A Middle School essay on inclusion: counting everyone in the everyone category

Rosemary Stephens "Girl in a Foreign Land"

Maybe Eleanor would have loved to join the book club? I think about the many, many times that Eleanor has had similar things happen to her. It must shut down her self-esteem and hope, and crash her dreams of what she might want to do later in life—crashing her hope of maybe succeeding to be a doctor or lawyer or teacher or cook or whatever she wants to be…crashing the opportunity to fly her own way and complete what she would like to complete in her life.

By Harriet, age 11


My name is Harriet and this year I am going into middle school in a new town. For most of my school life in my old town, I was paying close attention to my classmate, Eleanor. She is labeled with a disability and, to me, the way that most people treat her is not right. I have noticed the teachers, other kids, her aides, the principal, and even the teacher who is supposed to be in charge of inclusive education treat her like she is different from the rest of the students our age. It’s hard for me to understand why.

The aides act almost as if they are terrified of her and because they act this way, most of the other kids do, too. A lot of the students who are the same age as Eleanor act as though they are older than she is and that she still wants books like Frog and Toad read to her, as if she is a child. I honestly don’t think she is still in that stage of life. In so many ways, I see her act just as any other student would act. She says, “No MATH!” like we all say (at least in our minds), and yet, when she does a math problem that is “well done,” she is given a piece of a chocolate chip cookie. When my math is “well done,” I get a grade, not a piece of a cookie. She is treated and represented and misinterpreted as though she can’t learn like any other 5th grader. I think she can, but she is never given the chance.

Rosemary Stephens "Girl in a Foreign Land"
Rosemary Stephens “Girl in a Foreign Land”

Eleanor’s aide is by her side every second, including recess and lunch. She is like a box around her. This box makes it seem as though Eleanor can’t engage in the world and gives the message to all the kids in her class to leave her alone because she is different. Everyone is different.

This box is a big barrier to her having real friends and her being a real friend. It is a barrier to her engaging with her classmates. It is a barrier to having someone to count on if she’s having a hard day. I can’t imagine what it must feel like not to have friends to count on if I am having a bad day. Wherever you are in the world, everyone should feel comfort and belonging knowing that you always have people to hold on to you as you fly your way and they fly theirs. Eleanor isn’t given the opportunity to know that she belongs and to feel the freedom to fly.

I remember a day when a notice was delivered to all of our mailboxes inviting us to join a book club. The notice was put in Eleanor’s mailbox and when the reading teacher was checking to make sure that everyone received one, she took the notice out of Eleanor’s box. The reading teacher wasn’t going to give the notice to another kid; she just threw it away and walked out the door. As a child, I see this situation as very messed up. Eleanor isn’t even counted enough as a person/student in my class to be included in the “everyone” category. Maybe Eleanor would have loved to join the book club? I think about the many, many times that Eleanor has had similar things happen to her. It must shut down her self-esteem and hope, and crash her dreams of what she might want to do later in life—crashing her hope of maybe succeeding to be a doctor or lawyer or teacher or cook or whatever she wants to be…crashing the opportunity to fly her own way and complete what she would like to complete in her life.

This is just one story of one girl in the world who is in my school, but I know that stuff like this is happening everywhere. From my perspective, inclusion is not just that everyone is in the classroom and treated the same. Inclusion is everyone working together doing the same things; everyone is included in every activity at all times. No one person is treated special, such as being pulled out to bake cookies or bribed with a cookie to do the problem right. If there has to be an aide to help a student, he wouldn’t be there for any one person; the aide would help everyone. If any kid was having a hard time, the aide would check-in.

My dream is to work on the challenge of helping kids belong and help change the thinking about how all kids are included in our schools. I tried to talk to my school principal, but I am not sure she really listened. It is hard sometimes as a kid to know how to change things like this, but I know we can do it. To anyone reading this who has this same dream: hopefully one day we will all see the change that we are working together to make happen.

Editor’s note: This is a reprint of an article on Swifttalk (SwiftSchools) – which is a site dedicated to effective inclusion. I was so impressed with Harriet’s essay I asked her if I could share it with The Art of Autism
. Harriet is an eleven year old girl who is beginning middle school. She loves to read. Three of her favorite books are: Sand Dollar Summer, Counting by Seven’s, and Walk Two Moons. She has a big family and a dog named Daisy. Harriet loves nordic skiing, cooking with her sisters, and she hopes to be a lawyer someday so that she can help difficult situations be more fair.

