Inclusion in education has always been a hot topic. Many parents don’t know what to do with their kids that are diagnosed with a disability while they are in school because up until that point, they have been included with the typical child. After it is suggested that the child be placed into special education, a parent may feel that their child will now be deprived of “normalcy”… whatever that is.
Before continuing on, lets clarify the definition of three similar sounding but very different terms that are frequently used when discussing special education inclusion.
Generally, mainstreaming has been used to refer to the selective placement of special education students in one or more “regular” education classes. This concept is closely linked to traditional forms of special education service delivery.
Inclusion is a term which expresses commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend. It involves bringing the support services to the child (rather than moving the child to the services) and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class
Full inclusion means that all students, regardless of handicapping condition or severity, will be in a regular classroom/program full time. All services must be taken to the child in that setting.
Special Education Inclusion Under the Law
As mentioned in the video, there is a law that specifies how this issue could potentially be resolved. We say “potentially” because like every other piece of legislation, there are opponents that say it is not a viable solution. This law does not require inclusion, but it requires that a significant effort be made to find an inclusive placement.
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as amended in 2004, provides guidelines and protections for children to assure their right to a free and appropriate public education. The principle of the law is that children with disabilities should not be denied the same opportunities offered to everyone else, everyone gets access to public education and therefore so should children with disabilities.
Now that we know exactly what special needs inclusion entails in education, lets lay out the 6 best practices for mainstreaming special needs children as described by Thomas Hehir, former director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs:
- Use resources to help improve the instruction of all students: “… inclusive schools look at their resources as in a sense all being devoted to improving the instructional program for all kids. They don’t look at the special ed budget or the bilingual budget. There is a budget for the schools, and the schools use those resources effectively.”
- Value students with disabilities, value the inclusion of children with disabilities: “…the principals of those schools and the teachers of those schools value disability, [and] value the inclusion of children with disabilities.” – Thomas Hehir. Mainstreaming special needs students is not going to be beneficial if the principals and teachers don’t value special needs students – this will only create a negative environment for these students.
- Train teachers to deal with the special needs population: Teachers need to know how to deal with the behavioral and emotional challenges they are faced with every day in their classrooms.
- Have teachers work together to solve problems created by inclusion: Two heads are always better than one. Setting up collaboration between teachers can allow them to solve problems they have never faced. Teacher collaboration also allows teachers to share what has worked for them in similar situations.
- Assign special needs students to experienced teachers: Since teachers rarely receive formal training for working with special needs students, undoubtedly, it is a better to assign these students to experienced teachers that have dealt with the issues that these students can bring to the classroom.
- Do not segregate students in prior grades: If special needs students are going to attend mainstream classrooms, they need to do so at every grade level. You cannot expect them to suddenly adjust because they are in a higher grade.
So, as clearly pointed out, special needs inclusion is very important for the well being of all children. Those with special needs are only treated differently when it comes to providing extra services to make sure that they are not left behind AND “normal” children are exposed to those that are different, teaching them at an early age that everyone should be included in childhood activities. Everyone needs to be on the same page is inclusion is going to occur at its fullest potential.