Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Three Tips to Thrive Socially Inside an Inclusive Classroom

Often when discussing special education and inclusion the focus remains on educating, justifiably so too. However, the social aspect to an inclusive classroom also stands out as an important aspect. You may recall me talking with The Inclusive Class Podcast hosts Nicole Eredics and Terri Mauro on this very topic back in September. Here’s a link to refresh your memory, Growing Up with Inclusive Education.

Now back to today. Nicole offered me the privilege to provide a guest post for The Inclusive Class blog, which I eagerly accepted. I plan to use the opportunity to share three tips designed to help students with disabilities thrive socially inside inclusive classrooms. Enjoy!

Tip #1- Embrace Others’ Outgoingness

My mild case of spastic cerebral palsy led me to develop a shy personality growing up. As my teenage memoir Off Balanced documents, initiating social interaction pretty much terrified me. I felt ashamed about my disability and just wanted to blend in and be like everyone else. Interestingly enough a few classmates disregarded my shy demeanor, exhibiting friendly behavior towards me. I mention these individuals in Chapter 6 of my book.

Take for example my graphics art classmate Aaron. He regularly showed an interest in my interests, asking about an upcoming video game I always looked at online and supporting my ambition to pursue a writing career.  Yet I failed to return the favor, leaving me to flashback and wonder “What if?” What if I reciprocated his friendliness? Would we have developed a lasting friendship?  Unfortunately I will never know because I didn’t embrace Aaron’s outgoingness. Please learn from my mistake so you avoid any future “What if?”

Tip #2- Get Involved

If you recollect my appearance on The Inclusive Class Podcast, I suggested exploring extra-curricular activities as a way to assist forming friendships. Joining a student group or organization connects you to peers who maintain similar likes. People will get to know you rather than your disability. For instance, joining my high school’s student newspaper transformed me from “the kid who walks with a limp” to “the newspaper guy.”

Of course Nicole and Terri brought up an excellent point during my appearance on their show. What if the school tries to prevent you from joining your desired club or organization? Hopefully by putting yourself out there you will secure some helpful advocates. I know fellow author John W. Quinn mentions in his book Someone Like Me: An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy his school’s wrestling coach came very close to cutting John from the squad. Guess what though? The team’s best wrestler found out and threatened to walk off the team if the coach cut John. Respect and admiration from others can certainly go a long way.

Tip #3- Open Up

Returning to my own personal experiences, I note in Off Balanced my shyness lay rooted in my goal to hide my cerebral palsy. I remember one particular time in elementary school the school’s physical therapist came to the classroom to get me. My classmate next to me asked me, “Is that your grandmother?” I answered with a quiet but grumpy “No” before shuffling away awkwardly. At such a young age I didn’t realize the best approach involved opening up, saying “No, that’s my physical therapist.”

Opening up and answering questions head on removes others’ curiosity, allowing them to stop dwelling on your disability and start appreciating your personality. I know I can say with 100% confidence I wouldn’t have achieved all I did in college and since without first accepting my cerebral palsy and answering questions those around me presented. To conclude, let me just state by opening up you should achieve your own success. Don’t let your disability hold you down!

Zachary Fenell is an author and freelance writer dedicated to raising disability awareness through the written word. His book Off Balanced is available on the Kindle and Nook

Additionally you can read his work online at The Mobility Resource. For more information on Zachary, visit www.zacharyfenell.com    


  1. Interestingly, as an experienced teacher of many years, I was witness to the efforts of a young wheelchair- bound young adolescent who dearly wanted to be involved with a game of indoor soccer, during a weekly sport afternoon.
    The other students embraced his efforts as goaly and so did I as the supervising teacher.
    Unfortunately, the sport co-ordinator did not agree and refused permission for this young student to participate even following repeated requests by me as well as the student's sporting peers. The result was heartbreaking for me to watch and I had to take more formal action on the student's behalf. It was rewarding to see the support from the other students and their desire to embrace this young person struggling through life with cerebral palsy.
    I was only at the school for 6 months before moving elsewhere but hope that through the support of school friends, this young person has been able to confront such ignorance.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story! It's ironic that in a profession such as teaching, where we are to be role models of appropriate behavior, that some often display the exact opposite. Our actions are as important as our words.

  3. These ways will help you get along with what's inside the classroom. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Keep it up!

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