The history of Special Education doesn’t really go back that far, in fact around 60 years ago, the phrase “special education” did not exist in our American lexicon, simply because the topic wasn’t a hot-button issue. Before 1975, children with disabilities were excluded from being able to receive a free and standard education, which meant they were most likely homeschooled or sent to an institution. That changed when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was signed into law toward the end of the 20th century, and special education was developed for children with special needs.
Because special education was brand new and starting from the ground up, separate classrooms were often assigned to children with special needs, keeping them apart from their regular group of peers. It was thought to help educators work in a more secluded environment with these children, but the division also served to exile the children and give them a stigma that there was something “wrong” that made them not able to partake in daily classroom activities.
Over time, the school systems recognized the need for peer interaction and social activity and started a process called “mainstreaming,” which meant that children with special needs were slowly introduced back into a regular classroom setting. The overall feeling was tentative, however, and this did not include all children who received special education services, only the ones the school felt were ready to transition. This opened the cleft of difference between the school children, and the word “special” started to take on a negative connotation.
The word inclusion means “the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure,” which means that every child has the right to participate in school activities, while the school has a duty to accept the child despite handicaps, limitations or other special needs. When schools have an open inclusion policy, children with special needs are given the same advantages as the other children, with an emphasis placed upon full participation in school activities. This helps to build social skills, self-esteem and gives all children the same status, regardless of individual needs.
Different Types Of Inclusion Classrooms
Because exclusion for children with special needs has existed in the classroom for so long, there are different sub-levels of inclusion that schools can take part in. Depending on the school’s resources and educational standards, they might try one of these two tactics:
• Partial Inclusion – This is a form of integration that takes place within the school, in which children with special needs are given the opportunity to participate in a regular classroom setting for up to half a day. The practice of partial inclusion gives children the chance to be part of a “normal” environment next to their peers while support and assistance are provided, should it be needed. Additional therapy, services or equipment might be necessary to assist the child with special needs while in the full classroom; this might require the child leaving the room for a bit, or going back to the special education room.
• Full Inclusion – Just like it sounds, full inclusion means there are no boundaries and distinctions between “general education” and “special education.” A child with special needs is taught alongside the rest of the children and everyone receives the same education regardless of handicap or limitations. Children with special needs will still receive the same assistance and supportive services that are necessary for them to succeed in the classroom, which helps ease the transition and calm fears that they will be thrown in without the proper adjustments. In some cases, schools practice an extreme form on inclusion – in this instance, children with special needs do not have access to special education services they might need to learn in their own unique way.
Inclusion and its various forms has been a controversial, widely debated topic for quite some time. Some schools advocate segregation, mainstreaming or partial inclusion, while others see no need for barriers and combine all children together. Because sometimes special education is still viewed as a service, not a right, schools with little resources might use full inclusion out of necessity, which can leave children who need special education services the most floundering to stay above water with their studies.
Benefits Of An Inclusion Classroom
As previously mentioned, the practice of inclusion helps a child with special needs in many ways. Being allowed to spend time among their peer group builds much-needed social skills and confidence, and gives them a boost of self-esteem when they’re allowed to participate in daily school activities. They will learn problem-solving and collaboration skills, as well, which can help them throughout their whole lives.
When An Inclusion Classroom Doesn’t Work
Not every child is a good candidate for inclusion, however, and most schools have a standard on which they base participants. A child with special needs who is selected for inclusion most often does not have extreme behavioral issues that might be disruptive or harmful to the other students, as the school has a duty to protect all children during the course of the day. As well, there might be some classroom factors that present a trigger for a child with special needs, such as bright lights or the sound of a pencil sharpener. Since it’s easier to remove the child from this setting instead of vice versa, inclusion would not be a good environment for this type of child.
There is still much to be learned about inclusion practices for children with special needs, but the more you know the easier it is for you to make an informed decision about your child’s schooling. We at Special Education Resource understand the difficulty parenting a child with special needs can present. It’s our mission to arm you with the information and assistance necessary to help ensure your child’s success. We understand you might be presented with some unusual choices or situations, but you are definitely not alone. With the right network of understanding providers, you will be able to handle whatever circumstances life may hand you and your child. There is help, and you’ve come to the right place.