Mainstreaming Special Needs Children
In an ideal world all children would be born without disabilities. This idea is not possible though and sometimes children are born with special needs. The child could have only one disability or several. A disability can be mild and treated with medication or the disability can be severe and the child will need constant supervision. Once the child becomes of age to attend school, the issue of whether or not to place the child in a regular classroom or special needs classroom arises.
This is when mainstreaming comes into place. Mainstreaming special needs children into the regular classroom has been a worldwide controversy; however, there are many advantages to placing these children there. In the past disabled children were always looked upon differently and placed into separate schools or buildings. On November 29, 1975, the separation of regular students and special needs children ended, when President Ford signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, known as Public Law 94-142. This law marked the beginning of mainstreaming.The law was amended in 1983 by Public Law 98-199, which required schools to develop programs for disabled children. The act was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1992 (Giuliano 31).
Disabled children are defined as those who are mentally retarded, hard of hearing, deaf, orthopedically impaired, speech and language impaired, visually impaired, seriously emotionally disturbed, and children with specific learning disabilities, or those who require special education and related services (Giuliano 32).Mainstreaming is defined as the integration of children with special needs into ordinary education systems (Williams 126). Integration is divided into three main categories locational, social, and functional integration. With locational integration, the disabled students are taught at the same location as regular students, but in separate units of the school. This integration allows little contact between the different students (Williams 106). Where as in social integration, there is a separate formal education for the regular and special education students. Both groups of students have social interaction at mealtime, laytime, and extracurricular activities (Williams 106).
And in functional integration, children with special needs attend the same classes as regular students and participate in other activities as well; the purpose is so that the curriculum is shared between the special education students and the regular students (Williams 106). Research proves that disabled children have the desire and self-motivation to learn (Hasazi). When eight graduate students did an investigation on ninety-three students from inner-city public elementary schools, they came up with a somewhat unexpected result.These students wanted to examine the differences among students with learning disabilities, low academic achievement, and students with average academic achievement. In each of the twenty-two classrooms involved, two children labeled with learning disabilities were mainstreamed. As a result, the students with learning disabilities displayed greater academic engagement than the students with low achievement (Harries 1997). The students with learning disabilities showed a great interest in the academic lesson, and seemed to receive more attention from their teachers (Kastner 52-56).
Although special needs children may not score as well on tests as low or average achievers, their presence in the classroom will not disrupt the success of the other students. It is a known fact that students respond according to expectations placed upon them. When disabled students are placed in regular classrooms, higher expectations are placed on them. And in turn, their desire to learn more increases. Advocates of mainstreaming believe if disabled children are mainstreamed into regular classrooms they will have better social skills (Kelly 2010).The positive effect would be: students get the opportunity to make more friends and participate in more activities. Students who are mainstreamed have to learn to live by the same rules as the other students and this can help them socially.
Researchers have also shown that when the children are included in peer groups, everyone learns to respect each other’s differences, and the results clearly disprove the concern that disabled students would be outcasts in a regular classroom. By mainstreaming the children, it should lead to a more tolerant and accepting society overall.Other positive reasons why special needs children should be in a regular student classroom is because, if they are not isolated they can achieve better socially and academically. Regular classrooms can help them cope better with the “real” world. Being in a regular classroom would also help their self-esteem, and it teaches both disabled and regular students compassion, acceptance, and patience. In 2001 the National Center on Educational Outcomes surveyed state directors of special education. The directors reported increased participation rates from the students with disabilities in state assessments.
The positive outcomes from the assessments were increased access to the general curriculum, increased inclusion in accountability system, more rigorous education, increased participation in state assessments, increased academic expectations, improved performance on some state assessments, and increased general and special education networking (Giuliano 34). Some examples of how mainstreaming has worked for children in various schools are: Valerie, who is passionate about music, loves parties, and enjoys hanging out with her friends. She is severely disabled; she eats with feeding tubes and communicates with a voice output device.With the help of adaptive technology Valarie is performing at grade level in a regular classroom (Flores 2003). Cruz is an autistic child, who is happy in school and is making friends. He is in a regular first-grade class, with assistance from a paraprofessional aide. Cruz’s participation in class helps him learn appropriate behavior (Flores 2003).
Tony is another example; he is developmentally delayed and has severe behavior problems. He was mainstreamed into a drama class at school. Tony’s behavior improved thanks to the teacher modeling acceptance and the other students helping him follow directions and participate.There is also a child named Patrick, who is deaf. He receives some of his instruction through classes for deaf students, and the rest in mainstream classes with the help of an interpreter. Patrick has learned to relate to and make friends with both hearing and deaf people (Flores 2003). The key to mainstreaming is appropriate training of classroom teachers, good specific programming for the students with disabilities, and resources to properly support classroom teachers in implementing mainstreaming (Kelly 2010).
Mainstreaming requires two teachers to work together in the classroom.One teacher from the regular classroom and one from a special needs department. Teachers report that mainstreaming is most successful when they use general curriculum as the basis of instruction and make adjustments as needed (Kastner 1995). The system seems to work beautifully when orchestrated properly, and more children gain the opportunity to succeed in life. For the children to benefit maximally from mainstreaming, teachers must also work to create an environment in which the disabled and nondisabled children both can develop realistic yet positive attitudes for one another (Hasazi 41).In many instances transition to integrated special education services has been smooth, and there is every reason to believe that if approached with reason, mainstreaming is beneficial to all students in a school. Mainstreaming is an exciting concept which has promise of enhancing the lives of students and teachers (Lilly 1975).
If we are open to change, willing to seek constant self-improvement, and reject the use of categorical labels with students and accept the concept, then mainstreaming will be well worth the effort (Lilly 1975).Children with developmental disorders should not be expected to simply overcome their difficulties by sheer strength, without others helping to accommodate them. What is considered a disorder or disability in a given culture might come to be viewed as entirely normal if that culture was to change. Concepts like “disorder” and “handicap” are in a sense just merely social constructs (Ochiai 2006). All children should have the right to experience happiness, without having to wait for some unspecified time.Our goal for disabled children should not be specifically to produce children who can sit still in class, write legibly, or anything of the sort. Our goal should be to enable these children to experience more days filled with joy rather than pain.
This should be the ultimate goal of any intervention offered in support of a child’s development. So if mainstreaming is going to work as well as we hope for it to, disabled children must not be viewed as a separate category, but more as a unique and valued human willing and able to learn.References Flores, K. (2003 January-February). Inclusive education isn’t easy, but it benefits kids with-and- ithout disabilities. Children’s Advocate. Giuliano, G.
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