We all want the best for our children. That’s especially true when it comes to education. In a perfect world, we hope that school will be a place of learning, growth and community for the ones that we love most. And while the majority of educators and school administrators want to provide just those benefits to all students, there is much debate about how best to do that—especially in regards to children with disabilities.
Special Education: Past, Present and Future
As recently as the mid-1970s, children with special educational needs were only provided programming if they attended school in larger school districts. And, in most of these cases, disabled students were placed together in classrooms separate from the children without disabilities, often leaving them to feel stigmatized and ostracized.
However, progress has been made in the last several decades. In an attempt to meet the needs of disabled students, schools have begun to practice special education inclusion. Special education inclusion is, essentially, the intent to educate special needs children, as much as is appropriate, in the same classroom as children without special needs.
It’s a complicated issue, with many factors. In order to better understand the process it may be helpful to have a basic understanding of some key terms.
Schools which employ a full inclusion model place all students, no matter the severity of their disability, in the same classroom. All students within these classrooms follow the same schedule and attend the same events. Usually in these cases, a special education teacher is assigned to partner with the general education teacher to assist special needs students throughout the day.
Mainstreaming occurs when the child spends a significant portion of his or her day in a general education classroom, depending on what that child’s skills and capabilities are. When the child is not in the general education classroom, he is assigned to a “resource room” or special education classroom in which all the students have disabilities.
The push in model sees the student placed in a regular classroom, with a special education teacher in attendance during specific periods or at specific times to provide individualized instruction on certain topics. For example, the teacher may come in during the reading unit to read one-on-one with the child.
Differentiation is a method in which teachers, through detailed planning and a broad range of activities, teach each particular student as his or her own level of ability. This can allow for more flexibility in method and instructional focus.
While Federal law does not specifically require inclusion, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), now requires that children with disabilities be educated in the “least restrictive environment appropriate” for their needs. Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that children with disabilities are placed in the regular educational environment, unless it can be proven that educational aides and services cannot satisfactorily assist in the child’s learning.
Where to from here?
If you’re considering placing your child in an inclusive program, it’s important that you understand your options and evaluate your priorities for your child’s education. What are your child’s social, emotional and intellectual needs and challenges?
Do research on the schools you’re considering. Learn about the model of inclusion they’re employing and visit to determine if it might be appropriate for your child. Speak to the teachers and school administrators. If possible, speak to the parents of other special needs students who attend the school. Ask them what they think works, and whether they have any concerns or complaints about the program.
There are many educational models out there, and only you can decide what is most appropriate for your own child.
If you focus on what you want for your child and take the time to do the research, you may well find a program that provides terrific educational options to fit your family’s needs.