42 replies on “A Middle School essay on inclusion: counting everyone in the everyone category”
    1. says: Selina

      Depending on the child’s level of needs – depends on the support they get (well it should) Eleanor is very lucky to have a one to one assistant and with the maths etc it sounds like the school are trying very hard, If Eleanor didn’t have a one to one help at playtime she may be targeted by bullies. I recently took my daughter out of school (she has ASD/Dyspraxia) due to this happening. The assistance in class is possibly so close and supportive to look out for her aniextie’s and pre-empt them. My son’s mainstream school did just what Harriet says should be done i.e. act like nothing is wrong he was 6 at the time had SPD/ASD and blind in one eye, couldn’t stand hot or loud places and several times he was carried into rooms one person on each leg/arm etc one day he kicked out and the school suspended him. Currently at home with me since Feb he is waiting for a special school place. CHILDREN WITH ASD NEED EXTRA HELP – YES THEY SHOULD BE RECOGNISED AS PEOPLE BUT ISNT THAT WHAT THE EXTRA HELP IS DOING? Although I can see what Harriet is saying I fell there is a slight bit of jealously there of all the attention and extra help she gets – she would def be vunerable if she didn’t get the help.

      1. says: Debbie

        Selina, there are ways to include a child without making them stand out. That has to do with the aide fading into the background. From what Harriet describes I think the school needs training on effective inclusion techniques. I don’t see it as jealousy at all. I’ve had similar concerns as Harriet with my son. The best aides are ones who blend in the background and no one knows they are there for one particular child.

  1. says: Aleta Stoler

    This was not written by an 11 year old. At least not the way it is here. I am sure the situation is real. However, the vocabulary and syntax are not that of an 11 year old. How sad. If you have something important to say, as this is, don’t dress it up or pretend.

    1. says: Debbie

      Aleta, you can contact the original source of the article at Swift Talk (email is at the end of the article) to confirm.

    2. says: Harriet

      Hi. I am Harriet. I am the one who wrote this. I thought it would be responsible to confirm to you that I really am 11 years old. I hope that you will come to understand that this really is me. I hope that you can let go of this misunderstanding, and I hope that all of efforts will combine together sometime, and we will see a glorious outcome.

      1. says: Debbie

        Harriet, thanks so much for sharing your story! So many people have emailed how impressed they are with your writing.

      2. Dear Harriet. This is an outstanding essay and I am so glad I found it. May I have your permission to reprint it again on another site? (www.matankids.org) I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

      3. says: Rayna

        You go, Harriet! Intelligent and insightful 11-year-olds DO write like this. Bravo! I hope you will continue writing about your experiences. Your story is heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time. Your family, teachers and friends must be very proud of you! I hope you are proud of yourself too. 🙂

      4. says: Greg

        Wonderful essay Harriet. Very insightful. It is refreshing to be reminded that there are people out there that actually notice these things and are aware that these are people we are talking to and not just an “other.”

        Thanks for your voice.

    3. says: Jen

      Hi Aleta, when I was 11 I was fully capable of writing an article like this. When I was 11 I was reading university level particle physics books and university level literature like Charles Dickons. I believe that society is teaching us that children and youths are not smart enough to handle what they truly can, or at least some of them. Education has been dumbed down to meet the needs of the least intelligent, and our expectations have fallen as well. To Harriet I want to say, 11 years ago I was also a bright girl looking out on a world that wasn’t right. I met my best friend that year though, and it has been insightful to walk with her as people stared at her for looking different, and children being unsure how to respond to her artificial legs and missing arm. But she wouldn’t let anything stop her, and is now going on to be a lawyer just like you want to be. I encourage you to go after your dream. You may find that high school and university are a little boring, as you are quick to pick things up, but law school is a challenge I have heard. Don’t loose sight of your goal, and do your best at each step along the way, and you will continue to succeed. We continue to need changes in our society in increased acceptance and openness to those who are differently abled, and increased education, be it through classes, role models, or exposure, on how to act appropriately around people who are differently abled (ie how much space to leave for a wheel-chair, how to approach a blind person, ect). But I agree 100% that the changes start from role models, like parents, teachers, caregivers, and support workers.

      1. says: Debbie

        Jen, I remember in fourth grade reading Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. So I definitely agree with you! Don’t underestimate our young people.

  2. What a brilliant essay. You are very observant and I greatly appreciate your thoughtful words. I wish there were more people in the world like you. I love how clear and honest your perception is. I know you know this already…you’re going to change the world in many ways. Keep sharing your truth.

  3. says: Dana Dunaway

    Harriet, keep spreading your message! it’s really important. As a mom, I really struggled to understand why my “special” child was bullied and ignored and treated differently. Yes, his behavior was difficult at times, but it wasn’t intentional. Often, it seemed like I was the only one who could see that. Sadly, he was bullied and ignored and treated differently and when he fell seriously ill, he died because his aides refused to call 911 to get help. He was literally ignored and bullied to death. I was unable to get legislators in the state where he died to do anything to change the laws. Keep sharing your message. Eventually people will get it and attitudes will change.

