Sometimes I talk with parents who aren't sure about their child with a disability being an inclusive classroom.
They're worried that their student won't get the level of attention that they need, that she or he may be a distraction to other students, that their student may participate in unsafe behavior because of the materials that are available, or that she or he will feel left out if they cannot understand the content being taught.
As such, I want to take some time to address why and how inclusion benefits children with disabilities as well as those without disabilities.
A quick disclaimer here-- I know that a fully inclusive environment is not possible and/or not the right placement for every student. That said, I do believe that every child can benefit from inclusive experiences, even if they are not spending their school day in a general education classroom.
So let's get to it! How does inclusion benefit children with disabilities?
Most notably, inclusion benefits students with disabilities because it surrounds them with appropriate modeling from typically-developing peers. This means that our students with disabilities in an inclusive classroom see both academically and socially how a student their age that does not have a disability solves problems, attends to the rules, and interacts with adults and other children (among other things).
We want to begin teaching social skills as early as possible for our students with disabilities, and it's much easier to teach social skills in the natural context where we expect students to perform those skills and where there are social implications for performing those skills (aka in an environment with their peers).
Additionally, inclusion benefits children with disabilities because it's a practice field for the post-school world.
Here's a challenge for you to remember this Friday: the goal of raising kids is to raise adults.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a world that has been structured for folks without disabilities. While we are constantly working to increase acceptance and accessibility, we must also prepare our students for the current reality of the world we live in. When we segregate students in school, we deprive them of the ability to practice existing in a world in which not everyone is like them.
At the end of the day, if we want our children to work, if we want them to participate meaningfully in their community, if we want them to someday live on their own, then they're going to need to learn how to live in a world that accommodates them but does not solely cater to them. And an inclusive classroom is a natural place to start.
It's also important to recognize that inclusion is best-practice because it benefits ALL students, including those without disabilities.
One of the common arguments against inclusion that I hear from schools is this: a student with a disability shouldn't be allowed to participate because to do so would jeopardize opportunities for development for the students without disabilities.
Some common fears include that an inclusive classroom will dumb down the content for the other students, that the other students will pick up poor behavior from a student with a disability, or that the student with a disability will take attention away from the rest of the students.
While these things are possibilities, they are not inevitabilities.
Research shows that inclusion, when implemented appropriately, benefits all children. Research shows that inclusive classrooms provide more support than a traditional classroom, both in terms of personnel and in terms of diverse instructional strategies. As a result, students with diverse learning needs who aren't in the special education system benefit from the strategies and supports provided that are intended for students with disabilities.
This phenomenon is called Universal Design for Learning. It’s similar to the benefit that folks without disabilities who use strollers or rolling suitcases receive from the curb cuts that are intended for users in wheelchairs. We all benefit from the extra accommodations that are provided, even if they're not specifically provided for our use. Because of the extra support that occurs in an inclusive classroom, academic achievement improves among all students.
Additionally, as I referenced above, inclusion benefits children without disabilities because it prepares them for a world that includes those who are different from them. It teaches empathy, understanding, and combats discriminatory attitudes. From Gibbons et al., “[Inclusion] provides structured opportunities for us to work and interact with diverse students, in order to adequately prepare to engage in a diverse global society.”
There's a reason why inclusion is such a buzzword-- it benefits all students when implemented appropriately and with the correct supports.
Do you have thoughts about inclusion? I'd love to hear them! Hop on over to our Facebook page to share!