Should Classes Be as Inclusive as Possible for Kids With Special Needs?

Class is in session across America, and kids with special needs are legally required to be included in classrooms with their typically-developing peers.

Inclusion is good for all kids, but what it often translates to is kids with special needs being in class part of the time and in isolated "special needs" classes the rest of the time.

A new pilot study out of North Carolina, however, might change the way inclusion happens as it examines the practices in 51 classrooms, using a newly developed tool (the Inclusive Classroom Profile) to figure out what types of classrooms best serve kids with disabilities.

"Children with disabilities should have the option of receiving their specialized services in the same settings as their typically developing peers, instead of in isolated classrooms," says co-author Pamela J. Winton, chair of the National Early Childhood Inclusion Institute.

I agree with the authors of this study, although I admit that there are many complications underlying this assertion: What if a teacher can't support kids with special needs in a fully inclusive classroom? What if a child with special needs would be more comfortable in a less inclusive classroom? Is there really a right or wrong way to do inclusion?

I'm not sure, and I'm endlessly grateful that my son, Liam, who has autism, attends a fully inclusive preschool that works for him. At his school, there's on-site occupational, physical, and speech therapists. His kindergarten teacher has a Masters in Special Ed, and the school lets his private one-on-one therapists help him throughout the day.

One of the best parts about Liam's classroom experience, however, is the way inclusion happens. He has meals with the other children, sits through circle time, and plays with toys, and then he has a small area within the larger classroom where he does ABA table time (see the picture above). He used to go to a separate room for this therapy, but his brilliant kindergarten teacher insisted that he be a part of the class for every aspect of his day. Because of this type of full inclusion, Liam now shows a lot of ownership in the classroom by helping with tasks, greeting others by using his iPad, and playing with friends who engage with him throughout the day.

But with all that said, Liam's leaving his wonderful school at the end of this year. I worry about what environment is best for him, and I wonder if we'll ever be able to create a similar space for him in another class like his current one.

When it comes to inclusion, from finding the right school placement for your child to knowing what sorts of inclusion is best, I'd like to quote the wise words of my fellow blogger Ellen Seidman: "Ultimately, you have to do what you and the experts in your life think is what's best for your child...but sometimes, it is so hard to know."

Great advice for one of the trickiest questions in raising a child with special needs, don't you think?

Jamie Pacton lives near Lake Michigan where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons, Liam (6) and Eliot (4). Her writing has appeared in the Autism and Asperger's Digest (2011-2013), Parents, and the book collection Monday Coffee and Other Stories of Parenting Kids with Special Needs. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter (@jamiepacton).

Image: Liam's spot in his inclusive classroom provided by Jamie Pacton

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