Building Bridges: The Importance of Friendship and Integration

by MoJo JoJo on May 11, 2015 - 8:04pm

Education is arguably the most valuable commodity in one’s life and, thus, should be considered an essential service. Sadly, however, its accessibility is questionable when special needs students are involved. Their integration into the classroom and society is difficult at the best of times. In fact living with a handicap makes getting an education even harder for special needs students as they feel left out of social circles and are deprived of basic educational services due to insufficient funding. As observed through the trend of my topics of choice for writing during the semester, the challenge of eliminating bullying and supporting the integration of all students is a cause I have taken to heart. In my post, “Bully No More”, which appeared on the News Activist website on March 16th, I wrote about a special needs student who was being bullied in his school. It was a summary of a news article entitled “Student who bullied bus monitor allegedly involved in incident with special needs student” that was published on the CTV News website. While many students can, inevitably, find themselves bullied at any point in their young academic lives, this unnamed victim was targeted with the added pressures of being disabled. This is a clear example of the issue at hand. A special needs student facing peer intimidation due to a lack of understanding of his situation resulting from ignorance of other students poor integration in the school system. Also, in a different post, “Bullying from an Unlikely Source”, which was published on the News Activist website on April 21st, I wrote about another special needs student facing mistreatment. However, in this case, the student’s instructor was the bully. This story shows the gravity and magnitude of the situation as the cases of bullying towards special needs students are not limited to only peer intimidation. As reported in the actual news article by Bernice Garcia that I summarized, the student faced constant verbal abuse from her teacher and had to use video evidence to convince the authorities. Special needs students face these challenges as a direct result of not feeling integrated into their environment. As researchers have shown, special needs students often have a “lower social standing” than other students (Pepler & Craig). When special needs students are not properly integrated into their surroundings, they suffer internal consequences through their personalities and external consequences through their interactions with others.

To solve this issue, Champlain College has started a club on its St-Lambert campus called Friendship And Community Ties (FACT). The club is run by volunteers as they organize weekly activities between special needs students and the rest of the students at the school to promote inclusion and friendships. Since the beginning of April, I have volunteered a couple of hours of my time to the club every week. My task was simple. I had help others integrate, develop friendships and break barriers to social interactions. The experience was enjoyable as I took pleasure in meeting and talking to my new special needs friends to get to know them better. Also, on April 15th, the FACT club organized an event that featured the visit of REACH, a school for special needs students, to Champlain College to take part in various games to promote physical activity. The event was organized in collaboration with college students participating in The Grand Defi Pierre Lavoie. In fact, one of the members from that team, Rachel Michaud, is writing a post on the News Activist website about her own experiences from the event. My role during this event was to have fun with the disabled students while encouraging them to partake in physical activities and become involved in a new social setting.

To further my involvement with this program, Rachel and I decided to make the REACH visit to Champlain College a permanent event as everyone from the club and the visiting students enjoyed themselves. To accomplish this task, we started a Facebook page that would increase exposure of the event and facilitate coordination between the organizers. We would also like to create a Tumblr blog, linked to the previously mentioned Facebook page, that would be a source of guidance for parents with special needs children or other individuals looking to better their health. However, we were not able to complete our project before writing this post as we did not procure the proper letters of consent to post pictures of the event online. Therefore, the project remains a work in progress. In the future, if anyone is thinking of realizing a similar project, I suggest that the proper documentation be obtained early on to overcome any obstacles.

While FACT’s activities or the Reach-Champlain visit do help promote inclusion for special needs students, it is important to acknowledge the fact that much remains to be done to eliminate the problem of the segregation of the handicapped. As for my work with the club, I will continue to volunteer with them weekly. I encourage everyone to do their part and try to be more inclusive towards special needs children in any way possible. All children have the need to feel included. If everyone contributed to help integrate disabled children into the community at large, I think the world would be a better place.

Bibliography

Debra J., Pepler, and Craig Wendy M. ‘Naturalistic Observations of Peer Interventions in Bullying.’ Bully Lab. N.p., 2001. Web. 11 May 2015.

 

36.0pt;text-align:justify;text-indent:-36.0pt;line-height:200%">Links mentioned

0cm;text-align:justify;line-height:200%">Link to my first post: http://newsactivist.com/en/news-summary/flacks-newsactivist-winter-2015-complementary-course/bully-no-more

0cm;text-align:justify;line-height:200%">Link to the first news article: http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/student-who-bullied-bus-monitor-allegedly-involved-in-incident-with-special-needs-student-1.2279342

0cm;text-align:justify;line-height:200%">Link to my second post: http://newsactivist.com/en/news-summary/flacks-newsactivist-winter-2015-complementary-course/bullying-unlikely-source

0cm;text-align:justify;line-height:200%">Link to the second news article: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/teacher-bullied-special-needs-student-secretly-caught-shocking-verbal-abuse-cell-phone-video-article-1.979568

