The term inclusion captures, in one word, an all-embracing societal ideology. Regarding individuals with disabilities and special education, inclusion secures opportunities for students with disabilities to learn alongside their non-disabled peers in general education classrooms.
Inclusive education is a relatively controversial topic for many parents and educators. The idea behind inclusive education is that students with special needs will be placed in the same classroom environment as other students their age who do not have special needs. Research shows that when a child with disabilities attends classes alongside peers who do not have disabilities, good things happen.
Within inclusive education, there are two main branches of thinking: mainstreaming and full inclusion. Mainstreaming is a process that allows children with special needs to enter certain standard classrooms after they show the ability to keep up with the rest of their peers.
Full inclusion puts students with special needs in standard classroom environments without testing or demonstration of skills. Individuals that support full inclusion believe that all children belong in the same classroom environment no matter what.
For a long time, children with disabilities were educated in separate classes or in separate schools. People got used to the idea that special education meant separate education. But we now know that when children are educated together, positive academic and social outcomes occur for all the children involved.
We also know that simply placing children with and without disabilities together does not produce positive outcomes. Inclusive education occurs when there is ongoing advocacy, planning, support and commitment.
These are the principles that guide quality inclusive education:
- All children belong
Inclusive education is based on the simple idea that every child and family is valued equally and deserves the same opportunities and experiences. Inclusive education is about children with disabilities – whether the disability is mild or severe, hidden or obvious – participating in everyday activities, just like they would if their disability were not present. It’s about building friendships, membership and having opportunities just like everyone else.
- All children learn in different ways
Inclusion is about providing the help children need to learn and participate in meaningful ways. Sometimes, help from friends or teachers works best. Other times, specially designed materials or technology can help. The key is to give only as much help as needed.
- It is every child’s right to be included
Inclusive education is a child’s right, not a privilege. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act clearly states that all children with disabilities should be educated with non-disabled children their own age and have access to the general education curriculum.
Why Is Inclusion Important?
While feelings about inclusive education are still somewhat mixed, many studies show that children with special needs thrive in standard classroom environments for a variety of different reasons.
On an interpersonal level, inclusive education allows children to develop friendships with their peers and feel less social tension about their disabilities. Some people believe that children who are placed in standard classroom environments generally have higher self-esteem than children who are isolated to different classrooms simply because they have special needs.
Other studies show that children with special needs actually learn more in regular classroom environments, provided they get the help and support they need in and out of the classroom when it comes to academic subjects. Groups that oppose inclusive education often maintain the position that children without special need will be forced to learn at a slower pace, but in practice, this is easily avoided by qualified teachers.
Benefits of Inclusive Education
The benefits of inclusive education are numerous for both students with and without disabilities.
Benefits of Inclusion for Students with Disabilities
- Increased social initiations, relationships and networks
- Peer role models for academic, social and behavior skills
- Increased achievement of IEP goals
- Greater access to general curriculum
- Enhanced skill acquisition and generalization
- Increased inclusion in future environments
- Greater opportunities for interactions
- Higher expectations
- Increased school staff collaboration
- Increased parent participation
- Families are more integrated into community
Benefits of Inclusion for Students Without Disabilities
- Meaningful friendships
- Increased appreciation and acceptance of individual differences
- Increased understanding and acceptance of diversity
- Respect for all people
- Prepares all students for adult life in an inclusive society
- Opportunities to master activities by practicing and teaching others
- Greater academic outcomes
- All students’ needs are better met, greater resources for everyone