Incorporate a few American Sign Language words into your teaching, have all students hold up communication cards (vs. shouting out answers) for some lessons, or have all students occasionally dialogue on paper with a partner.

This website is dedicated to promoting inclusive schooling and exploring positive ways of supporting students with autism and other disabilities. Most of my work involves collaborating with schools to create environments, lessons, and experiences that are inclusive, respectful, and accessible for all learners.

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A message of inclusion for for young readers

Posted on July 11, 2013 in Inclusion, Literacy

This summer I am finally getting around to reading the huge stack of books that has been sitting on my bedside table for the last few months. I finally read The Hunger Games, blew through Close to Shore (an account of the real life shark attacks that inspired Peter Benchley to write Jaws), and have started Incendiary by Chris Cleve (author of Little Bee). I have loved them all so far, but perhaps no summer read has thrilled me more than Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper.

Draper is a Coretta Scott King award-winning author and a former English teacher so it is no mystery why she is so masterful at writing about life in the classroom. This book-given to me by a school administrator at a conference a few years ago-is the story of a young woman with physical disabilities who longs to be heard, to have a voice, and to be included.

This is my second reading of the book and I am even more impressed this time around. I can’t think of another work of fiction for children or young adults that discusses inclusive education, augmentative communication and self-advocacy. In fact, I am hard pressed to think of any book for young people that takes on the idea of inclusive schooling from the perspective of the child.

I have raved about this book to many educators and students in the last few years, but I have not suggested it as an activity for School Inclusion Week or directly recommended it as a whole-school read even though it would be perfect for both. In part, I think I am always reluctant to suggest fictional works about disability (e.g. The Running Dream, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) to learn about living with autism or cerebral palsy or mental illness because I don’t want teachers and their students to overlook the fantastic autobiographies available. When teachers tell me they want their students to learn about autism and are, therefore, teaching The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I often suggest Luke Jackson’s Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome instead. It isn’t that I dislike Haddon’s book, I just feel we should learn from the experts themselves (those living the disability or difference) before getting another second-hand account. Having shared that, I do feel literature offers a unique lens on any subject matter and should absolutely be one way that we explore issues of diversity with our students and our children—especially when the writing is as top-notch as Draper’s in Out of My Mind.

How about you? Are any of you using this book? Reading this book? Teaching this book? I would love to know if any schools are using Out of My Mind as a whole-school book club. It would be an excellent choice for students of many different ages.

If you have read it, what are your ideas for using this text to teach about inequity, exclusion, inclusion, human rights, dis/ability, technology/assistive technology, prejudice, or peers and relationships?

Comments

  1. From Debbie Quick on 11 Jul 2013

    I just finished working on a curriculum for using literature to teach about bullying (at Syracuse University). As a 30 year inclusion teacher, I was quite drawn to this book. I was also horrified by the ending and felt it would be important to have some serious conversation about the “lack” of inclusion that happens at the end of this book! I always loved Under the Eye of the Clock as a true to heart inclusion book about a person with Cerebral Palsy. As much as I enjoyed Out of My Mind, I was also quite disturbed by it. The book needs to be in the hands of the right teacher to provide good guidance for the end of book discussion. We did include that book in part of our curriculum for 5th graders because of the powerful self advocacy and the lessons of subtle and overt bullying based on disability.

  2. From Paula Kluth on 11 Jul 2013

    Great points Debbie, and I completely agree.

  3. From Kristin on 12 Jul 2013

    Thank you, Paula, for bringing up this book. It was recommended to me by another teacher, so I read it this school year. Then I recommended it to a few of my students between grades 5 and 9. When conferring with students while they read, they each brought up how mad and frustrated they were at the end of the story. One student expressed how she wanted to jump into the book to tell those people that what they did was wrong. I think it is that sense of frustration for readers at the end of the book that makes it so memorable and effective. Those students will never forget how that book made them feel and I hope that they remember that feeling if in their life they feel a call to help someone who needs them.

    The book Wonder by RJ Palacio complements some of the themes in Out of My Mind while it has a very different context. Also a very good read!

  4. From Rose-Marie on 15 Jul 2013

    Paula, this is an interesting book to be sure. It carries some important messages about inclusion, particularly about genuine friendship and believing in possibility that lies below the surface.

    However, this is a book that requires extreme (!!!) sensitivity if students with severe disabilities, communication disabilities in particular, will be part of the class. My daughter relies on AAC and she was overly upset toward the end where the main character could not call for help. The situation was just too close to home for her and made her feel especially vulnerable. I regret not having previewed the story beforehand so I could have provided her with support around this issue beforehand. I would strongly extend this caution to any teacher including other AAC users in their class.

  5. From Paula Kluth on 15 Jul 2013

    Agree on every one of these comments– these are some of the reasons I held off on recommending it; it is not the ending I would have wanted to see (for many reasons), but I do appreciate finally seeing a lead character who uses AAC & and is a strong self-advocate. It may seem odd to say this but I liked the fact that the general education teacher was also at fault in the end- it wasn’t only the kids who excluded her. I say I “liked” this because the author deals with issues of rejection and exclusion beyond “kids can be so mean” and looks at how schools & teachers can make or break inclusion too. I have also known kids who get really worked up about ending/book. Is for sure an opportunity for kids to dive deeper into these issues- but I do so agree that it needs to be handled with care. Thanks for sharing all of these thoughtful comments.

  6. From Jenifer Randle on 8 Aug 2013

    Thanks for the recommendation of this book. Picked it up and finished it quickly. It’s a great story about the presence of an individual in their community. I think this book would be a great addition to classroom reading assignments. The discussions and learning that could stem from it would be incredible! As you mentioned, I like the book going further than only the kids at fault. Inclusion is so much more than inclusion. We should call it withclusion instead.

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