Have students write a collaborative poem or story using Twitter, IM, Edmodo or Facebook. This way, authors can contribute one word, one line, or several paragraphs.

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.


Kacie’s “Ooh La La” Inclusion Success Story

Posted on June 24, 2011 in Inclusion

Well, today’s post is a long one but so worth taking the time to read. I am posting two emails. One came to me in 2006 and one came to me a few weeks ago.

In both letters, Candy thanks me for helping her start her journey. The truth is, if this were about me, stories like this would happen weekly. I talk to a lot of people in a given year but reports like this one are still all too rare. Therefore, the real applause clearly goes to Kacie, her mom, her teachers, and her friends. It is always amazing to me to see a family who just decides to push against the grain and create a different story than the one someone else has already created for them. Here is yet another creative way one family made inclusion happen. I often say that there is no ONE way to “get inclusion” and the more stories we have to learn from, the stronger we will be as we pursue this kind of future for larger numbers of learners. Thanks for letting us learn from your story, Kacie and Candy.


Dear Paula,

I attended your “Inclusive Schooling” seminar in Erie, PA. You were terrific!

During the intermission I asked you if my daughter (who has been in a life skills classroom for the past six years) could make a successful transition to an inclusive classroom as she entered high school. Your encouragement was very important in my decision to go ahead.

Our Special Education director said things like “She’ll be so bored”, “She can have hot chocolate in the life skills classroom!”, and “Oh Candy, are you sure?”, etc. During our scheduling meeting she read me a couple-page list of the things Kacie would be missing in life skills and said she wanted to be sure I knew what I was doing and that they would not want to be responsible for Kacie missing out on things she would need for her future. Truth be told, I didn’t pay much attention to what she was saying, my mind was made up.

I insisted on a French class. Lord knows I must be crazy, neither my husband or I have ever spoken a word of French, but our older daughter loved her French classes. I argued that I did not expect Kacie to be fluent in French; I would be happy if she learned ten to twelve words in the semester. Our principal, struggling with scheduling, suggested French II since we didn’t have expectations of her being fluent. I agreed, glad to just have finally won the French placement.

I apologize for the length, but I think you’ll like this story.

So, 8 days into school I received a call from our Special Education director telling me that the French teacher is extremely distressed. Here is Kacie (a freshman) in a class with only juniors and seniors, where only French is spoken. “This student is receiving NO socialization.” So I agreed to move Kacie from French II to the only other option they could find for her…Honors Science…with the understanding that she would take French I next semester. Kacie likes Science okay, but she really missed her French class and kept asking me when she could go back.

After talking to the PEAL Center I renewed my resolve and e-mailed the principal asking why Kacie couldn’t be in French I this semester. So they finally agreed to allow her to take a half a block of French I, (though expressing their concerns about the life skills she’ll be missing).

Now, the best part of the story, and I think the part that finally won their cooperation. This is what I wrote the principal right after this decision was made:

“Kacie attended 8 French II classes. She brought home 70 flash cards. We have not studied them since she switched to Science class 9 school days ago. She could read, interpret and pronounce 36 words, she knew what 8 of them meant and attempted pronunciation, and could attempt pronunciation but did not know the translation
for 26 of the words. These last 26 were cards she was given in the last day or two that she had class. At this point, socialization would not be our goal in that class. Kacie is learning French, and loving every minute of it. In spite of her concerns, Mrs. XXXXX must be doing a great job. Kacie has already achieved more than triple my

Thank you for your part in [Kacie’s success].

Candy Shaffer

Five years later, here is the second email I received from Candy:


Dear Paula,

A few years ago I attended a seminar in which you spoke about inclusion. I had an opportunity to speak with you, and what you said convinced me to insist that my daughter, Kacie, be included in classes with her peers. It was a wonderful decision, and I’ve never regretted it.

I wrote to you several months later and told you about her experience with French class. She went on to spend four years in French classes and really enjoyed them.

Kacie was “graduated” with her class last year, went to the prom with a young man who also has Down syndrome, and had a graduation party. At graduation, I waited patiently all the way to the S’s as the students marched across the stage to receive their diplomas. When it was Kacie’s turn, she paused mid-stage and raised both fists over her head in a victory gesture. The applause was thundering. We were near the front of the auditorium, and it was only later that another parent approached me and asked me if I knew that Kacie had received a standing ovation. I still tear up thinking about it.

