By: Aileen Dewey
When congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, schools opened their doors to all children no matter what strengths, weaknesses, or disabilities, they may have. These acts allow children who were exclusively in a special needs classroom to join the typical classroom through inclusion. What exactly is inclusion and how can educators ensure that each child’s needs are being met?
With IDEA each student with a disability is eligible to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a great tool to help identify the student’s current performance level, what extra services they will be provided, and what the long and short term goals are for that individual. Some of these extra services can include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and inclusion. IEP’s can help the school and educators know what each child needs and is expected of them.
Inclusion means that children with disabilities can now participate in a regular classroom. Before inclusion, children with learning or behavioral differences were segregated. This segregation set these students back because they couldn’t socialize with their peers, the expectations were lower, and they didn’t have the opportunities to learn and grow from teachable moments with the typical developing child. There are many benefits to mainstreaming students but some educators and parents have concerns about how this will affect those with typical development.
With my experience as a paraprofessional with special needs children, I see that this is not an issue at all when I bring my students in for inclusion. The expectations for each individual student are high and they are each pushed to succeed to the best of their abilities. Children learn a lot from each other through observation and imitation. If we continued with segregation, these students would never learn what is appropriate in a regular setting. They need an example set before them in order to learn this. As these children are exposed to more of the regular education setting they will continually make great strides through their experiences and most will not need any extra services in the future.
If we didn’t allow these children to join the regular education setting, what kind of example does that set for the typical child? That people different from them are not acceptable in society, that they don’t deserve a chance to succeed, to be a friend? Inclusion can be a great thing for all children. They learn that diversity is what makes this world work, they learn about the value of human beings as individuals, and to look out for those who need help.
Inclusion may not be for every child. We don’t want to set anyone up to fail. But if we don’t push those who have the ability to succeed, then they never will. Inclusion in the educational system has given students the opportunity to accept, value, and bond with all their peers. Optimal child development, high expectations, and forming friendships no matter what differences there are should be the goals in every school. Inclusion is the best thing that happened to our schools and with the help from wonderful teachers and paraprofessionals, things can only get better from here.
To learn more about inclusion, programs, and those who may benefit from it, please visit the following sites: