Meeting the needs of Special Education students is a concern for all schools. While students with special needs used to be relegated to “Special Education Classes”, increasingly many of these students are being placed in inclusive classrooms. Though some originally viewed this trend as a way for schools to save money, studies have found that the benefits of inclusive classrooms are wide spread both for the students with special needs and the non-identified students.
Inclusive classrooms are not the same as the concept of mainstreaming which was the ideal of 15 to twenty years ago. Mainstreaming provided an opportunity for students with various special needs to be placed in general education classes usually for only parts of the day. Typically students would join their peers for physical education, art, music or similar subjects in order to provide the special needs students with the chance to interact in a safe environment with a group of their peers. These students generally had to “earn” the privilege by showing that they could keep up with the rest of the class and often never really felt a part of the group. Sometimes if a special needs student showed a particular talent in an academic area, they would be “mainstreamed” for that class. Alternatively, some students were “mainstreamed” for the majority of the day and then “pulled out “ into the resource room for assistance at various times during their school week. While some of these students were successful, often they still were not accepted by their peers because of their differences and due to scheduling difficulties for the resource room teacher, might have to miss either valuable content lessons or their special activities classes (i.e. art, music, etc.) in order to be provided the resource services they were entitled to.
The current trend of inclusion has taken the idea of mainstreaming one step further. Inclusive classrooms are based on the thought that all students are entitled to be educated to the maximum extent possible at the school and within the classroom that they would otherwise attend if they did not have special needs. Inclusive classrooms bring the resources to the classroom and the students. In inclusive schools/classrooms the focus is on reducing obstacles to learning and providing access to the learning environment. This might be by making physical adaptations to the classroom and school for better access for the physically challenged and/or providing extra equipment either high or low tech such as a standing frame or special computer for augmented communication.
In some cases the special needs student is provided with a shadow teacher to provide direct assistance in the classroom. In the best case scenario, teachers are provided with extra training to help them work with the inclusion student(s). The classroom/school becomes a community and all work together to provide the best learning situation for all students. By creating such school environments, students are exposed to a model of the real world we live in including the diversity and adaptation to that diversity.