The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a powerful law, assuring that all children will be provided with an appropriate education. Because of IDEA, The NYC Department of Education is required to determine the most beneficial environment for children with classified disabilities to learn and thrive in. For many, this will result in a recommendation from the Board of Ed that the child become part of an inclusion classroom. Inclusion classes are comprised of typically developing kids as well as kids with disabilities who have individualized education plans (IEPs). Inclusion classes are classified as least restrictive environments and represent the preferred placement method of the Board of Ed. They are not right for every child who has a disability but can work wonders for many kids with special needs as well as their typically developing peers.
How does it work? – Inclusion classrooms are regular education settings, situated in either zoned or screened public schools. There are varying inclusion models, but typically, classes are comprised of a full-time regular education teacher and a part- or full-time special education teacher. The special ed teacher adjusts the class curriculum as needed, so that every child’s abilities and learning style can be accommodated fully, through the use of extra-curricular materials and ancillary teaching methods. This allows for special ed kids to remain within a mainstreamed environment, rather than being segregated into either self-contained classrooms or schools devoted solely to children with disabilities. Some kids will be given additional support and services on their IEPs, such as one-to-one aides or assistive technology devices, to allow them to function well within inclusion classroom settings. Parents of typically developing kids are often concerned that inclusion classrooms have lower standards of learning or more kids who act out disruptively, but these are falsehoods.
Who does it benefit? – For kids with certain types or levels of disability, inclusion classrooms represent enhanced opportunities for diversity, socialization and increased learning opportunities. Other kids, however, may find inclusion to be overwhelming, resulting in an inability to focus and learn. Because inclusion classrooms are designed to support the needs of all kids, typically developing children may benefit, not only by learning tolerance but also by being exposed to a curriculum that fits a broad range of learning styles. When inclusion works well, every child in the class is empowered to participate fully and enthusiastically, forging relationships and interactions with each other and learning at peak capacity.
Is inclusion right for your child? – Inclusion, despite its many benefits, is not the right choice for every child. Some kids will do better in self-contained classrooms or special ed schools, where they are able to get more individualized attention and enjoy smaller-sized classroom settings, thus allowing them to thrive and excel at the same level as their typically developing peers later on in life, despite different schooling backgrounds. Others will blossom within inclusion’s least restrictive environment, able to shed the label of special education and take on new challenges. Many believe that the inclusion classroom model better prepares kids for what the real world is like and supports their ability to interact and deal with all kinds of individuals.
Inclusion can either hurt or help kids. It is up to parents to determine which setting is best suited to their child’s needs and to make a case for what they deem most appropriate each year at the IEP meeting. Parents should also keep an eye on their child’s progress and advocate for course corrections if needed, based upon their child’s intellectual, emotional and social growth.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.