The guiding philosophy in the world of education for children with disabilities is known as integration or inclusion. Inclusion seeks to remove the distinction between regular and special needs education, providing a classroom for all students, despite level of ability or disability. Placing children with disabilities in a regular classroom environment, has proven to be significantly beneficial for the disabled child, academically, socially, and developmentally. With the proper teacher training and in-class support, special needs children can thrive and challenge themselves in ways that a homogenous special needs classroom could never provide for them.
But what about the non-special needs children? How do integrated classrooms affect their learning and social experience? Here are 3 significant benefits in favor of integration, for the non-special-needs child.
1. Acceptance – When children with special needs are integrated into a mainstream environment, all children involved learn and practice acceptance. The mixed classroom is a microcosm for the society in which these children will grow up, a society in which those with abilities and those with lesser abilities, must shop, work, and live together. Teams within a work environment are comprised of many abilities and challenges, each member bringing different traits and skills to the task at hand. When we expose children on a daily basis to students, just like themselves, who despite their disabilities have strengths and weaknesses, good days, and hard days, we provide them a life-lesson. When people are different, they can choose to focus on their differences or on their similarities. They can learn to seek out the good in others by experientially learning to accept and include those around them.
2. Practicing being a giver – So much of life is based on stepping out of one’s own needs to provide for another. Whether it be with a spouse, children, or a co-worker, successful giving is an essential part of building character. Aside from the psychological boost that one receives by feeling good by giving to another, being a giver helps to build relationships, and these relationships expose one to more opportunities for growth. When a child without a disability is in a classroom with children who have disabilities, his or her ability to give is infinitely greater than in a classroom with children of equal abilities. Teaching a child to capitalize on his or her strengths (playing soccer, writing neatly, interacting with a friend) and to peer model this to a child who struggles with such things, is a tremendous opportunity of learning to be a giver.
3. Behavioral support – When classrooms are integrated, the need for consistent behavioral supports in the learning environment becomes critical. This model sets a precedent for all students within the classroom environment. In the general education environment, behavior issues are often dismissed and not dealt with properly. In the special education system, this is an integral part of the learning environment. When a classroom is combined, all children have access to behavioral support, allowing time for teachers to focus on the academic elements of the classroom.
The inclusion model does not come without it’s challenges. A range of issues will confront both staff and students when integrating children with different abilities and disabilities. But with teachers as the primary agents of change and a supportive parenting body, inclusion can be an incredible learning environment and experience for all children involved. At places like Sulam, where mainstreaming is essential for promoting a child’s progress and future integration into society, integrated classrooms are a key tool for success.