Nfld. & Labrador

'It's a continuing battle': Parents of kids with learning disabilities still struggling with inclusion

Sonia Tucker says she has to fight to get the resources her son A.J. needs to succeed in this province's inclusive education system.

Two years later, Sonia Tucker says she's still fighting for supports for her son in inclusive classrooms

Sonia Tucker says her son A.J. has learning disabilities that require him to need extra help in the classroom, from someone writing his answers, to extra time for tests. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Sonia Tucker works tirelessly to make sure her son A.J. can succeed in the inclusive education system in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As a parent of a child with learning disabilities, it's an uphill battle she's been fighting for years — and she said not much has changed since I last spoke with her, almost two years ago.

A.J., who is now 11 and in Grade 6, has some trouble with reading, writing and math.

As part of his IEP — individual education plan — he needs help, like someone to read out instructions to him and to write his answers. He also requires extra time for classwork and tests.

Sonia Tucker said the current education system is strained.

"It's impossible," she said.

"There's no way that these teachers can do what they need to do in a classroom size of up to 30 students, and a number of students needing extra help."

'These are needs for him'

Tucker explained a recent scenario, where A.J. studied with her and his teacher for two weeks prior to a test. 

His teacher decided to let A.J. do the test without the needs outlined in his plan. He ended up with 55 per cent.

Sonia Tucker said the resources are just not there in the current inclusive education system in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

For the next test, which was in science, he prepared the same way — but he also had the supports in place. He walked out with an 80.

"These are not wants. These are needs for him," said Tucker.

"If the child was blind, you wouldn't take Braille away from him."

Needs-based system

Tucker said A.J.'s teacher does the best she can, but her son is quiet and can't always speak up.

A.J. Tucker said he finds it hard to ask the teacher for help. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"The needs-based system, of the child that's causing the most disruption gets the service, is not a fair way to do it," she said.

It feels weird going up to ask the teacher questions. I feel like I'm annoying her and I'm bothering her trying to work with the other kids.- A.J. Tucker, student with learning disabilities

A.J. said it's hard for him to keep asking his teacher for the help that he needs.

"It feels weird going up to ask the teacher questions," he said.

"I feel like I'm annoying her and I'm bothering her trying to work with the other kids."

Two-tiered special education system

Tucker has spent as much as $5,000 per year out of the family's budget to provide A.J. with the supports he needs to get through school. 

David Banfield, the executive director of the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, said Tucker's experience is not at all isolated. 

"The system is not resourced properly," he said. 

"I don't think it's the school system that's intentionally trying not to service these children — I just don't think they have the time and resources to do it properly."

David Banfield is the executive director of the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

He said because of the lack of proper resources in the current inclusion model, parents of students with learning disabilities are spending a lot of money to make sure their kids get a proper education.

"We're seeing what we call almost a two-tiered special education system," he said. 

"Parents who can afford it are getting private assessments, private tutoring, and other private services, because of wait times and availability at the schools."

He said private assessments can cost between $2,000 and $3,000, and one-on-one specialized tutoring could be $50 an hour — with two to three sessions in the span of a week.

Banfield said even the association's own tutoring program has seen a 350 per cent increase — and there's a wait list to boot.

Resources are needed

"The bottom line is we need more human resources and more financial resources in our schools to make it work effectively," Banfield said.

These kids can succeed, these kids can learn — just not in the environment that they're in right now.- Sonia Tucker, mother of student with learning disabilities

He said that includes the need for more teachers, guidance counsellors, educational psychologists, and more specialists like student and teacher assistants.

He said teachers in training at Memorial University should undergo a more comprehensive program to know how to deal with students with exceptionalities.

"If we're going to ask classroom teachers to work in an inclusive environment, we need to train them to do that," he said.

'It's a continuing battle'

Tucker said she will continue the fight to ensure her son gets a proper education.

Ideally, she said she'd like to see an instructional resource teacher (IRT) in every classroom. Though she noted: "I don't think our government will ever see that happen."

Tucker said another option is to have teacher aides in the classrooms, like they do in other provinces.

"These kids can succeed, these kids can learn — just not in the environment that they're in right now," she said.


Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a reporter and producer with CBC News in St. John's.