The Canadian Association for Community Living, and its provincial counterparts like the New Brunswick Association for Community Living, have done much to help persons with disabilities. Unfortunately despite their many good deeds they have also, for many years, been actively and intentionally promoting discrimination against some children with Autistic Disorders and other children for whom education in the mainstream classroom is not in their best interests because of their disabilities.
The message of the CACL is clear, consistent, and made without regard to the best interests of some children: No excuses
for educating children outside the mainstream classroom, no accommodation of children whose disabilities require alternative learning environments, no concern for the best interests of children, like some children with Autistic Disorder, if their best interests require education in a setting outside the mainstream classroom. No excuses, no accommodation, no concern.
As a parent who has long ago requested that my son with Autistic Disorder and profound developmental delays be removed from the mainstream classroom I am offended by the message, relentlessly pushed by the CACL, and here in NB by NBACL, that portrays any request to educate children outside the classroom as an "excuse". My son began his education in the mainstream classroom where he was overstimulated by noise and other conditions in the classroom. He would come home each day with self inflicted bite marks on his hands and wrists. Those bite marks, were evidence. Those bite marks were Conor's way of telling us that education in the mainstream classroom was not in his best interests.
Conor was removed from the classroom and educated primarily in a separate room for academic purposes. He also visits some more social settings for appropriate purposes and for defined activities with an Autism trained, very competent Teacher Assistant. He goes to the school gym (see videos on sidebar of this blog), the kitchen, the pool, the library, the cafeteria and so on but his academic learning takes place in a separate room.
Conor has not suffered socially. Although he does not generally inititiate conversation, and in fact has limited verbal skills, he has been well liked by many children over the past several years. I drive Conor to school and on arrival I have seen several boys and girls approach Conor to greet him, say hi and show real joy at seeing him. More than one child has actually sought Conor out at our home.
The "education system" has accommodated Conor's disability, his special needs. The educators we deal with have sought our input and worked to help Conor; taking into account the realities of his Autistic Disorder including the fact that Conor was overstimulated in the mainstream classroom, was learning a different curriculum using different methods than other students. Conor has received this accommodation because of some conscientious educators and because we fought to get that accommodation. We did so despite the NBACL which is very well entrenched and influential. NBACL carries the CACL message that says that such accommodation is wrong, that the benefit Conor has received is not a sufficient excuse for education outside the mainstream classroom. The CACL message is discriminatory, harmful and offensive.
CACL has been told in the past that the full inclusion model for all is probably discriminatory. In Canada discrimination can be direct, intentional discrimination, or it can result from a failure by service providers to reasonably accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. Yude Hentellef,Q.C. has been legal representative for many disability organizations and persons with disabilities. In 2004 he presented a paper The Fully Inclusive Classroom is Only One of the Right Ways to Meet the Best Interests of the Special Needs Child
at the C.A.C.L. National Summit on Inclusive Education in Ottawa, Ontario. Mr. Hentellef reviewed studies, and case law, which indicate that full classroom inclusion is not appropriate for all special needs children and stated:
"The Supreme Court of Canada has categorically rejected the kind of contextual analysis that rests on group stereotypes of what is presumed to be in the best interest of a group of persons, regardless of their disability. The proposal that full inclusion will meet the needs of all special needs children is such a group stereotype. In other words, what may be good for one group is therefore good for all groups, no matter their disability. The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected this approach, which, because of its very nature, is discriminatory. "
"To suggest that even with everything in place in the inclusion classroom, it will be the best place for all children regardless of their need, is group stereotyping at its worst. It denies the absolute right of special needs children to be placed other than in the full inclusion classroom, when their parents and qualified professionals view a different placement as one that best meets their interests. In Eldridge, a 1997 decision, Mr. Justice LaForest who gave the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, stated that persons with disabilities have too long been subjected to insidious stereotyping.
For anyone to insist the inclusion classroom can be the best place for all children regardless of their needs is by its very nature stereotyping and discriminatory.
The CACL philosophy summarized in its recent "No Excuses "campaign is stereotyping and discriminatory. With the emphasis on "no excuses" it implies that concerned caring parents, and competent professionals, who seek education settings outside the full inclusion classroom for a special needs child are in some way morally deficient, making excuses instead of doing what is best for the child.
In New Brunswick the NBACL and other full inclusion for all advocates like Gordon Porter, the current chair of the NB Human Rights Commission, have insisted that their way is the only way. They have dominated NB education for more than a quarter century and they are celebrated around the world. What the world may not know is that our full inclusion model has in fact itself been discriminatory and harmful. In the past 10 years changes have begun to be made on the ground by activists parents of some special needs children, including some autistic children, by conscientious educators and by the undeniable evidence that education in the full inclusion classroom is NOT in the best interests of ALL special needs children.
Hopefully some day CACL, NBACL, and other promoters of the Full Inclusion for All model will come to their senses and cease trying to impose their deeply held beliefs over the evidence and over the best interests of special needs children.
Hopefully someday the CACL and NBACL will cease promoting discriminatory practices in education.