Inclusion Classroom Defined

Students paying attention in class

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.

Picture of Luke Dalien

Luke Dalien

Author Luke Dalien has spent his life dedicated to helping others break the chains of normal so that they may live fulfilled lives. When he’s not busy creating books aimed to bring a smile to the faces of children, he and his amazing wife, Suzie, work tirelessly on their joint passion; helping children with special needs reach their excellence. Together, they founded an online tutoring and resource company, Poetry, which had been a personal endeavor of Luke’s for the better part of two decades, was mainly reserved for his beautiful wife, and their two amazing children, Lily and Alex. With several “subtle nudges” from his family, Luke finally decided to share his true passion in creativity with the world through his first children’s book series, “The Adventures Of The Silly Little Beaver."


  1. This article is 100% my sons case at his school. He is five years old and autistic. Due to the labeling of “high functioning” autism, my son is basically thrown into a classroom of general education full inclusion. Our district is small and lacks the special education teacher lacks the knowledge, compassion, and sensitivity to serve children with special needs. He receives special ed services 3 times a week 30 minutes each session. He also has a 1:2 aide, and this is not enough help to keep him on task. The school assessed him at 50% of the time distracted; yet they state he does not need 1:1 help for staying on task. He literally lies on his desk, or carpet during instruction time, and needs motivation and engagement from a support staff. At our last meeting voiced my concerns, and got really emotional. I informed them of my thoughts to home school him half day, and opt to place him 6 hours a day with his ABA. I don’t know what else to do! I believe they are allowing him to play during learning time just so they don’t have to deal with teaching him, or calm his behaviors.
    Additionally, he receives speech therapy 1x a week for 45 minutes, and OT twice a month. These services are not enough! We have had 10 IEP meetings this year, as I did not agree to the IEP, nor did I sign it. The school does not provide him with educative material to support his learning style. He has no visual aides, software, social stories, audio books etc. He is basically thrown in the class to either sink, or swim. Its extremely frustrating and disappointing. Our next IEP meeting is this Monday and I am going to request additional service time for all areas.

  2. Thanks for the information. I am a parent living in canada with my only son suffering from autism. Many times I get so confused with making choices of the activities and kind of educational plan to choose for him. I like reading these articles cause they are very helpful. I still need much help. He’s now 7years in an inclusive classroom with an IEP and refuses to go to school most often. I have attempted severally to find out why he’s refusing school but not getting any concrete reason. He does not have any extra curricular activity. I really need help. Coming from Africa, I had never heard of ASD until when my son was diagnosed. I strongly feel he’s not getting enough help from the School . He does ABA 3 days in a week 7hrs/day and has very limited speech. just few words

  3. Have you considered moving to a school system where your son is enrolled in an autism classroom? From your description, I don’t see him as succeeding in Inclusion. Eventually he could be transferred into a general ed classroom when he is ready. The ABA program is a good idea–stick with that.

    I believe your school system is giving your son all the resources available that they are able to provide–at this time. Talk to his special Ed teacher–she/he writes his IEP. Ask her/him for a conference–even on the phone or a Zoom or Google. Keep in close touch–perhaps even weekly or bi-weekly conference with his sped teacher and also talk to the Autism Specialist for the school district area for your school. You can also have a confernce –or anytime–every 9 wks at report car time with his general ed teacher to see how he is doing–she/he is most likely grading him.

    Don’t give up and do not put excess stress on your son. Stay calm and speak about your concerns. Your first resource should be his Special Education teacher.

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