Mainstreaming vs. Inclusion in Special Education

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  • 0:04 The Best Educational…
  • 1:27 Mainstreaming
  • 2:45 Inclusion
  • 3:51 Which Is Better?
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shannon Orr
This lesson defines mainstreaming and inclusion in a general education classroom. It discusses how each method is used and how it could be beneficial or a hindrance to a student with a disability.

The Best Educational Opportunities

Imagine you are being placed in Advanced Quantum Physics. Everyone is expected to take and perform well in this class. For most of us, this would be absolutely terrifying, especially if we had little to no previous exposure to this topic. Unfortunately, this type of scary classroom experience is a reality for many children, especially those with disabilities.

Children with disabilities might have mental and/or physical delays that affect how they function academically. Children who are deemed gifted or academically advanced can also be affected by classroom placement. In an effort to ensure that all children are afforded the best educational opportunities, modifications are sometimes made to the classroom experience. Some students might find regular classroom situations are overwhelming and inappropriate for their developmental needs. However, for others, being placed in a general education classroom will cause them to excel academically and/or socially because they feel that they're part of the learning process and aren't being overlooked or excluded.

It's vital that every student is academically placed based on their individual needs and is not simply grouped based on their identified diagnosis. This leads to two main approaches to individualized education plans: mainstreaming and inclusion.


Mainstreaming is the placement of a child with a disability (or exceptionality) in a general education classroom, with the expectation that the student will be able to work and produce assignments at a similar rate as students who don't have disabilities. Students with disabilities who participate in mainstreaming are given the same assignments as other students with only slight differences if necessary. In a mainstreaming classroom, there's only the general education teacher. Therefore, if a student needs help, he/she will have to wait and receive assistance that's similar to what other students in the classroom receive.

Students in a mainstreaming classroom are expected to perform and maintain at a comparable pace with students who don't have disabilities. This type of classroom would also apply to gifted students who might be able to perform well academically but who might struggle socially. Gifted students are students who are excelling above average based on testing results. For some students this method might be best because their disability might have nothing to do with their ability to learn and process information. But for others, this method might cause them to feel socially awkward because they're unable to perform or fit in as well as other students.


Inclusion is also the placement of a child with a disability in a general education classroom. However, in an inclusion classroom, students with disabilities are often given modified assignments and have extra assistance from a special education teacher and/or paraprofessional. The focus when placing students with disabilities in an inclusion classroom is to help prepare them socially and teach them to work at their own level.

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