What is Inclusion?

21 Jul

Before 1975, students with disabilities were mainly educated away from their peers.  They were not given the same quality education that non-disabled students were receiving, if they were receiving any at all.  For the most part our education system was failing our children with disabilities.  The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (1975) was the first legislation that said that all children deserve a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  In plain language, this means that for the first time the government was recognizing the equal rights of children with disabilities to receive a quality, free education with their non-disabled peers.  While it took 15 more years until the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would be written and real change would occur, that 1975 act was the first step toward educating all children in our country.  The idea of including students with disabilities to the greatest extent possible was born out of these federal acts and is referred to as inclusion.

Inclusion is when special education services happen while the child is in the general education classroom (not in a special education classroom). It is a philosophy that brings disabled and non-disabled students together and creates an environment of acceptance and belonging for all students.  Inclusion allows students with disabilities access to the same education as non-disabled students, while giving them the supports that they need to be successful.  Students that are in inclusion programs usually have access to more challenging and engaging curriculum.  They are also learning to be a part of their community and are teaching other students to be more accepting of other’s differences.

While the principles of inclusion are wonderful, it is not always successful.  Inclusion must be carefully implemented so that that the students that qualify for services are still getting what they need.  Teachers who teach in inclusion classrooms are taught to differentiate their instruction.  This means that all students are given instruction based on their needs.  Usually, teachers will use less whole group instruction and work with small groups of students instead. Sometimes there will be a teacher’s assistant in the room to help and at other times there will be a special educator there as well.  Some students do not benefit from total inclusion (meaning being in the general education classroom 100% of the day) because they require services that need a separate setting.   This is called partial inclusion.  I think it is safe to say that almost all students do benefit from some inclusion throughout their day.  Research has found that  students in an inclusion program generally have higher academic performance and better social skills than those not in inclusion.

While schools are obligated to educate students in the least restrictive environment (LRE) under the federal law, they sometimes do not do so.  It may be easier or cheaper for them to educate children with special needs in a separate setting.  Sometimes it is more beneficial to the child to be in a classroom or school that is designed to meet their needs .  As a parent, you may want your child educated separately for your own reasons.  Your child may want to be educated separately for their own reasons.  Your child’s team (which includes you and maybe your child- if they are old enough) will be able to best decide what placement is right for your child.  You may not agree with the majority of the team’s choice for your child.  That’s okay, you have that right.  I suggest that you research inclusion and separate settings (classrooms and schools) so that you can make an informed decision for your child.  You should also observe the two types of settings in your school district so you can see for yourself what your child’s placement will be like.  The placement of your child is a very important decision and you would serve your child best by being informed before you are asked to make a choice.

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