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Inclusive Classrooms Versus Special Needs Classrooms: Which is Best for Your Child?

By Jenny Wise Like all parents, the parents of children with special needs are faced with their share of joys and challenges. One of the biggest questions to consider when raising a child with special needs is which education path to take. There are very polarized views in our society about how children with special needs should be educated. Of course, this is a deeply personal decision that deserves to be made by parents. It is a decision that should only be made after carefully considering what is best for their child’s unique needs and situation. While nobody can make the decision for you, there are some things you should consider to help ensure you make the best possible decision for your child. Perhaps the biggest questions parents struggle with: Would my child learn better from a specially trained instructor who specializes in special needs education or is it better to keep my child integrated with other students, including those who do not have special needs? One strong argument for placing your child in a special needs class is that the teachers of those classes have a strong professional background working with special needs students. This equips special needs teachers to better identify disabilities and to design custom-tailored learning curriculum for your child’s needs. Special needs classrooms also often have safe spaces specifically created to help children calm down during higher energy moments. However, some parents believe it is harmful to the special needs child to place them in their own separate learning environment. For many, it feels like segregation rather than equal education. As an alternative, inclusive learning environments are growing in popularity. In an inclusive learning environment, your child will be placed in a classroom with a variety of students (with or without special needs). Depending on your child’s needs, they may be able to excel in an inclusive environment, especially if they have the assistance of a trained service dog. And, of course, inclusive learning environments also always have trained special education teachers available in addition to a traditional regular education teacher. Unfortunately, not all cities have these inclusive classroom environments yet. Because inclusive education is still growing in popularity, even if you have inclusive classrooms locally, each classroom will vary greatly in methods, approaches, and the experiences of your child. Additionally, some schools only educate certain types of special needs students, such as those with mild disabilities. If your child has a moderate or more severe disability, there is a chance that he or she will still be placed in a separate special needs classroom - even in a so-called “inclusive” school. It also might be helpful to tour the school and meet potential instructors prior to making your final decision. Take note of classroom setup, the teacher’s background and experience level, and whether the classroom environment would be a good fit for your child. When it comes to children with special needs, a classroom with desks organized into small groups or “pods” can be a signal of an inclusive environment that allows abled and disabled students to work together in teams. It can feel overwhelming when you begin to take those first steps towards getting the proper education for your child with special needs. You don’t have to do it alone; there are support groups for families with special needs children, and the internet is full of helpful resources. With some research, some effort, and some soul-searching, you can find the best possible situation for your child.
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The Down Syndrome Research Foundation is proud and excited to introduce Wayne Leslie as our new Executive Director, effective October 23. Wayne will be DSRF’s third E.D., following in the footsteps of Dawn McKenna and DSRF founder Josephine Mills. Wayne comes to DSRF from BC Adaptive Snowsports where, as CEO, he led the development of a transformative new strategic plan focused on re-branding, fund development diversification, advocacy and increasing services for participants and volunteers. He also oversaw implementation of extensive fund development strategies to more than double the organization’s fundraising revenues. "It is a privilege to join DSRF and especially at a time of such meaningful change and renewed promise,” says Wayne. “It is clear that among the organization’s many strengths are a very dedicated and talented team. I am confident we'll do amazing things together and with the knowledge that what we do now will benefit individuals and families for a lifetime." If you’re in the Lower Mainland, watch for details on a “Meet the New E.D.” event in the next few months and plan to join us. Please join us in welcoming Wayne to the DSRF family. The Down Syndrome Research Foundation, based in Burnaby and active throughout the Lower Mainland, empowers individuals with Down syndrome to reach their full potential throughout life by pioneering and providing educational programs and services, grounded in foundational research. Working with researchers, professionals and families, DSRF is a bridge between research and practice. DSRF offers programs for individuals with Down syndrome from birth through early adulthood.
Everyday, Mary Ann Saunders faces multiple health challenges that anyone would find difficult to manage. Mary Ann has been diabetic since she the age of four, has Chron’s disease and suffers from anxiety. These health challenges may limit her ability to live independently at this time, but they do not stop her from enthusiastically organizing and participating in a very active community-based life. For these reasons and more, Mary Ann is the winner of the 2017 George Klukas Achievement Award for improvement and success over the past year.   Mary Ann is a Special Olympian - and a highly decorated one at that, having won five medals (gold, silver and bronze) at the recent BC Special Olympic Summer Games. In addition, she performed the lead role in a musical theatre production, and volunteers at the seniors’ lunch at her local community centre. If that isn’t enough, she is also an active participant in a variety of community programs throughout the week.   Mary Ann has completed many DSRF programs through the years, including Reading and Communication Plus, Social Communication and Navigation, Money Math and Budgeting, and Summer School. Over the past year in particular, Mary Ann has made great strides in her communication abilities, self-confidence and determination.   The academic and social skills developed and honed through her hard work at DSRF have increased her confidence to go out and thrive in her community, where she serves as a shining example of all that individuals with Down syndrome can accomplish and contribute.   There are many ways to measure achievement, but Mary Ann truly has succeeded in achieving a very balanced, meaningful and inclusive life.   The George Klukas Achievement Award was established 12 years ago in honour of George Klukas, DSRF’s longest serving Board member and a steadfast supporter of individuals with Down syndrome. The award was created to acknowledge personal growth in a young adult with Down syndrome, and is open to current and former students of the Down Syndrome Research Foundation.
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Down Syndrome Research Foundation
1409 Sperling Avenue, Burnaby
British Columbia, Canada
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