Inclusion and the Spelling Bee: Sam’s Story

Amy Noelle Collen
Special needs mom and Blogger
08/17/16  2:34 PM PST

Always assume competence. That’s the lesson Amy, mother to a child with special needs, learned from her young son. Children with disabilities often thrive when they are included in general education and activities alongside their typical peers. This is known as inclusion. In Sam’s case, inclusion enabled him to compete in the school Spelling Bee, an experience that brought out his true potential and showed his mom what he was made of!

Sam and the Spelling Bee: A Lesson in Competence


“I want to be in the Spelling Bee, Mommy,” my son Sam said one day after school.

I couldn’t believe it. I knew the school had a spelling bee but didn’t pay too much attention. After all, my child was in special education, why would he be interested in entering a spelling bee?

Shame on me.

“Are you sure, Sam?” I asked.

“Yes, I am going to be in the Spelling Bee and I am going to win.”

I must admit I was worried for him. I have worried about him ever since he was born preterm at 25 weeks weighing 1 lb 11 oz.  Sam was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 5 months, 2 of those on life support. He had a whole host of life threatening illnesses and infections. Sam had chronic lung disease, fungal infections, bacterial infections, collapsed lung, needed CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) several times, and had numerous blood transfusions. He was a very sick little boy.

When Sam was finally released from the hospital he was followed by numerous specialists along with weekly visits to his pediatrician. He received occupational therapy and physical therapy from the time he was about 8 months old. He attended an intervention preschool at the age of 2, special education preschool at 3, and was enrolled in special education along with mainstreaming starting in Kindergarten. He was diagnosed with mild ataxic cerebral palsy. School psychologist reports reflected some delayed cognitive abilities and low average intelligence. Sam was improving each school year however, but yet I still worried.

Now here he was, seven years old, determined to be in the Spelling Bee.

So what else could I do? My child thought he could win! I grabbed his spelling list and we got to work.

We practiced every day after school. Sam soon learned all the words. The first hurtle for entrance to the Spelling Bee was to win the classroom spelling test. I will never forget  that day. Sam’s special education teacher came up to me elated, “He was the only one to get all the words right! He is going to the Spelling Bee!”

The day of the  Spelling Bee came. Sam stood in front of all his schoolmates and got every word right again! He made it all the way to the surprise challenge words’ round. I was so proud!

Sam didn’t win the Spelling Bee but he was close! I ran up to him after it was over and scooped him up bawling. It was such a wonderful moment for him and for me. A lesson to always assume competence in my amazing kid. It is a day I will always remember!

More resources on inclusion:

Inclusion Matters to Everyone!

Inclusion: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions from the NEA

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Inclusion and Mainstreaming

For more Helpful Links and Resources for Families of Children with Special Needs, click here.

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