Why Inclusion-Based Programs Work
I teach kids in a high school setting. It’s an inclusion-based program, so they’re out and about in the regular school community. But my students have a lot of behavioral and social challenges where they don’t fit in, they don’t know how to make friends, whether it’s due to having high-functioning autism, or they lack social skills. Some of them have real severe ADD. Some of them have behavior disorders. So they don’t quite fit in the mold of the typical high school student, and a lot of my students were very isolated—and were pretty sad, because they weren’t fitting in. They want to be high school kids and belong, just like anybody else.

We used to teach kids social skills in isolation, then release them into a school community—[with] their peers in the hallway, in the cafeteria, on the bus, where students either wouldn’t engage them at all or they would bully and pick on them. I started to develop the idea of educating peers about students with special needs, why they behave the way that they do; then developed a peer mentor program called “Circle of Friends,” where we educate a small group of students on how to specifically interact with kids who have odd or challenging [behaviors]—different from the normal run-of-the-mill behaviors.

We had a whole lot of success; our kids almost immediately were engaging in conversations. They would have a table to sit at at lunch, with other kids who’d be inviting them over. They’d be having conversations in the hallways and they were pretty excited. It was really great for the students who did not have the disabilities [too], because they realized, “Oh, we have a lot in common and they’re really not that different than us.” So they benefited just as much.

Another part of my job is to do collaboration with teachers in lead-out and professional development, to teach teachers how to interact appropriately with these kids, too. I wear a lot of different hats during the day in my current job.