Mainstreaming, Inclusion & Separation: Conflicting Perceptions on How to Educate Children With Special Needs


Although receiving funding for special education services was an important step in ensuring that children with special needs received special services while in school, determining how to effectively educate these children is a difficult attribute. Overtime, conflicting perspectives have emerged pertaining to how children with special needs should be educated. Some have argued that children with special needs should be in a separate class, which allows them to receive the extra attention they need to learn. Others have argued that children with special needs should be included in the activities that children without special needs partake in. Yet the integration of children with special needs into the classroom has been controversial, with some arguing that children with special needs should remain in traditional classrooms with children without special needs in a practice called mainstreaming. Educators and researchers arguing for the continued inclusion of children with special needs into traditional classroom argue that these children will need to be able to learn and interact with their peers throughout life.


The Shift Towards Mainstreaming Children With Special Needs


Over the past decade many scholars have debated how to best educate students with special needs. However, the broadness of the term special needs makes determining one approach or model increasingly difficult. Despite this knowledge, in 2014 the United States government passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Some have argued that the passage of this Act was beneficial as it ensured children with severe special needs would be included in the classroom. According to The National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities including children with special needs into the classroom would allow these children to model the behavior of traditional students. Others have questioned how the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act would influence students that do not suffer from conditions that impair the child’s ability to learn. From one standpoint, the Americans with Disability Act in 1990 made inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood classrooms possible. For many, this was beneficial as it helped to ensure children, regardless of their abilities, were able to interact with other children. However, others have argued that it is important to assess the child’s individual needs and consider the benefits and limitations associated with mainstreaming the child into a traditional classroom.


The 2004 passage of the IDEA Act further showed preference for inclusive settings. Part C of the IDEA “requires that services be delivered in natural environments defined as the home or in places in which other children participate; that is, those places that are natural or normal for children who do not have disabilities”. This was to ensure that the children with disabilities and their families will be included in community activities and not be isolated when they need early intervention services. In relating this Act to academics, The National Joint Commission on Learning Disabilities established two main types of inclusion settings. The first is the full inclusion where the majority of the children show typical developmental patterns and a few children have disabilities. The second focuses on reverse inclusion where the majority of the children have disabilities and the minority exhibited typical developmental patterns. Although there are differences between the inclusion settings schools can use, both have notable benefits and limitations.


Although there are benefits and limitations to the inclusions strategies established by The National Joint Commission on Learning Disabilities there has been a strong preference towards inclusion. In a 2002 report, the National Center for Education Statistics demonstrated that the number of children with disabilities being included into preschool programs has been increasing throughout the United States. This report further demonstrated that preschool teachers were widely using the inclusion approach in integrating children with special needs into the classroom. Statistics from the United States Department of Education further demonstrate the increased preference towards inclusion. According to the United States Department of Education, “approximately 52% of U.S. students with disabilities spend at least 80% of their day in general education settings; more than 78% of students with disabilities are included for at least 50% of their day; but there are many other students with learning needs who do not qualify for services”.






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