    1. says: Selina

      So sad to hear about your child I have the same with my daughter – took her out of school 2 weeks ago. But if you re-read this Elenaor (the asd child) is well supported like I wanted my daughter to be. I.e. 24/7 support to help her social need so she wont be bullied in the playground. If you re-read this you will see the school are doing well on this – and only wish they had helped my children more.

  4. says: Kara

    Dear Harriet:

    I would like to know more about your background that gives you the insight to write such an essay. Do you have a sibling with special needs? Do you have a parent who is a special educator or works with children with special needs? Usually children don’t develop insight like this without a lot of guidance from the adults in their lives.

    1. says: Kristi

      I don’t understand why you think an eleven year old girl has to have guidance from an adult in her life. Caring, observant students can clearly see this happening in their classroom everyday. I think this young lady has feelings for a fellow student who has a disability. As a former special education teacher, and an elementary school counselor I can see many 11 year olds writing a passage like this. I think this young lady was very brave to write what goes on in many classrooms across our country. It’s very sad , but true. She saw this person as someone who deserved to be treated like every other student. My question to you would be why you don’t think an eleven year old who sees this EVERYDAY could share the hurt, the disgrace, the unfairness she sees everyday??

      1. says: Kara

        I have been informed that her mother is an inclusion specialist.

        Harriet’s essay referred to some sophisticated concepts that I don’t think she’d have had exposure to without having had personal experience with it. It would be like a child quoting Nietsche in her essay — you’d wonder how she learned about it and where. I have no doubt that a child can observe and think about these issues on her own. It takes nothing away from Harriet to say that her essay indicates that she has adults in her lives who have made her aware of how inclusion is supposed to work.

        1. says: Susan

          I am Harriet’s mom.

          Here is a story: I remember when my four daughters were younger, we were driving in our minivan to the pediatrician’s office for our yearly check-ups. The girls were asking me if they were going to “get a shot” during their appointments, and this led to a conversation about immunizations. I shared a bit about the scientific rationale for immunizations, and about the controversies related to immunizations. At one point in the conversation, Ruthie, then age 11, stopped me and asked, “If immunizations are designed to help keep children healthy, why would some parents say no?”. So I explained the concept of “side effects” and listed a few examples. In my list of potential “side effects”, I noted that some people wonder if maybe immunizations are linked to children being diagnosed with autism. Ruthie immediately blurted out, “Wait. Are you saying that doctors are telling parents that autism is bad???? That is horrible! Doctors should not be saying that!” At that moment, I learned something about how life works. We show our children the world. They learn to see what we see, but their understanding does not stop at our understanding; they go farther. Our world view is their starting point, and if it is a starting point that holds inclusive education as a value, then what a gift we give. It is true that due to my work in the world, all four of my children were given the gift of an inclusive starting point. But what they have done with that gift, is the work of who they each are, and who they are each becoming. Ruthie taught me something that day when she wondered why autism would be listed as an “undesireable” side effect of immunizations, along with fever, and rashes and illnesses. Before she pointed it out to me, I did not see what she saw.

          Harriet’s story about Eleanor is her own. She came home from school one day quite upset. She told me what was happening. In fact, it was that very day that I first contacted SWIFT Schools and offered to write my first blog, as I wanted to share her story. (SWIFT Schools.org is the site where Harriet blogs also.) Harriet’s view of the world has a starting point that includes my view of the world, but what she sees is with her own eyes, and her vision often, and increasingly exceeds mine. This is not unique to our family. All parents and teachers offer children a lens through which to make meaning of the world. Children take it and go. Where they go is how the world changes. Thank goodness.

          1. says: Debbie

            Susan, thank you for your thoughtful and profound comment. I understand exactly what you are saying. Our children reflect what we as parents model for them. Thank you for sharing that story.

  5. says: Brian

    Thank you for the deeply insightful and wonderful observation of your classmate who’s neuro-different. There shows incredible depth, compassion, and insight into the human condition for such a young age. Your parents are blessed. I am a father of three, two with autism, one who’s 11 years old and very much like Eleanor. Everything you are saying is so truthful, few adults just don’t get. Families of kids with developmental disabilities slowly and painfully learn that most teachers and administrators who work in education don’t value people with developmental disabilities. Since my daughter’s preschool, it has been a monumental fight and tremendous strain on our family to have her included in the general education classroom with the appropriate supports, church, and community, and impossible to get them to treat her as equal with her peers. The thing is, my daughter’s not disabled on the inside. She’s actually intelligent, funny, kind, loves people, insightful, and very talented with her own thoughts and ideas. I bet Harriet is very much the same. It’s the lack of respect and the conditions others place on our kids that are so soul crushing to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Because my daughter has autism, anxiety and a language disorder, most people write her off as incapable of learning, making friends or holding a job, etc. Harriet, I think it’s wonderful your already thinking a career a legal career in disability advocate and human rights’ law. It has long been my opinion, the next human rights movement well be for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities will be only a decade or two away, We will need you then. Your quite an impressive young lady!

