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The inclusion paradox

Why the student with disabilities sitting next to your child may improve his or her education.

By Valle Dwight

When Bill Grundfest heard that his son’s kindergarten class in Bel Air, Calif., would include a child with a cognitive disability, he was concerned. He worried that this child would take up all of the teacher’s time, leaving the rest of the class twiddling their thumbs.

“In spite of good teachers being able to see out the backs of their heads, they only have a finite amount of time and energy,” he says. “One expects a disabled child to need more time and energy than a nondisabled one, hence less time for everyone else.”

In the tony Southern California school district, Grundfest kept his concern to himself, fearing that other parents would think him intolerant. But he fretted just the same, nervous that his son’s education would be a watered-down version of what he had envisioned.

The history of inclusion

Grundfest is not alone in his concern, of course. Many parents fear the effects on their own kids when a child with a disability joins their classroom. Some worry that the teaching will be geared to slower learners, some are wary of potential behavior issues, and others think that the resources to teach students with learning problems would be better directed at those without disabilities.

Inclusion of children with disabilities in the classroom is nothing new — it’s been around since 1975, when the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed. The law calls for children with disabilities to be educated in the “least restrictive environment,” opening the door for them to join general education classrooms in their neighborhood schools. In the almost 35 years since IDEA passed, more and more children with disabilities have been included in classrooms, but parental concerns about the education of typical students remains an issue.

What research says about inclusive classrooms

However, studies show that typical students do not suffer when there is a child with a disability in the classroom. Deb Staub, a social worker in Seattle, found in her research — “On Inclusion and the Other Kids: Here’s What Research Shows so Far About Inclusion’s Effect on Nondisabled Students” (pdf), published by LeadScape — that the academic performance of typical students in an inclusive classroom was not adversely affected.

She points to a study that compared the instructional time in an inclusive classroom to that of a classroom without children with learning differences and found that the presence of students with severe disabilities had no effect on typical students. In fact, research has found that when children with disabilities are present in the classroom, all students benefit — both academically and in other ways that are harder to measure.

What inclusive classrooms do better...

Valle Dwight is a reporter, writer, and mother of two school-aged boys. She has written for many magazines, including FamilyFun, Wondertime, and Working Mother.