0cm;text-align:justify;line-height:200%">Link to Rachel’s article: http://newsactivist.com/en/articles/flacks-newsactivist-winter-2015-complementary-course/encouraging-reach-fitness

0cm;text-align:justify;line-height:200%">Link to Reach for Fitness Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/REACH-for-Fitness/478241392323080?fref=ts

Link to Reach for Fitness Tumblr page: http://www.thefittogetherchallenge.tumblr.com/ReachforFitness

Comments

As someone who has been friends with a "disabled" child for many years, the term "disabled" cannot be generalized. There are many different extents to one's disability. Incorporating disabled children into regular classes, or any regular societal activity, from personal experience, will make many of the children feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. Having an integrated classroom might mean progress for a few, but it will also mean fear for many. Considering that they've been in special needs classes their whole life, it provides them with a sense of belonging and comfort. Personally, my friend does not adapt well to change, and he is very happy where he is. Unfortunately, as alluded to in your article, bullying is a recurring issue in today's society. Placing special needs children in "regular" classes may in fact be promoting bullying. At the beginning of his educational career, this friend of mine was in "regular" classes. However, when he was in only second grade, he asked his mother if he could "change classes" due to bullying issues. Surely, his mother accepted, and he is now as happy as he's ever been in a special needs program. He feels a strong connection to the other children in his class, while still being able to communicate with others as well. His degree of disorder isn't as bad as many, so if he feels uncomfortable in a "regular" class environment, then I have no doubt that the others in his shoes would concur.

I think your post is interesting because it gives a different perspective on what helping people with specialized need is all about. I know that there are two other blog posts about physical activity linked with people with special needs. To get more involved and to continue helping the way you are doing so, it is important to understand the principle of effective altruism, which is that every life has value according to Peter Singer. The fact that you think that they value as much to you as any human in the world makes your job even more significant because these people have brains, as you said, and they feel it when you treat them just like any other human being. Giving of your time to these people is important if you want to reduce them being depressed by letting them living on their own and alone, it is crucial that they feel that it is possible to make friendships, regardless of your differences. As a person who has worked with people in special needs also since I did the volunteer project with the REACH elementary school with the Défi Pierre Lavoie, I think that what is the most important is how much attention that you give them and the time that you spend with them in order to form a certain relationship and to bond with them. This time is precious, it makes a difference in their lives, tt makes them feel more accepted in a group of people, and like you said, people with special needs are just like us, but they just do certain tasks in a different way.
Follow the link below to watch Peter Singer’s video “the why and how of effective altruism”. : https://www.ted.com/talks/peter_singer_the_why_and_how_of_effective_altr...

I believe there are two interesting things in your article. I agree that children with special needs are more susceptible to bullying especially if they are in a regular classroom with other children. However, I do not think that it is necessarily a good idea to mix people with special needs with people in a regular classroom. I believe that some might not see it as a good thing since they are “different” and like you said, it is difficult for them to integrate with others. So, the club that was started called F.A.C.T is definitely a good way to help people with special needs integrate better in the society. It helps them become more comfortable and able to make new friendships. I feel like this club is a very good idea because then it allows people with special needs to be around each other, and so less chances of bullying. So I believe that the volunteer work you did is really helpful in a way that it will help the kids with special needs and it can push other people to also help make a difference in the world.

Your implication with children with special needs is remarkable! Breaking the social barriers that exist in our society is primordial in hoping to finally put an end someday to exclusion and isolation of marginalized people. As you wrote, the accessibility of education to people with special needs is a big issue in the perpetuation of this exclusion. It is not something I have covered so much this semester, but it is still totally real. Instead, I wrote about special needs people in the workforce at NewsActivist.com on April 11, 2015. (http://newsactivist.com/en/news-summary/flacks-newsactivist-winter-2015-...) Here’s the link if you want to take a look.
If you did not read about my volunteer project, I was paired with a person marginalized by her disability (social anxiety disorder and intellectual disability) with the objective to do one activity a month with her for at least one year. If you did not know about the organization that allows this kind of paring, I’ll link the organization’s website below*. I think it is a more personal way of connecting with someone with special needs in order to break social barriers. I just started this volunteering, but I am already learning that taking the time to share with someone and to learn about him/her is an effective way to break these barriers. It may not have an impact on many people at a time, but it can have one greater impact on one individual.
Making your volunteering a permanent event is what it takes to make sure it will be perpetuated for a long time. The FACT club is really great and should exist in every school. Through advertisement in newspapers and at the radio, it could be possible to spread the idea to many school so they could take part in the volunteering too. Contacting the media may seem like a lot of work, but last fall, Champlain students and I succeeded in organizing the 'Cyclotour Arctique' in St-Lambert by using media like newspapers in order to promote the event (and Facebook too, as you are doing). And I am sure other charitable students would be ready to give their time to the cause!

*http://parrainmarraine.com/fr/le-RQPC-mission