Special Education Inclusion: Teaching Children with Disabilities

Learn how Children with Special Needs are Included in the Public Educational System

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If you have a child or children with special needs, one word you are going to hear regarding education is "inclusion."  This article deals with inclusion specifically as it applies to the US educational system, as mandated by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. However the concepts explained here are not unique to US schools as inclusion is an education concept that is growing in practice around the world.

So what is inclusion and how does it affect your child's education? The subject is surrounded by misunderstanding and controversy and it is important for both educators and parents to understand the concept. Here's how to understand special education inclusion.

  1. All students are members of the community. Inclusion is based on the philosophy that all students, regardless of disability, are and should be a part of the school's culture. The belief is that a student that requires special services should have the services brought to the student, not the other way around. Children with disabilities are entitled to the same education as those without disabilities.
  2. Special needs students are educated in their least restrictive environment (LRE). Most special needs students are capable of receiving education in a regular classroom. Placement of special needs students into special education programs and classes puts them outside the school culture and creates division, fear, and ignorance.
  3. Special needs students are not necessarily required to meet the same standards as other students. They participate in activities with the rest of the class though may be given special considerations for their disabilities. For example, a student who is unable to speak would not be able to give an oral report when the other students do, but could make some other kind of presentation. A student who has difficulty writing, perhaps due to fine motor skill problems or vision problems, could be given extra time on a test or allowed to take the test verbally.
  4. Special needs children are educated under an Individualized Education Program(IEP). This program is a group effort by the parents, teachers, and other staff (as well as the student if at all possible). It is designed to create the best educational environment for this particular student.
  5. Inclusion is not the same as mainstreaming. Mainstreaming refers to placing students in both special education and regular education classes while inclusion means placing a student only in regular education classes. Mainstreaming also carries the expectation that the student will meet the same standards as the other students, while inclusion creates a curriculum appropriate to the student's individual abilities.
  6. In the United States educational system, inclusion is the special education law...sort of. There is still some confusion about how far a school has to go to provide an inclusive environment. IDEA says that special needs children must be educated in regular classrooms unless "the nature and severity of the disability is such that education in the regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily." Therefore, it may be necessary for students to attend other special education programs as well.
  7. Inclusion benefits children without disabilities as well. After implementation of inclusive programs, studies have shown improvements to non-disabled students including a greater acceptance of people different from themselves and increased interest in advocacy for the disabled.

Understanding the realities of what inclusion is and is not can dispel a lot of the myth surrounding it and provide all students with the best educational environment possible.


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You have provided a lot of useful information in this article. As the mother of two young children affected by Autism, I believe your article can clarify a few things for parents and educators.

By Sylvie Leochko