Comments from readers

"My son has an IEP in and is doing exceptionally well in all 5 of his general ed classes, except for one class English which is integrated with 10 general education students and 18 IEP participants (64.2% IEP's). There is a special education teacher and the general Ed who is training to be an administrator. He is gone approx 2 times a week so the kids have a substitute. I want to know how they can call this a general education class with this ratio. We live in Washington State...any thoughts on how to address this would be appreciated. The special education teacher has tried to advocate for more help, but is shut down by administration and told to deal with it! The special education teacher said that the pacing of the class is considerably slower and is unable to meet these children’s needs!"
"I am a special education assistant in the same elementary school that my children attend. I have seen the pros and cons of the inclusion of special needs students. Currently I am dealing with a situation that is a little bit more personal. My son has always been a straight A student. He has always loved school. That is until this year. This year a student that is a high functioning autistic sits across from my son. He basically has no social skills. The other students are unaware of this child's disability. They think that this boy is rude and mean. This child is making my son miserable(often to the point of tears). They have even put him in counseling because he made the comment that he hated school this year. Due to confidentiality I can't explain to my son that when this student says inappropriate and even hurtful comments it is due to a disability. I know that if my son and the other students(my son's not the only student having problems with this student) k! new about the disability they might not take the comments so seriously. They are having a hard time understanding why it's ok for this student to 'bully' them with his words and there are basically no consequences. "
"I believe that INCLUSION is the best door for my daugther future,since she was born and the doctor told me that she had Dawn Syndrome my concern was the society life. She has been in Inclusion all her life,but unfortune some of the big problems are when the teachers dosen't want to get the opportunity of learn from this great kids,and this persons closed the doors for them. It is so important for me and my husbund still learning about the laws and rights for our dauther her future is in our hands. 'I love you my daughter' "
"EXCUSE ME! You say you have a daughter with a learning disability and you believe this somehow gives you the right to judge other loving parents decisions and put shame on them for want what they feel and know is best for their children - resouce room learning. These are loving parents just like me. No parent wants their child excluded or labeled but it is what it is. We have to put our pride aside and step up to do what our children need. All I can say is SHAME on YOU for judging me and other parents like me. What you determine best for your daughter is you business but you and Washington politicians like you should have no business invading my son's life, making educational decsions for him when you no NOTHING about him or his LD. You weren't there in Pre-K or the 2 years of Kindergarten when he couldn't learn his alphabet. You didn't do 4-6 hours of studying/homework each night in Kindergarten with him just trying to get a C or D on a spelling test. You know nothing! Thei! r are many different learning disabilities and you must have been fortunate enough that your daughter's is mild. I know this because you obviously no very little about the frustration children with moderate to severe LD suffer. They are unique, lovable and wonderful but they do have needs you can't understand. My son has an IQ of 70+ or -3 which means he is borderline mentally handicapped, he is severely auditory processing delayed which means he doesn't understand verbal language well and he is dyslexic. He is almost 10 years old and in 3rd grade with a beginning 1st grade reading level. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is for him to not be able to read his text book because the Government says even with his IEP he must do 3rd grade level work. Even worse being in inclusion he has to stand out in front of other 'mainstreamers' as the kid who can't read or write. He has been laughed at and teased. Yeah, that's good for his self esteem. It has taken 2 years of thera! py to build his self esteem and convince him that he is just a! s good as everyone else and that he has his own gifts and talents. Not to mention his 7 year old brother is gifted and reading at a 4th grade level so he is very aware that he is different. He has been in an intensive reading program for 2 years and has learned his alphabet and to read. If you really think he would have ever learned that in a classroom with the kids so far advanced from him you are seriously mistaken. In the future learn the facts before judging the parenting decsions of children you no nothing about' Better yet stop passing judgement all together and show a little compasion for other parents struggling to make the right decisions for their children. "
"I have a daughter with a learning disability. I think having these children included in the inclusion classroom is most beneficial to them. It exposes them to the reality of other children, it makes them feel like they are 'Included' instead of 'Excluded' from the other kids in school. What I want to say to parents who are in disagreement with this inclusion of kids with learning disabilities, shame on you - all kids are unique and we all learn in unique ways to better ourselves. Each child is a gift and we should treasure that gift as long as we can and allow it to 'Spread its wings'. Mother of student with a Learning Disability!!!"
"I really enjoy reading positive stories on inclusion where children and parents having compassion for children with behavior and attention problems. In my case the teacher and children treat my son and myself really bad. My son is six and he really is a nice boy. He moves a lot in class and talks and ask for extra help on things he has not learned before. Academically he is above or on track on most subjects. I don't know how to help the teacher understand how he learns best. She only want to teach one way and he only wants to process information one way. It's a battle between the two. I tried to come into the class to help my son learn the teachers way of training and every thing was going fine. He had stopped a lot of the behavior problems felt listened to and the frustration went away because I was assisting him or redirecting his behavior. My son in four days stopped all behavior problems stopped asking for extra help to the teacher, she was happy with his impr! ovement but I got band from the class because now other kids were getting distracted by me interacting with my son. It seems like the school doesn't want any advice from me about how my child learns best. They want to figure it out on their own. In the mean time they warn parents and my sons classmates that my son is a distraction in class and can the children a long with the teach help discipline my son to follow the class rules. These kids are six years old and can't help but over do it some times. My worry is my son not feeling equal to his peers and he always thinks he's a bad boy just because he has the wiggles in line or circle time. I don't know how long I can keep him in this environment or how to help others include my son's differences. If anyone has advice on how to know if a teacher has training in multiple intelligences and different learnig styles, please contact me or send me an email. I am working on changing the rules regarding knowing or interviewi! ng the teacher before children go the their classes. "
