Disabled students should be integrated into mainstream classes and activities as much as possible in the public school system because integration teaches social skills, boosts self-esteem and teaches nondisabled children acceptance and how to interact with disable peers. Inclusion is the practice of including disabled students with the general population in all aspects of school to the maximum extent possible with supports in place to aid in the success of the child (Sapon-Shiven and Sapon-Shiven). The list of arguments against integration for disabled students is long and varied. The opponents of inclusive classrooms feel that the education of typical students will be negatively affected. Most feel that inclusion is one size fits all solution. Teachers are not trained to teach on such a wide range of abilities and will not be accepting of inclusive teaching., however, all these arguments can be overcome.
Social skills are an important part of education; it is through social skills that a child learns to behave appropriately not only in school but also in the community. Disabled children are very often shielded from the community by well-meaning parents and caregivers. Children mimic the behavior of those around them which in a self-contained classroom is not good. Social skills cannot be learned from others that also do not have social skills. When disabled children are integrated into an inclusive or mainstream classroom, they are exposed to a normal social setting and learn appropriate behaviors by mimicking the behavior of typical children such as taking turns, not interrupting, etc. as evidenced from personal observation. In an inclusive setting disabled children are exposed to the unwritten rules of society, where touching another appropriately or inappropriately may be overlooked in a self-contained class, it would not be overlooked in an inclusive class. They are also held to the same social standards as the general population of the school and therefore face the same disciplinary actions. Most disabled children have sensory issues that typical children do not for example loud noises can lead to a meltdown. In an inclusive setting disabled children are exposed to more noise and people than is found in a self-contained classroom but in a controlled environment which helps to facilitate the ability to cope with loud noises and crowds. Learning appropriate social skills is a difficult, if not impossible, task in a self-contained classroom. However, with professionally trained teachers and the right supports they can not only learn social skills from teachers but also from their non-disabled peers. Learning social skills sets ups a disabled child for success during his/her academic career as well as in life after school.
In How Young Children Evaluate People With and Without Disabilities, Huckstadt and Shutts state that One in six children in the United States has a developmental disability and most students with disabilities attend schools with typically developing peers. When disabled children spend their school day in a self-contained class room, they are cut off from the general student population which leads to feeling that they do not belong. According to sociometric studies typical children tend to choose other typical children over disabled children, (Huckstadt and Shutts). The need to belong or to be accepted is a basic human need without which our self“esteem suffers. Social exclusion and bullying have obvious negative impacts on the targets of those behaviors, but biased attitudes and behaviors also deny typically developing children the opportunity to develop close relationships with diverse individuals, (Huckstadt and Shutts). When disabled students are cut off from the student population, typical students are more likely to view them as being different or strange which can lead to bullying. According to Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center 60% of disabled students in comparison to 25% of all student’s report being bullied regularly. While suicide cannot be tied directly to bullying, it does put adolescents at more of a risk. Children with low self-esteem may believe they’re not worthy of good treatment (Bob Cunningham). A child with low self-esteem may face challenges such as repeated failure leading to feeling of frustration, anger, anxiety, and sadness; losing interest in learning, loss of friendships, be withdrawn, and use self-defeating ways of dealing with stress. Not surprisingly, when social interactions are fostered and peer acceptance of increases, all students show improvements in social skills and self-esteem, transition and communication skills, and language and cognitive development (Kulusic). In an inclusive classroom with caring adults who monitor bullying, disabled children have the tools to improve their self-esteem.
Attributes of others that are encountered for the first time (e.g., beards or glasses) may initially be confusing or frightening. Not surprisingly, young children conceptualise disability predominantly with respect to physical appearance and they may respond negatively to peers who appear physically different, (Gilmore and Howard). Typical children are not usually exposed to disabled persons prior to entering school, as a result they have not learned to accept disability. Children’s attitudes tend to be more negative towards peers with disabilities than towards typically developing children (Lindsey and al). However, typical children can be taught to accept disabled children with the help of a caring adult. A disabled child in the class gives opportunity to instruct children about social difference and tolerance of people that are different. Learning to accept difference is critical because everyone is unique and eventually they will work in a world of people who are different. Inclusive education in neighbourhood schools allows students to meet other neighbourhood children and youth, which can lead to friendships outside of school hours (Kulusic). Also, learning about disabled people leads into learning how to interact with them for example using sign language or a speech device as a means of communication. Interaction between disabled children and their typical peers leads into supporting each other. An example of that support would be an autistic child being the motivator for the football team and the football team being the protector of the autistic child.
