Integration of Students with Disabilities into Schools

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Students with disabilities have special needs when it comes to education. This lesson will discuss the specifics of integrating special needs students into mainstream classrooms, along with the controversies associated with doing so. We will end with a brief quiz to see what you have learned.

What is a Disability?

Rory is a fourth grade student with a disability. A disability is a physical or mental issue that impairs normal function. Rory's disability impairs her ability to focus in class, so she struggles to keep up with what the teacher is saying. Rory frequently acts out in class and struggles to get along with her fellow students.

Prior to 1975, Rory probably would have been excluded, or removed, from the classroom, and her educational options would have been severely limited. The Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA) of 1975, which was later revised to become The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990, mandated that special needs students are entitled to receive a free and appropriate education. This led to the integration, or inclusion, of special needs students into traditional classroom settings.

Integration: Full Inclusion

As stated before, IDEA and its predecessor, EHA, require schools to provide free and appropriate education to special needs students like Rory. In other words, disabled students must receive the same opportunities as non-disabled students when it comes to education.

These laws led to the practice of full inclusion in the education of special needs students. Full inclusion occurs when disabled students are always placed in a regular or traditional classroom regardless of their individual needs. This means that any extra help or attention that they require must take place in that classroom.

On the one hand, full inclusion is viewed as a positive step in the education of students with disabilities because they receive the same educational and social opportunities that non-disabled students receive. However, on the flip side, full inclusion creates somewhat of a dilemma for educators. How can Rory's unique educational needs be fully met in a classroom of 35 students? Will Rory's impairments disrupt the other students' learning?

Integration: Mainstreaming

An offshoot of full inclusion is mainstreaming. Mainstreaming is the practice of placing students with disabilities in a traditional classroom after they have demonstrated the ability to be successful there. Students who are selected for mainstreaming usually begin in special education classes with other students with disabilities, and graduate to mainstreaming once they have demonstrated some level of proficiency. Mainstreaming may mean that the special education student is in a traditional classroom all day or only for specific subjects or times.

Arguments For and Against

There are some that believe that full inclusion and mainstreaming create a win-win situation for students and educators alike. This argument touts: increases in self-esteem; academic achievement and social opportunities for disabled students; an increase in understanding and compassion in the non-disabled students who are in class with them; and a streamlining of the educational process for educators who have a decreased need to operate separate special-education classrooms.

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