I read the Globe and Mail articles on Educating Grayson and Advocates for students with disabilities call on Ontario to stop school exclusions with great interest. CBC’s “Metro Morning” also hosted an interview with a mother of a student with Autistism who had been excluded and the reply by a school principal.
The families that we represent have been contacting us for the many years to express their frustration and anxiety over this very issue. Many students with neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders, including ADHD the most prevalent, who express their symptoms and impairments in ways that schools find challenging (usually what is labelled as behavioural) are being asked to attend school for less hours than their peers. Students with ADHD in Ontario have the additional challenge of not even being officially recognized as students with a disability and exceptional needs, unlike students with Autism, although many of the impairments are very similar.
Understandably students with these exceptional needs can be a challenge for schools, but it is often made more challenging by a lack of understanding about the disorders, lack of educator training on how to work with these children, lack of support, resources and unfortunately sometimes also the false belief that the behaviour of these students is a choice, rather than a result of a disability. What I and many parents have found makes the greatest difference are educators, teachers and principals, who “get it”. In other words, have training and insight, work with the families to figure out strategies and accommodations, and try to understand the student and their special needs, rather than being judgmental and punitive.
Many years ago when the Ministry of Education and the boards began speaking about inclusion and integrating children with exceptional needs into main stream classrooms, an advocate that we worked with, cautioned that inclusion without additional resources and support for educators and students alike was just a form of dumping students into the main stream – a recipe for disaster. For the past several years we have been seeing the result of this very process.
Over the many years that I have been working in this field I have seen many reports by Ministries and school boards on “education and learning for all”. When asked for my opinion, my comment would be that it was a very pretty document often backed by good intentions, but without the implementation of more education and training for educators coupled with more resources and support it is just a pipe dream.
Similar comments have been sent to both Metro Morning and the Globe and Mail.