In conclusion, inclusive teaching benefits not the disabled child but the typical child as well. It is critical for children to learn acceptance at an early age and inclusive teaching if done right carries out that goal. Just including disabled children in classrooms with typically developing children, however is not enough. Children and young people without disabilities have reported that being with those who have disabilities has improved their self-concept, increased their social awareness and acceptances of others, reduced their fear of human differences, and helped them develop personal principles and friendships (Kulusic). Admittedly there are some situations of disability that warrant self-contained classrooms, but those are very rare. Most disabled children would be better served in an inclusive class with pull-outs or resource for more intense instruction. According to the IDEA’s LRE or mainstreaming policy, school districts are required to educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms with their nondisabled peers, in the school they would attend if not disabled, to the maximum extent appropriate (Wrightslaw – Least Restrictive Environment/Inclusion Index Page).
Self-contained classrooms are usually social isolated from the general student body and sometimes physically isolated as well. In Taking a Closer Look at the Impact of Classroom Placement: Students Share Their Perspective from Inside Special Education Classrooms, a study done in middle and high schools, Jones and Hensley describe transportation for special education students as arriving and departing on special education buses and using a separate entrance thus physically isolating this population. Based on observation and experience in the local school system, children in self-contained classrooms are isolated from the general student population approximately 85-90% of the day. For purposes of their study, Jones and Hensley, used terms self-contained classrooms and resources rooms, also known in other districts as life skills or inclusive respectively. We were interested in exploring the differences between students in resource rooms and students in self-contained classrooms regarding their self-determination and relationships with classmates and teachers, (Jones and Hensley). The findings of the study by Jones and Hensley were that students in resource rooms felt better about all four factors (autonomy, self-regulation, psychological empowerment, and self-realization) of self-determination than did the students in self-contained classrooms. Students in self-contained classrooms felt that their classmates were more supportive than students in resource rooms did, (Jones and Hensley). Also, of interest, teachers in self-contained classrooms indicated that students were overly dependent on them, (Jones and Hensley).
Jones and Hensley recommend giving students in self-contained classrooms more access to the general student during naturally occurring opportunities such as in middle and high schools the changing of classes, lunch, and clubs sponsored by the school. The opportunity to socialize with the general student body does not mean just taking the disabled students to the lunch room, however. Students need to mingle with and converse with the general student body. To build self-determination, it is imperative that disabled students have opportunity to make choices about their school day and have access to positive relationships to positive role models that exhibit self-determined behaviors. Students with special needs should also have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities. All students regardless of disability can participate in some way with clubs, activities, and/or extracurricular activities, e.g. a disabled student may not be able to play football but possibly could be the team manager.
The task of integrating disabled children into an inclusive environment is daunting, but not integrating denies them the opportunity to become independent members of society. Denying children in self-contained classrooms the opportunity to socialize with typical students as much as possible is not only illegal but is discrimination. Just as segregation of African Americans was discrimination so is segregation of disabled children. By not integrating disabled children into mainstream(inclusive) education to the fullest extent possible, they are being discriminated against. This teaches not only disabled students but typical students and the larger community that discrimination against disabled individuals is acceptable.
Bob Cunningham, Ed. M. Understood.org. n.d. 6 October 2018. .
Bullying of Students with Disabilities. n.d. .
Gilmore, Linda and Glenn Howard. “”Children’s Books that Promote Understanding of Difference, Diversity, and Disability.”” Journal of Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools (2016): 218-251.
Huckstadt, Lauren K. and Kristin Shutts. “”How Young Children Evaluate People With and Without Disabilities.”” Journal of Social Issues 70.1 (2014): 99-114. 14 October 2018.
Jones, Jennifer L. and Lisa R. Hensley. “”Taking a Closer Look at the Impact of Classroom Placement: Students Share their Perspective from Inside Special Education Classrooms.”” Educational Research Quarterly 35.3 (2012): 33-49. ProQuest. .
Kulusic, Tamara. A Parent’s Handbook on Inclusive Education. New Westminister: InclusionBC, n.d. .
Lindsey, Sally and et al. “”Exploring Children’s Perceptions of Two School-Based Social Inclusion Programs: A Pilot Study.”” Child & Youth Care Forum (2013): 1-18.
Sapon-Shiven, Mara and Sapon-Shiven. “”Inclusive Education.”” Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education. 1st. Sage Publications, 2012. .
Wrightslaw – Least Restrictive Environment/Inclusion Index Page. n.d.
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