  6. says: Lori Shayew

    Hi Harriet,
    Thank you for sharing your insights and observations. I am moved by your words and perspective. I’m on your team. Supporting families and educators to shift their perspectives around labels such as autism and others. You’re in Great company. I’ll be sharing your blog on my FB group, “The Gifts of Autism”. You’re an incredible example for Humanity! (and so is your mom!) Much love and gratitude! Lori

  7. says: jo curd

    thank you harriet I hope your writing has challenged and helped other students and staff at your school. Please see our website http://www.autisticeye.co.uk we print and sell work by artists with Autism or Aspergers Syndrome our tagline is ‘seeing things differently’ thnk you for helping us to do that.

  8. Harriet thank you for your wonderful and insightful essay.
    As the parent of a son with special needs, speaking from experiences that my son had in school you are absolutely right in so many ways.
    It intrigues me greatly that someone of your tender years “gets it” but those who are supposed to be well educated in the area of special education don’t.
    Thank you for taking the time and effort you took to share your important message.

  9. says: mary volpe

    Harriet: you are wise beyond your years, and have obviously been raised well. I am the mom of a 25 year old son with autism who spent 19 years in special education. To this day, he does not have friends or do anything that a normal 25 year old man would do. It breaks our hearts to know that he is missing out on so much of life. We do try to get him to go places, mostly with us, but he seems most happy at home or when we travel and he stays in his own hotel room. You are very insightful and if there were more young people like you in the world, it would be a better place. Thank you so much for sharing.

  10. says: Colissa

    This was a very informative article with a great perspective. I am not surprised at all by her comments. Yes, I too am a mother of a child with special needs. However, my child is very sociable and extroverted. The children she went to school with loved her and wanted to help her and sit by her at lunch. Sadly , it was the administration and some staff (some were amazing) that we had issues with.

    There are many stories to share but I’ll keep it short. I believe it is important for children like Harriet to have their voices heard and help the adults, who probably have great intentions, understand from a child’s perspective. I am grateful that she understands many of our special needs children are quite aware of what is going on around them but have no voice.

    My daughter was considered severely mentally retarded with an IQ of 44. Had I listened to, and treated her like many of the educators around her, she wouldn’t be reading (now that I home school her) learning her times tables, (among other interesting subjects), and working toward her orange belt in Tae Kwon Do. Keep it up young lady, you have a gift and a calling to share!

    1. says: Debbie

      Wow Colissa, you sound like a great mom. I agree about academics. We always worked with Kevin on his academics during the summer time. He would make 3 months progress during 9 months of school and 9 months of progress during the summer. All we did was sit down with him with a good curriculum every day for 45 minutes of reading and 15 minutes of math and he made such great progress. I wonder about the effectiveness of public education. We had him in public school mostly to make “friends.” That seemed to have backfired (if you read our story) as we had an educator working against us.

  11. says: Karen

    Harriet, I thank you for a very nice essay. I am now going to ask you some very important questions.

    Have you made friends with Eleanor? If so, do you ever see her outside of school? What do you do together? What do you have in common? Do you eat lunch with her at school? Do you hang out with her alone? Do you ask her to join you when you are with your other friends?

    You’ve clearly given this situation some thought, and I appreciate that. I have a daughter about your age on the spectrum, and she will be in middle school next year. I think being an advocate for children your age who need it is good. But remember this.

    It is much easier to write essays and make speeches about the good things we want in the world than to actually make them happen. If you are truly making Eleanor one of your friends in the way I have described above; if you have her to your house and include her with your other friends and behave towards her as you would to any friend—well, that is a thing more meaningful than pixels on a page. That is a step toward real change.

    I wish you the best, dear Harriet.

  12. says: Bee Santori

    Well said Harriet. You are absolutely correct. There is a better way to handle inclusion. Maybe other students should be involved, ex. buddy up the special needs student with one or more of her peers, less stigmatizing, more inclusive. For over 30 years I worked with intellectually challenged children and adults, and am still friends with many of them today. When treated normally, as you said, out of the box, I’ve seen them blossom.
    I applaud you for your words, Harriet. Don’t ever let anyone stop you in your voice for true inclusion.

  13. says: Dr. E

    Harriet: What a terrific essay! A++++++! Sometimes there are kids with disabilities who aren’t as noticeable as Eleanor’s and the rejection they get is also pretty crummy….and a lot more subtle in some ways. I hope you will remind students about those kids too. You are going to have a great career advocating for people who need it!!

  14. says: selina

    Hello! High school education continues to move away from tests with one word answers and towards students having to come up with paragraph or even full essay answers. And there’s a good reason for this. By the way the best paper writing service that I saw: http://speedypaper.net/

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