"I likes the article ,whice is true. thanks"
"The article fails to give information on the learning of the material for the nondisabled kids. The classrooms where my daughter had learning-disabled kids with her had no additional teaching staff. But I worry about how much teaching goes on in the classroom--with or without learning impaired kids--because all levels of students are lumped together. It is a positive environment for those who may be slower, but is it really fair to the kids who get the material and can move on?"
"IDEA is a bad idea. My daughter is a high school math teacher. I'm sorry,but not all people are born equal. Pushing children into algebra class when they can't do basic math is not a good idea. Capable students are frustrated and want the class to speed up. Ld students are frustrated because they can't understand the material. Teachers are frustrated because they are pressured to have all make passing grades. Inclusion does not make all equal. Maybe, just maybe that's part of why the US ranks 28th. in education among industrialized nations. We can't all be doctors,lawyers and engineers. IDEA = BAD idea"
"Society tends to label children and people with any types of disabilities. A child is a child regardless of his/her disabilities. We need to keep an open mind and learn to appreciate and like children and others for who and what they are. More often than not, we as parents are the ones who infest the segregation mentality to our children; like this father in the article. I believe the inclusion format in schools nationwide is the best model for all. Children, parents and educators are now experiencing a new phase in the education system. Children are now becoming more tolerant and accepting other students with disabilities. We often think that students with LD and other disabilities are more disruptive than other students. I am not sure that is the case. I run an after school program for all students. We have students with LD, ADHD, MR and other students. Believe me, the other students caused more problems than the ones with disabilities."
"One child with LD probably no effect in classroom but classrooms with 5 or 6 disabled students negatively affect students as teacher must make accommodations and modifications to his/her teaching to include LD students. If you take a bucket of clean water and add a cup of dirty water, the bucket becomes all dirty water."
"What a nice out come for this situation! Unfortunately not all children with disabilities are like this child and not all teachers and aids are like the ones in this situation. My daughter was in a classroom last year with a child with extreme disabilities and let me just say 'What a disaster'. My daughter did not want to sit next to this child or have her near her and I did not blame her for her thoughts. This child had bitten 3 children (mine was one of them) in one day and drew blood one of the times. She also hit another child so hard that she left a mark on her face. The teacher and aid spent a great deal of time with this child. I heard a number of times during the year that school was boring because the teacher had to spend more time with so and so. This year is completely different, no disable child in her classroom. I have yet to hear that the day was boring or that the teacher had to spend extra time with anyone. What a difference! I believe that every c! hild is entitled to a far and equal education. I also believe that their are some children whose disabilities are so strong that they should be placed in special classrooms that can accommodate their needs better. Just like there are some children that are so far ahead that they end up skipping a grade. "
"While I believe in the 'inclusive' classroon is a postive experience in most cases, your reasoning is simplistic and skewed to promote your point. To say that the teacher to child ratio is lower may be true statistically, it does not work out that way in reality. The extra help in the classroom is directed at the student with disabilities and does truly reduce the teacher to pupil ratio. Nor does it help the teacher reach every child on their own level. "
"my son has ld , and he is is a class with 10 children , he goes out for specials ,library , gym, recess with the other age appropriate students & there is no problems , and he is getting a good education , he is a balanced child , and very well behaved , and smart ! thanks greenwood lake schools!"
"The additional help in the classroom does make all the difference. One of my daughters was in a preschool class with an aide for an autistic child and it was great. He didn't need constant help so she helped other children too and got to know them. However, my other daughter is in a kindergarten classroom this year with two children, one ADHD and one has some sort of LD, but there is no aide. The whole classroom suffers. "
"Before our state decided to implement inclusion to all but the profoundly disabled, my students with learning disabilities thought they were in special education because they were stupid. They felt stupid because other students would say, 'Oh, you're in 'those' classrooms, with the unspoken words: where dummies go. To see the change in my students' self-esteem truly made my heart sing. And to say they have learned more in the general ed classroom is an understatement, not to mention what we spec ed teachers learn from being in the classroom, too. I would often review the previous days lesson with the class, using strategies that helped all the students. Believe me, inclusion is a win win all around."
"What about the children with disabilities? My son has disabilities and many times he is ashamed and embarrassed. "
"I believe that the LD, in some cases, will create disruptions. SED students often speak and behave inappropriately and ADDH and/or OCD-H students can't control their behaviors effectively. An LD that does not affect behavior negatively can lead to even better teaching practices for all of us. However, please be careful not to paint all LDs with such a broad brush of positivity. There are some students that do not benefit from the traditional classroom experience when it includes students with LDs that disrupt thier learning. "
"My daughter was in a similiar situation last year. Unfortunately, additional staff (as mentioned in the article) is not always the standard when a learning disabled child is in the classroom. Also, the articles indicates that children with average abilities do not seem to suffer thanks to the additional staff & learning tools provided when children with learning abilities are included in the classroom. How about children would are academically ahead of the curve and need more challenge? Can we realistically expect teachers to be able to accomodate all levels of learning in 1 classroom?"
"My daughter has LD and I found the teachers spend more time with the smart kids and call on them all the time to answer,and my daughter is still 2yrs behind the other kids and she is in 6th grade now.My daughter came home the other day and said this boy ask her why she was so dumb?I feel the teachers dont spend enough time with LD kids,and its not the teachers fault because they have so much to teacher in that year."
"Thanks for the enlightening and thoughtful information."
"This is great!"

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