The Essence of Inclusion

Image via Instagram/ThePlayProcess

​I almost cried reading Andrea’s story.

This page shines a light on the importance of inclusion. It reminds me of the movie Rain Man wherein “separating [people with exceptionalities] from the majority of the population [further] makes it difficult for both parties to understand each other” (Amigleo, 2016).

I love that “being confined to a wheelchair was not one of Katie’s outstanding characteristics for [Andrea]” (Eileen Allen, et al., 2015, p.16) due largely to her inclusive learning environment.

I believe that inclusive early childhood programs truly create a benchmark for quality early childhood education for all children. In making sure that the early learning environment is inclusive and supportive of children with all kinds of abilities, it provides quality care for each unique child who enters the program. It shows the children that everyone is capable and unique in their own ways, yet each has the same needs to be loved, accepted, and cared for.

References

Amigleo, C. (2016). Rain Man: A journey to acceptance and understanding. In The play process. Retrieved from https://theplayprocess.com/rain-man-media-review/

Eileen Allen, K., et al. (2015). Inclusion in early childhood programs: Children with exceptionalities, 6th Canadian ed. Toronto: Nelson Education Ltd

Rain Man: A Journey to Acceptance and Understanding

Rain Man (1988) is a story about a young man, named Charlie Babbitt, who discovers he has an older brother with autism. They travel on the road together for six days from Cincinnati to Los Angeles, during which time Charlie gains an understanding of his brother Raymond. In this journey, Rain Man portrays an autistic savant realistically and invites its viewers to see the world through the eyes of someone with autism. It explores the significance of labeling people with exceptionalities, the effects of biases and attitudes on one’s understanding, and the value of changing our ways instead of the ways of those with exceptionalities.

Rain Man approaches the issue of autism in society through Charlie’s journey from a lack of knowledge to understanding and acceptance. His discovery of an older brother is less than ideal as he grapples with his father’s death, who left him an old car and some rosebushes while “[someone who] doesn’t understand the concept of money” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:22:00) receives $3,000,000 in a trust fund. So, Charlie “kidnaps” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:27:01) Raymond in an attempt to get his half of his father’s estate that he is “entitled to” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:41:26). Throughout the movie, a couple of doctors in the movie explained Raymond’s situation. In particular, Dr. Bruner of Wallbrook, an institution for the developmentally disabled, says:

“He’s an autistic savant. . . . Some people like him used to be called idiot savants. They have certain deficiencies, certain abilities. . . . [He is] actually high functioning. . . . There’s a disability that impairs the sensory input and how it’s processed. . . . Raymond has a problem communicating and learning. He can’t even express himself or probably even understand his emotions in a traditional way. There are dangers everywhere for Raymond. Routines, rituals, that’s all he has to protect himself. . . . Any break from that [sic] routines and it’s terrifying.” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:20:33).

However, Charlie does not fully understand what this description entails until he spends several days with Raymond out of his comfort zone. This explanation from the beginning of the movie sets up Rain Man’s disability-related themes such as the portrayal of autism and the discrimination against people with this biological disorder.

Charlie continuously loses patience with Raymond’s peculiarities. He calls Raymond “stupid” and “retarded” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:20:26). Charlie’s use of language “reflect[s] and reinforce[s] [his] attitudes and perceptions” (Snow, 2002-06, p. 1) towards his brother. To Charlie, “[Raymond] was only [his] brother in name” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 02:01:22) and that he is essentially a means to an end. He takes for granted Dr. Bruner’s explanation of Raymond’s condition. Instead, Charlie focuses on the negative and takes Raymond’s only way “to protect himself” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:21:14) as an inconvenience. Thus, his attitude towards his new-found brother is one of apathy and indifference.

Although Charlie’s language and attitude towards Raymond “defines [his] perspective . . . [and] reveals [his] values” (Bruyns, 2016a), Rain Man also shows that this comes from his lack of knowledge on the subject matter due largely to living a life separate from Raymond. As the Babbitt brothers continue their journey across the country, so does Charlie move closer to an understanding of his brother. He argues during the psychological interview that he has “made a connection” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 02:01:47) with Raymond, which is mirrored in Raymond’s mention of Charlie as “[his] main man” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 02:06:19). In spite of this noticeable change in Raymond’s strict routine (with Vern being his original main man), there is no significant change in his attitudes and behaviour in the six days he has been away from Wallbrook. In contrast, viewers see the biggest change in Charlie: he learns to accept Raymond as his “family” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 02:00:07) regardless of his autism.

