The Importance of Inclusion in the Classroom for Children with Special Needs
In June 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Education is the key to opportunity in our society, and the equality of educational opportunity must be the birthright of every citizen.” While Johnson was not referring specifically to children with special needs, he very well could have been.
In the decades before Johnson’s statement, care for special needs children did not focus on education. In most cases, these children were taught in separate classrooms if not separate institutions. In the decades since, it has become difficult to ignore the importance and benefits of inclusion–the integration of special needs students in traditional classrooms.
No (Special Needs) Child Left Behind
A fair playing field for all students has long been a legislative and educational goal. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), which was enacted in 1975 and which expanded on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, required that states provide a “free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.”
In 1990, EAHCA became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA emphasized the latter part of the previous quote: “least restrictive environment.” In conjunction with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, inclusion became an increasingly viable practice in special education.
A Benefit to All
Beyond the legal rhetoric, inclusion is an important and, some say, necessary practice. Benefits can be realized as much by students with special needs as those without.
Inclusive classrooms help special needs children develop stronger social skills, confidence in learning and self-esteem. This mode of learning can better prepare them for life beyond the classroom, helping them build communication skills and fostering a sense of belonging that might not have been possible in a non-inclusive setting. For those without special needs, inclusion can help them to:
- Understand diversity
- Develop patience
- Respect the needs of others
- Accept one’s differences
Like their special needs peers, students without disabilities who learn in an inclusive classroom can also better prepare for adult life. It is highly likely that at some point in their lives, they will interact with a disabled individual or individuals: in college, in the workplace or other environments. In these instances, those who learned in an inclusive classroom could be better prepared to accept, communicate with and support their disabled classmate or co-worker.
Further, research has shown that inclusion can even improve the academic performance and outcomes of students without special needs. That in itself adds an exclamation point to the importance of inclusive classrooms.
All for One
By its very name, inclusion denotes positivity. All children, regardless of race, social status or disability, have a fear of exclusion. No child wants to be that one who is not chosen to participate in recess games or who is not invited to someone’s birthday party.
Or who is singled out in a class picture, as was the case with 7-year-old Canadian student Miles Ambridge. Ambridge has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair; a class picture taken in June 2013 shows Ambridge far off to one side of the frame, leaning almost desperately toward the other children as if by doing so he will be that much closer, that much more a part of the class.
That much more included.
No child wants to stand out in a negative way. To be excluded or, as Miles’s mother put it when referencing her son’s placement in the class picture, “ostracized”.
These are among the reasons that inclusion in the classroom started. Removing these words when it comes to children with special needs could be the chief reason that inclusion in the classroom is most important.
Shannon Lochwood is a writer who lives in California. She contributes to California Special Needs Law Group’s Blog and enjoys writing about health and education. In her free time she loves to help people and animals any way she can. She just started volunteering at her local animal shelter on the weekends.