All Children Have Special Needs

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When resources tighten, it is natural to want to look after the needs of those dearest to you first. Even if doing so means that others suffer. As a good friend wrote on one of his blog posts recently, Gandhi said, “If everyone cares enough and everyone shares enough, there will always be enough.”

I’d like to believe that Gandhi is correct, but my experience teaches me that humans are not, by nature, trusting of others. We don’t share very well or easily. We are self-centered. As a Psychologist Egoist might say, we are actually incapable of looking out for anyone else.  Adam Smith famously said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Their ideas are that humans behave most reliably when they are looking out for their own interests, when they are self-interested.

This idea doesn’t often sit well with students when I present it in class. We like to think that we often looking out for the best interest of others. In fact, looking out for the best interests of my child is looking out for the best interest of another. We see ourselves as a Gandhi rather than just another Smith. When I ask my students how they behave, they nearly always reply that they look out for others following Gandhi’s example. Yet, when I ask them how other people behave, they’re convinced that other people only look out for themselves.

Interesting isn’t it? We almost always think better of ourselves than we do others. (Which tends to support the idea that Adam Smith is right, I suppose.)

Well that’s enough philosophy for the moment. On to my point.

Resources are tightening in the Huntsville City School system, and people are starting to look after the needs of those dearest to them. Even if doing so means that others suffer.

On Thursday, March 17, 2011 at a Huntsville City School Board meeting, it came to light that there had been “talks” among Superintendent Dr. Ann Roy Moore, her staff, and the Alabama State Department of Education about what to do with the autistic students in the Huntsville City School system next year. There were “rumors” of a plan to move all of the autistic children in the school system to one school, specifically, the Academy for Academics and Arts. As Dr. Moore said, such a move was designed “to give the best services to our students that is possible.” Dr. Moore pointed out however that no decision had been made yet. You can read more about this meeting here. (Really. Go take a look. I’ll wait.)

I believe, along with numerous parents and children who attended the meeting, that this would be a bad idea. But that really isn’t why I’m writing.

I also have quite strong opinions about why our resources are tightening in the school system, but again, that really isn’t why I’m writing here.

I’m writing concerning the issue of inclusion that was raised in the article and specifically by some of those choosing to comment below the article.

Inclusion is the idea that whenever possible a child, in this case a child somewhere on the autism spectrum, benefits by being included in a non-autism classroom. The article refers to the two types of classrooms as “Special Education” classrooms and “Neuro-Typical” classrooms. In the comments, someone named, “woetoyou,” (ah, the joys of anonymity) asked why his “neuro-typical” child should be slowed down by the inclusion of a special needs student. Other brave posters named: “jabbajabba,” and “wareaglebuck” added their agreement to “woetoyou’s” concerns.

Yes, this is a ridiculously long introduction to my response to their concerns.

Why should inclusion matter to them? Since I don’t believe they’ll be convinced by Gandhi (or Jesus for that matter), let me try Smith. You should want your children included in my child’s classroom out of pure self-interest. You should want it because it is what is best for them.

  1. All children, every single one of them, are special, and as such have special needs. Allowing your neuro-typical children to be included in a classroom with my “special needs” child will allow your children’s specialness to be seen and addressed by a teacher who is trained to identify and meet the special needs of all children.
  2. If your children are included in my child’s classroom, your children will benefit from a lower student/teacher ratio.
  3. If your children are included in my child’s classroom, your children will be free to learn in an environment that is accepting of differences: even theirs.
  4. If your children are included in my child’s classroom, your children will be free to learn at their own pace. In the areas where they are strong, they will excel. In the areas where your children are weak, they will be aided. Some children instantly recognize a smile as a friendly greeting; others know how to solve advanced mathematical problems in their heads because numbers are simply alive to them. Being included helps all of our children learn from each other.
  5. My child knows how to learn even though his skin feels as though it’s covered with ants. Your children know how to catch a ball.
  6. My child knows how to walk without falling through a tsunami. Your children know how to make eye contact.
  7. My child knows perseverance, strength, dedication, love, and how to laugh even when the world is determined to break him. Your children will need all of these skills to survive in this world because, you know what, this world is determined to break them, too. I don’t want that to happen to your children; my son can help.

