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To Teachers Who Worry That My Brother Is in Their Class

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Jacob's photo .jpg

We welcome high school sophomore Jacob Lewis back as a guest blogger. Today he writes about his younger brother, and the teachers who are worried about having him in their class. 

I am very protective of my little brother. I have autism and he does too, along with ADHD. He's  a lot younger--I  am a sophomore in high school and he's entering the second grade. He's  getting to the age where I started to really have problems in school and that makes me even more protective.

I've written about it before, but at his age, I really struggled with teachers and peers  understanding that my issues were centered around understanding and communication and not just "behaviors." I had a hard time keeping friends for a lot of the same reasons.

Recently my mother--an advocate and education writer--wrote an open letter to parents concerned about my brother being in their child's class. What really stuck with me were the reactions to the letter. I kind of expected that parents would say that their worry is the kids like "that" are violent or disruptive to the class, but I was sad to see teachers express similar sentiments.

People who don't know  my brother made assumptions based on solely their experiences with inclusion. I expected that from parents, but I guess some teachers don't believe in inclusion either.  

My brother is not violent, intentionally disruptive or rude. He is inquisitive and energetic and incredibly eager to learn. He only sees good in everyone around him and believes that people only have honest intentions. He gets loud and fidgety when he's excited, but he has supports in place to help him while ensuring that everyone else in the classroom can learn.

He reminds me of myself when I was his age and that's why I'm so protective of him. I know how he feels because I was once him, except with fewer services in place to help me and my teachers.

A lot of people assume kids with disabilities are all the same. They often see us as intentionally disruptive, rude and a  hindrance to other kids' learning. Unfortunately, this puts us in a box we have to work hard to get out of.

We are just as diverse as the rest of your children or your students, and in many cases, we are your child or your student. I am not sure why people have the idea that we are like this because out of all the classmates I've ever had that have disabilities, I can only recall one or two who were highly disruptive. Of course, I don't know their whole story.

To teachers and administrators who are apprehensive about or don't have much experience with inclusive classrooms, I want you to understand that inclusive classrooms benefit all students, not just kids with disabilities.

For about a year, I was in a self-contained special education classroom, and while I learned a lot during that time, it was discouraging for me to know that just beyond the walls of that classroom there were so many of my peers I didn't get to know.

When I did begin my transition into the general education classroom, I had an amazing teacher, Mrs. Ingalls, who helped me through it and managed my needs along with the rest of her students.  I still felt isolated, but she made me feel more welcome. Not only that, but she helped other students to understand that the kids in the special education classroom weren't so different than them.

I wasn't disruptive or violent; I just operated differently. The supports I had helped not just me, but everyone in that classroom. I didn't hide the fact that I did need help with certain things.  But I also helped my classmates with things they didn't have as fine as grasp on as I did, probably because I focused on that topic more intently. Having as many viewpoints in a classroom as possible is beneficial to all the people involved. Mrs. Ingalls' inclusion classroom was a community that worked together.

Teachers, don't be worried that students like me or my brother will be a burden or take away from the rest of the class. And please don't let the parents of other students believe that.

We are just as focused on learning as everyone else and we want to understand each other better. Introducing anyone new to a situation can provide certain difficulties, but with supportive parents, teachers and administrators, it makes it so all the students can learn.

Maybe together we can focus on making that clearer. I can talk about why I'm so protective of my brother and explain my experience. You can talk to parents about the benefits of inclusive classrooms and show the positive impact it has on their child as well as the their classmates with disabilities.

It's important to create and foster a community where students with special needs are comfortable--and where parents like my mother don't have to worry about what's being said about their kid.

Photo by Jacob Lewis

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools.  Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email. 

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