I’m writing today to tell you of an experience we had last week. This year Kacie was invited to the prom with a group of girls who are in her Meteorology class. She was so excited about going with her friends. They sent Kacie home with instructions asking us to bring her to a photo session at the house of one of the young ladies, followed by their taking her out to dinner with them, and then on to the prom. I was really touched by their thoughtfulness, but nothing prepared me for the phone call I received a few days later. The mother of the boyfriend of one of the girls called to see if we had a corsage for Kacie yet. Honestly, I’d forgotten all about flowers. She said that her son would like to purchase Kacie’s corsage and asked me what color Kacie’s dress was. I got through the phone call just fine, and then sat and cried.

None of this would have happened if I had allowed Kacie to be sequestered in the life skills classroom. You have my heartfelt thanks for the wonderful work you do.

Candy Shaffer


  1. From Gerriann on 24 Jun 2011

    I am in tears as I read this story..My journey too is a struggle for full inclusion and seeing the big picture at the end of the journey. My son too has friends and in 2 weeks will be going to a sleep away camp for the first time. The best part is that once we shared that he was going about 7 of his friends from the neighborhood, cub scouts, and long time friends decided that they too wanted to go to camp and the same week as he was going! Talk about what inclusion looks like when given the opportunity to be part of the whole. I will share how that turns out soon! Thank you for laying the foundation that now is the almost paved road that we are walking to a successful and peer filled future!

  2. From Paula Kluth on 24 Jun 2011

    Thanks for sharing this comment. All of these stories help others to continue moving forward. I just heard from Kacie and Candy and they are so thrilled that their story is helping people.

  3. From Audrey Haney on 25 Jun 2011

    There is no reason why stories like these should be the exception instead of the norm.

  4. From Elvin Mlotha on 25 Jun 2011

    Reading about Kacie’s story just reaffirmed my stand on inclusion for our son, Benjamin, who is Autistic and will be entering 7th grade in the Fall. Because of inclusion, he plays a trombone in this school orchestra band since 5th grade and on the basketball team as well as track and field. I am so glad that we decided to allow him the experience of being a part of a group or a team because he really loves it too and brings so much joy to all of us.

  5. From Celena Auger on 27 Jun 2011

    This was a very heart felt story that gives me restored faith that we are pushing for inclusion with our daughter, Baylee (who will be a 5th grader next year). So many, think “life skills” are the most important. I remember Paula (if I remember correctly) sharing in one of the many talks I have heard, how parents of individuals with disabilities are special parents, why do teachers/adminstrators think these parents aren’t able to teach “life skills” at home, like other parents teach their children – at home? If anyone can do it – we can! Way to go, Candy – giving Kacie the chance and right to be “normal”! I am hopeful that Baylee will be able to have a similar “normal” experience of inclusion as she goes through middle and high school.

  6. From SIGMUND ELBER on 30 Jun 2011

    I just read your story. An I’m not ashamed to say I cried reading it. Your story just goes to show that no matter what, our kids can do anything. I am a father of 2 boys 1 with Autism and the other with asbreegas. I understand how you feel. My oldest son who has autism. When he graduated 5th grade 1 a year ago got a standing ovation and applause and he was the only child that the rest of the students did it for. Yes I still cry when i think about it. My son is now in Middle School and I have noticed that all the kids in the school now him and talk too him like he one of them. Inclusion A great thing.

  7. From Becky Milton on 30 Jun 2011

    Thank you for sharing this as it gives hope to the many parents of children with disabilities. I agree “children with disabilities should not be the exception but rather the norm”.

  8. From Kim C on 5 Jul 2011

    Beautiful story. My son NOW thrives in a specialized setting..finally happy there, and making progress.If you try inclusion and it just does not work..do not feel like a failure as a parent. All kids are different. This young lady had an wonderful experience and so can my son in the setting he is in as well.

  9. From Joy on 17 Sep 2011

    Just heard this story from you at the houston conference. So happy you directed me to this so I can share with my entire DS group. Sometimes we need a little inspiration to continue fighting and to remember it is never to late! Way to go Kacie!

  10. From Ebele A on 17 Sep 2011

    I attended the workshop in Houston and I said to myself, finally someone who is saying something I believe in. Thios story just reinforces my belief that inclusion is better for kids with disability. I feel so vindicated after attending the workshop and reading this story.