'Including Samuel' shows how we all benefit from including special needs kids in regular classrooms

Yesterday, I saw a screening of "Including Samuel", a documentary based primarily on the life of Samuel Habib, a kindergartener with cerebral palsy. I found it to be an informative and objective look at inclusive education and I urge you to watch it if you can. Here's the preview:

The film has lots of interesting perspectives on segregated special education and how it neither serves special needs nor typical students. Education professionals noted how much better children learned and teachers taught when they had to pay more attention to the idea that not everyone has the same capabilities. But it also had perspectives from a teacher who was frustrated to tears about how to include a special needs kid in her class and another special needs student who did far better in a more therapeutic atmosphere.

The real message of the film, I thought, was that inclusion doesn't automatically make community but automatically not including everyone undercuts a community. As one person said during the discussion after the film, graduates of special education don't get to live in a special world separated from their able-bodied peers.

And I know very intimately how segregating special needs kids can make it difficult for a typical person to see them as normal and natural. How much easier would it have been to learn of Malachi's condition if I'd spent more than an hour with anyone with CP?

I had to blink back tears many times during the film, but particularly during scenes when they interviewed Samuel's classmates. The concept that Samuel might be "special" seemed totally foreign to them. When asked about him, his classmates reported his favorite color or that he likes spaceships — not that he is in a wheelchair, not that he speaks unclearly, not that he doesn't eat by mouth. That those things were not worth mentioning was heart-warming and frankly awe-inspiring.

I was also fascinated with the scenes of home life with Samuel and his interactions with his older brother, Isaiah. The two clearly loved each other enormously and Isaiah seemed not to consider Samuel's disability a big factor in who he was as a person. When asked what it would be like if his brother didn't have CP, Isaiah thought about it for a little while then said: "He would be able to annoy me more."

Clearly this is just not a high priority for Isaiah.

I could take a few pages from his book.

(I had so much more to say about this topic that I decided to break it into three parts. Check back tomorrow and the next day for more.)


  1. I watched this documentary before I had Nina! I would love to watch it again! I wonder when they will be playing it again. When we watched it it was on PBS really late at night, we just happened to flip through the channels. I often thought back to Samuel when we were in the process of adopting Nina.

    1. Interesting! I guess I assumed it had just come out.

      If you're really interested you can buy the DVD on their site for about $20.

  2. I met the filmmaker in January. Sam is now in middle school. I posted pictures of meting Dan Habib on my blog chek it out


    1. Crap, I totally was going to plug your blog in this post and then I forgot. Thanks for including the link! I'll go check it out right now!

  3. We have Julia's IEP evaluation this Thursday (we're probably not sending her to preschool, but whatever, better to do it and say no, then not do it and change our minds), and your summation of somebody's after comment, is what we are weighing:

    "Graduates of special education don't get to live in a special world separated from their able-bodied peers."

    Heck, Julia's life now is not separated. She doesn't know ANYBODY who is not able-bodied. Her and Gabrielle have figured out how to work around her physical limitations to interact with each other. To separate her from other kids her age just because she has gross motor delays seems incredibly wrong.

    1. Yes, I think that's one of the great things about having multiples is that built-in integration with able-bodied peers. The movie asked, is there any place in society where people with disabilities are treated equally? And the answer is yes, in millions of families.

      I hadn't thought of this before you said it, but I'll have to make sure Malachi gets some playdates with other kids with CP as he gets older. Not knowing anybody else like you would be hard.

  4. Anonymous11:29 AM

    I've heard several people from this film speak, including Dan Habib, and have been fired up and encouraged every time. It's so easy to get worn down by the process of getting a school team to have buy in on this concept and to make sure everyone is supported and prepared. I feel like Aidan missed some great inclusionary opportunities in elementary school when it would have been so much easier but is getting some great experiences now in 5th grade, even though he is also in a special classroom sometimes. It's a long exhausting road and our kids our worth it. Wish it were easier.


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