If we work together, you and I, all of our children can benefit from each other. I care. I’m willing to share. There will be enough.

Having Fun at School


On Thursday, March 24, 2011 there will be a Making Connections Autism Spectrum Disorder Networking Group meeting from 11:00am – 1:00pm at Faith Presbyterian Church (Corner of Whitesburg and Airport Rd) to help answer questions concerning Individual Education Plans (IEPs), mitigation, etc. As the best approach to fighting against the segregation of our children is to make sure that the IEP requires inclusion, this should be a useful meeting to attend. Representatives from the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) will be present to answer questions and help guide parents through the IEP process.

The next Huntsville City Board Meeting will be held on Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 200 White Street.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. Russell, I pray that the “exclusion” does not come to pass. Even though my son will not be affected by it this year or next, who knows what the future will hold for a child as he grows & develops. I do know that having had the option of a “special ed” classroom when things overwhelmed him and the care of an aide to guide him through the “dance” that is living like an “empath-typical” has made a WORLD of difference for MLB & his peers.

    (I’ve decided that I dislike the term “neuro-typical.” MLB’s neurons are very typical for who he is; just not typical for someone whose sensitivities react in an empathetically emotionally way.)

    I know inclusion does work; I have seen it work for MLB. I have seen it work for his classmate “H” who was diagnosed late last year– who is so mild that without an in-class comparison, it might have been missed. I have seen it work for “J” who, to his mom’s delight, went from spending almost all of a kindergarten day in Niki’s classroom to spending almost all of his 1st grade day with his grade peers. I even see it working for a boy who’s parents WILL NOT have him diagnosed, for fear of “labeling” him– even though he’s not officially on the spectrum, because he’s in class with those who are and the teachers are trained to help, he is not being held back or judged. If there was no inclusion, he would be fated to be diagnosed simply because he does not fit in.

    In a town where you can’t toss an acorn without hitting someone (child or adult) on the spectrum– in a town where the very talents, logics and environmental-sensitivities are valued by employers– the idea of excluding the most severe on the spectrum before they even have a chance to grow, develop and trust, that idea is absurd. Especially in an meager effort to balance a budget that this is only a small portion.

    Using my little voice, I’ll try to do what I can, too,

  2. LizzieV: We’ve seen it work for M, too. We noticed HUGE leaps last year when he was included in pre-school. It changed everything for us. And if I may be so bold to speak for others in the classroom, those children not on the spectrum benefited tremendously as well. The other kids learned how to work and play with children who didn’t communicate verbally, but DID communicate. I suspect that they will reap the benefits from being in that pre-school for the rest of their lives (especially with the wonderful teacher and aids that they all had)!

    What single skill is more important than communication? Everything else–math, science, reading, history, philosophy, you name it–can be learned on one’s own. All of those areas of study are important, but communication is the bedrock of them all. Nothing else is as important. And learning to communicate across barriers will, frankly, bring hope to the world.

    I like your “empath-typical” label much more than the neuro-typical one. I’ll adopt it (in as much as I use labels at all: I usually try to avoid them).

    I agree with your assessment of the issue. The superintendent and the board are looking for scape-goats to take the blame for their mismanagement. Together, all of our little voices will find a way to be heard.

  3. Wonderfully put. As an educator with a passion for what is developmentally appropriate for each individual in my classroom, I completely agree that EVERY child, nay EVERY PERSON, has special needs. It is our privilege as adults to guide and protect the rights and needs of every child, and our challenge as a community to accept those who are themselves delayed in their ability to love and accept others (and likely themselves as well).

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