Luz Rivera hears her son exchange greetings with friends as she drops him off at school. It might seem typical, but for Luz, the medley of hellos is music to her ears.
Four years ago, she never would have dreamed her 3-year old, newly diagnosed with autism, would one day happily socialize with other children—much less be met with an entourage of second grade friends. But thanks in large part to the support of the Inclusion Collaborative, an agency that focuses on inclusion of children with special needs, 7-year-old Adrian now feels exactly that—included.
"Inclusion in his afterschool program has helped Adrian with his social skills," says Luz, who lives in San Jose. "With all the kids doing activities together, he is more accepted."
The IC is part of the Santa Clara Department of Education, but they assist anyone who calls. Manager Janice Battaglia started the pioneer agency five years ago, when her job as a principal for early start programs revealed the importance of inclusion in early childhood. Today, the IC provides both parents and people working with kids with special needs (ages birth to 22) with countless resources to ensure equal access.
"Our main purpose is to see that all children with special needs are included in every area of life, anything from education to community activities. Frankly, making sure they are not left out because of their disabilities," says Susan Larkin, a specialist for Inclusion Warm Line, a free support, information and referral service staffed by specialists who are parents of children with special needs and former teachers with more than five years of experience.
"We have been in their shoes," says specialist Mouna Raad. "We have walked that journey. We can help them more meaningfully."
Through Warm Line, parents and educators may be provided with e-packets that address topics like behavior, friendship, adaptation, language, community inclusion, camps and more. Support coaches who observe a site and make recommendations on how to optimize inclusion can be assigned, and Ability Support Kits teeming with helpful hands-on activities, videos and books are provided. Warm Line specialists can also provide resources and referrals for training.
Laurie Nielsen, an inclusion training specialist, says IC trained about 3,000 teachers last year. Her job is to help the school district and other agencies get inclusion programs started and to provide teachers with training so that they can adhere to IDEA's guidelines. "The law says children are to be in a non-restricted environment so that they may have access to all aspects of education," Laurie explains.
Inclusion training can be brief or on-going, on site or via webinars (online seminars), depending on individually assessed needs. The IC also hosts large-scale training seminars open to all parents and educators.
"The Warm Line taught me to be a better advocate for my son," says Susan Sell.
Whether you're a parent with a question about behavior or an educator beginning to implement inclusion, Warm Line specialists are happy to help, direct, support, advise, recommend or refer—whatever you need to ensure the child in your life feels what all children deserve to feel: included.
Upcoming Training Seminars:
Adaptations in Action – March 8
Adaptations in Art – March 29