Charlie changes his ways and accommodates Raymond’s peculiarities as they travel and take several stops at various inns and hotels. For instance, he drives the Buick from Cincinnati to Los Angeles when Raymond becomes anxious about boarding any plane; he drives slowly on the shoulder of a highway behind his brother when Raymond refuses to get back in the car; and he rearranges the furniture in hotel rooms to replicate Raymond’s bedroom at Wallbrook (Johnson & Levinson, 1988). Throughout the journey, Charlie eventually views Raymond “as [a] full and equal [member] in society” (Bruyns, 2016b) and cultivates a sense of belonging for Raymond at every place they go. Charlie includes Raymond into the ‘outside world’.

This is such a stark contrast to what Raymond has presumably gone through in the years he lived at Wallbrook. Charlie comes to an understanding that his brother was sent there for both of their protection and for Raymond to “access activities/education” (Bruyns, 2016b) at his developmental level. Albeit helpful and responsive to Raymond’s needs, Wallbrook essentially separated Raymond from the ‘outside world’ since he was “placed only with other individuals with disabilities” (Bruyns, 2016b). This segregation has further affected Raymond’s already-different view of ‘reality’. As he journeys with his brother, Raymond faces obstacles to his routines, among others, of watching specific TV shows at particular times, and of eating specific food with particular ‘utensils’, i.e. toothpicks (Johnson & Levinson, 1988). Consequently, he cannot fully participate in society beyond Wallbrook’s boundaries.

Despite the wrong reasons that Charlie’s ‘kidnapping’ of Raymond begins with, the Babbitt brothers’ journey gives Raymond an opportunity to experience inclusion and to feel a sense of belonging. Simultaneously, Charlie goes through a journey of understanding and acceptance of his brother, his brother’s autism, and his overall family situation. Through Charlie, Rain Man portrays a society that does not know or understand disabilities and exceptionalities. I realize that separating these individuals from the majority of the population makes it difficult for both parties to understand each other. Because in an attempt to understand the unknown, society labels individuals with exceptionalities and shuns them without fully comprehending how similar they actually are with everyone else. Additionally, when such segregation is broken and someone from one group becomes immersed in the world of the other, there is a type of culture shock that brings fear and uncertainty. In turn, this leads to discrimination, resistance, and antagonism. Rain Man shows this scenario in a microcosmic scale, focusing on Charlie who feels shocked at the discovery of an older brother he has never known.

Therefore, as an educator, my first step in supporting inclusion is to educate myself about the philosophy of inclusion and everything that it entails, including critical thinking and self-reflection. This gives me a better understanding of my own attitudes and beliefs and what I would need to do to change them, if necessary. In particular, self-reflection allows me to be more aware of my behaviour and the language I use. Accordingly, I think that it is important to have all children, families, and staff to be educated about inclusion and what it means to understand and accept individual differences. Inclusion education also provides us with tools in designing an environment that is inclusive and supportive of all.

Thus, my next step is to create a universally designed learning environment by applying the seven principles of universal design to support inclusion. An “equitable [and flexible] curriculum . . . designed to engage all students” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3) allows all types of learners to explore and investigate their curiosities at their own pace or with the help of their peers. This requires authentic observation, critical reflection, and careful planning on my part as I take into account the interests and the developmental levels of the children. Additionally, open communication with the centre staff gives us an opportunity to share ideas in creating such a curriculum that can be presented in multiple ways “that will most effectively reach [the children]” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3) and allows us to design the early learning environment that welcomes a “[variety of] physical and cognitive access by students” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3). This accessibility is extended to the organization of learning materials in the classroom so that there is an “appropriate level of student effort . . . that promotes comfort, addresses motivation, and encourages student engagement” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3). Furthermore, I intend to involve the children and their families in the planning processes to ensure that their voices are heard. In doing so, we can work together in creating a “success-oriented curriculum” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3) that is delivered in “simple and intuitive instruction” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pushgahi, 2006, p. 3). In creating a universally designed learning environment, I hope to go, with the children and the adults I work with, on a journey of understanding and acceptance of others we perceive to be different from us. I also hope that together we learn to make a connection with individuals with exceptionalities, just as Charlie made a connection with Raymond.

References

Conn-Powers, M., Cross, A. F., Traub, E. K, and Hutter-Pishgahi, L. (2006). The universal design of early education: moving forward for all children. Beyond the Journal: Young Children. Retrieved from www.journal.naeyc.org/about/permissions.asp

Bruyns, A. (2016a). People first language [Lecture]. Brampton, ON: Sheridan College.

Bruyns, A. (2016b). What is inclusion [Lecture]. Brampton, ON: Sheridan College.

Johnson, M. (Producer), & Levinson, B. (Director). (2008). Rain Man [Motion picture]. USA: United Artists.

Snow, K. (2002-06). The case against “special needs”. Retrieved from https://www.disabilityisnatural.com/special-needs.html

Reflective Task 1: The Insightful Teacher

What are my goals?

As a student, my goal is to successfully complete the Early Childhood Education diploma program in 2017. Then, I plan to get into the Bachelor of Early Childhood Leadership program by 2018 while working as a Registered Early Childhood Educator (RECE). I also intend to continue my studies into a post-graduate Child Life Specialist program in the next five years.

Whether I work as an RECE or as a Child Life Specialist, I aspire to make a difference in children’s lives and ensure that they feel valued, loved, and protected. I aim to inspire them and help them develop a passion for continuous learning so that they may grow to be successful in their own ways.

What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses?

Growing up, I have always felt left out and that I do not belong anywhere. As a result, I learned to be inclusive in any way I can with almost anyone with whom I work. My sensitivity to my own and to others’ feelings also helps me be more attuned to how I interact with others in a group. I do my best to ensure that nobody feels the way I do in most situations—alone and afraid. I think that this is my strength as an educator who will work with children who vary in skills, developmental level, understanding, behaviour, personalities, and appearances.

However, I find that one of my weaknesses is dealing with people with exceptionalities. I feel that no matter how much I want inclusion in my classroom, I cannot truly implement it because I feel afraid that what I do or say may only impact those around me in a negative way. I feel that no matter how much I try to understand someone’s exceptionalities, I still will not know how to behave in the right manner. Am I excluding them somehow? Am I helping too much? Too little? Is it wrong to ask questions? Is it more wrong to simply assume things?

What behaviours are acceptable to me and which ones are not?

Any behaviour that hurts somebody is unacceptable to me. It breaks my heart to see anyone feeling hurt physically or emotionally. I always feel that I have to do something to help them so that they may feel better, even if it is just a little bit. At the same time, I do not label the person whose behaviour hurt another as “bad”. I try to figure out why they acted in such a way and I do my best to understand them so that we can both find solutions to the root cause of the problem. This is because I feel that they may be hurting in some way, too, and I do not want them to continue feeling that way. I believe that when someone hurts another, it means that there is something going on in their lives that they do not know how to deal with in appropriate manners.

How do I engage the children in the learning process?

I intend to design learning experiences in such a way that interests the children so they may be more involved in the activities. I also welcome the challenge to make dull and/or difficult topics enjoyable and amusing for children to be more engaged in any learning opportunity that is available. I plan to apply ideas and concepts to the children’s lives so that they may appreciate the learning process and its significance in their worlds. Furthermore, I intend to let go of unrealistic expectations by being flexible and by following the children’s leads. I believe that this sets up a positive learning environment where the children are free to explore and to investigate their own curiosities and be more willing to participate in the learning process.

What are my values as a teacher?

As a teacher, I value trust, respect, open communication, open-mindedness, and empathy. I like having a beginner’s mind and giving everyone the benefit-of-the-doubt. I always try to see the good in people and believe that despite any flaws, they are capable, interesting, and have good hearts. I apply these in the classroom as I interact with children, trusting that they have the ability to be great and to do great things even at a very young age. I also believe that being empathetic and having an open communication with children and families foster strong relationships, as well as support their growth and development.

What should an early childhood classroom look like?

An early childhood classroom should be a positive space where children explore, investigate, and experience various learning opportunities without restrictions. It has a good amount of developmentally-appropriate materials that are organized in such a way that supports the children’s development. It is not spotless, but it is a clean and safe environment that is warm and welcoming. I envision it as an extension of the children’s homes where they feel they belong, are loved, and are emotionally safe.

Source of Questions:

Bruski, Nancy (2013). The insightful teacher: Reflective strategies to shape your early childhood classroom. Lewisville, NC: Gryphon House.