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Fostering Inclusion in the Classroom: 7th Graders Learn About Spina Bifida

Fostering Inclusion in the Classroom: 7th Graders Learn About Spina Bifida
Rowan with classmates

“Maybe you are colorblind or maybe you have diabetes, maybe there’s something you have that we can’t see,” Indirect Teacher Consultant Jolie Donahue said. “Rowan has the characteristic of spina bifida.”

Donahue presented to middle schoolers about spina bifida because their classmate, Rowan who has spina bifida, will be joining his classmates to learn social studies. This was a conversation highlighted on inclusion and understanding.

Donahue started off her discussion by telling the class all of the things Rowan loves. Rowan loves people, and he communicates that joy through his big smile. He also communicates with his eyes when he has to make decisions or uses a button when he’s competed with a task, like eating.

“Mr. Duffany might as Rowan a question and be like ‘yes or no,’” Donahue demonstrated by holding up both of her hands. “If Rowan moves his eyes to the hand that indicated ‘yes,’ then Mr. Duffany will know what he means.”

She also shared that Rowan loves fruit. It’s his favorite food, and his favorite fruit is bananas. He loves cars and watching car shows, so she encouraged other car fans to talk to him about them. Rowan also enjoys being read to.

“Rowan is joining this class because he had space in his schedule,” Donahue told the class. “Since Rowan is also a seventh grader, we thought this would be a great opportunity. Duffany and Ms. Passno are really open to having him join the class.”  

Rowan then joined the class for his introduction.

Jolie Donahue presents about spina bifida

Spina bifida occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. Typically, the neural tube forms early in pregnancy and closes by the 28th day after conception. In babies with spina bifida, a portion of the neural tube doesn't close all the way. This affects the spinal cord and bones of the spine.

“Rowan uses a wheelchair as you can see,” Donahue said to the class when Rowan joined them. “Some challenges he faces is his mobility and his communication, but he can comprehend what you’re saying.”

Donahue then asked the class what challenges that they deal with. Some students mentioned they have autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Tourette syndrome. It was a way for students to connect with Rowan and each other.

“This is a great class for inclusion to happen,” Donahue said. "The teachers have said how understanding and compassionate these students are.”