For the past few years there has been an increased push for children of all ages with special needs to be integrated into “typical peer” situations. While it can be the magic ticket for some children, it is not for everyone.

The parents of many children with special needs want their child to be “normal”. Part of this is moving into a traditional classroom. Some parents push their children into “typical” peer groups as early as when they are infants with the hope that it will make it so. There is a case for this type of action, but there are caveats as well.

Pro: Inclusion is an older concept than many people think. Vygotsky discussed it in his theory of education. He felt that putting children in an environment where there are peers of varying abilities would eventually move children to the middle of the developmental range present in the classroom. Each child would learn, not only from their teacher, but from their peers as well. For children with special needs inclusion can be an ideal learning environment. They may benefit from more verbal peers who can help them with social speech skills. For example, children can learn how to use their words for conversation, pretend play, and turn taking skills by working with their classmates who talk more. Children also see how other children are behaving in group situations and can adapt things to match. Peers who are more mobile can also motivate children with challenges to join in the fun.

Cons: For some children inclusion is extremely difficult. For those with extreme needs, even having a personal aid may not be enough for them to fully engage with others in the class. Children with severe motor needs and reduced cognitive ability may not reap the same benefits from an inclusion situation. These children may end up sitting alone or not receive the individualized care that they need to prevent pressure sores or other medical issues. In the same light, children with issues such as autism may find the inclusion classroom too stimulating for them. This can cause behavioral outbursts, self abusive behavior, and self-isolation. Likewise, an aid can do too much for the child or make too many exceptions to the point where the child is doing little to no work in the inclusion classroom. While the inclusion may be the least restrictive environment, the structure may not be ideal for the best possible exit.

Special Considerations: All of this being said, there are some factors which also need to be considered. Some schools have a well established and tested program for inclusion. They introduce inclusion in a scheduled and monitored manner. They utilize transition tools such as Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) and social stories to help make the process easier. The educational team meets regularly to discuss concerns and brainstorm solutions. Other schools are not as organized. In these situations, children may be placed into a “typical” classroom without the support needed to be successful. Teachers and aids may not be trained on communication and motor needs or how to engage children with special needs. The team may not communicate amongst themselves or with the family. Without good support and communication, the success of the inclusion program is limited.

Parents need to truly look at their child and determine the abilities and issues which can make inclusion helpful or harmful for them. Talking to the school about their policies, communication, and support for not only the child but the rest of the team can help determine if inclusion is a good fit. Inclusion is not for everyone. Some children need more attention through their day. By taking the time to truly examine the needs and abilities of the child and how they can work within the different classroom options, parents and educational teams can find the most successful and appropriate placement!

© R. Wellman 2011