tool in order to guarantee the access, the participation and the learning of all, without exception, building an environment of harmony, where children understand their own behavior, take initiative and get responsibility for their choices.

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