Inclusion Of Children With Disabilities In Regular Classroom Settings
Over the last 30 years, there has been a steady shift toward greater inclusion of children with disabilities in regular classroom settings. Inclusive education means that children with and without disabilities are educated together in integrated classrooms. In inclusive settings, all children and their parents have an equal opportunity to interact with the larger school community. Inclusion is not the same as mainstreaming. Mainstreaming includes children with disabilities in the general classroom only part-time. Where mainstreaming occurs, children with disabilities receive the majority of their education in segregated classrooms with other children who have disabilities. The opportunity to interact with typically achieving peers is limited, and children who are mainstreamed are less likely to feel like they belong to the larger school community and are less likely to be accepted by their peers.
Children with special needs who are educated in inclusive schools are provided with individually tailored support and instruction so that their specific psycho-educational needs are met. Many children with disabilities require accommodations to profit from the general education curriculum. In inclusive schools, accommodations and adaptations are provided within the setting of the regular education classroom. Accommodations may be made with respect to methods and materials (e.g., hard copies of notes and breaking lessons into smaller segments), assignments and assessments (e.g., modified assignments and extra time to complete work), or the learning environment (e.g., preferential seating and small group instruction).
Classrooms around the country have become more inclusive over the years. According to the U.S. Department of Education, from 1998 to 1999, 47% of students with disabilities in the United States spent over 80% of the day in a regular education classroom. Increasingly, general education teachers have had to learn how to address the different educational needs of students with and without disabilities who are included in their classrooms. Indeed, approximately 96% of general education teachers have at some point taught a student with a disability. There are approximately 5.8 million children with disabilities in the United States. Widespread efforts to promote positive attitudes toward disability and to train school personnel are necessary to break down some of the educational barriers to inclusion. Knowledge about the characteristics of various disabilities and the ability to adapt one’s teaching to meet the needs of children with disabilities in the general education classroom are now essential responsibilities of general education teachers. Unfortunately, most teachers report that their preservice training did not adequately prepare them to meet the educational needs of students with various disabilities.
Children with disabilities and their parents have been given equal and fair access to education ever since the inception of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA became law in 1975 and was updated in 1997 and again most recently in 2004. The Amendments of 1997 gave children with disabilities and their parents unprecedented rights. Under the law, children with disabilities and their parents are actively encouraged to participate in their education. And, although schools are not required by law to practice inclusion, schools are required to make every effort to include all children in general education programs and settings. Indeed, the language in the IDEA Amendments underscored that all children and youth with disabilities shall have access to a free, appropriate public education with nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate and may be included in any state or district-wide accountability programs. Accordingly, U.S. schools have been increasingly educating students with disabilities in regular classrooms.
Prior to the IDEA, children with disabilities were segregated and taught in separate classrooms. Unfortunately, research suggests that children with disabilities frequently experience isolation, peer rejection, and loneliness, and also tend to suffer chronic depression and anxiety more often than children who do not have disabilities. Negative and prejudiced attitudes toward peers with disabilities are evident as early as the preschool years and may persist through high school. Indeed, school segregation of children with disabilities contributed to their poor experiences in school and to the negative attitudes held by other children and adults. In the 1980s, mainstreaming—pulling children with disabilities out of their regular classrooms for special help with resource teachers—was especially commonplace. While mainstreaming was an effort at eliminating school segregation of children with disabilities, it was not enough. Today, children who are educated in inclusive settings are not in isolated classrooms and they are not pulled out of the general classroom for special assistance; instead, they receive all the help they need in their general education classroom. Today, even children with the most severe disabilities (e.g., Down syndrome, autism) are included in general education classrooms for at least some portion of the school day.
Nevertheless, critics of full inclusion argue that placing children with disabilities in the general classroom taxes the already overworked general education teacher. Some general education teachers echo this criticism, believing that inclusion results in a heavier and more challenging workload. Other critics worry that the inclusion of children with disabilities in the general classroom results in a lowering of curriculum standards for the typically achieving children. In contrast, proponents of inclusion argue that segregating children with disabilities is a violation of their human rights. They further contend that all people regardless of whether they have a disability have a role to play in society. Advocates of inclusion argue that integrated schools prepare children for an integrated life beyond school. Indeed, recent scientific studies are encouraging and point to positive social and academic outcomes for children who are educated with typically achieving peers in inclusive settings. Without a doubt, with appropriate support and continuing intervention efforts, all children can experience success in school and beyond.
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