Inclusion, sometimes referred to as “full inclusion”, is a new talking point for many school districts as they move forward with special education reforms. However, this is by no means a new concept. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act calls for placing students in the “least restrictive environment” where they will find success utilizing appropriate accommodations and modifications. IDEA laws state that students who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), whenever feasible, should receive an education alongside their general education peers. What this looks like in the educational setting varies dramatically from state to state to state, district to district, and even from site to site within the same district. This is for good reason, and actually, is as it should be.
Students with disabilities and disorders vary widely in their abilities: physical, mental, and behavioral. There is no “one size fits all” cure for inclusion. So, what are administrators, teachers, and parents to do? Many states, including the one in which I work, are imploring school districts to adopt these “full inclusion” models whereby students with IEPs, regardless of their abilities, are placed in classrooms alongside their “at grade level” peers. In the majority of cases, when students with disabilities and disorders are with their peers, it is a win-win. When students with an IEP are given supports, such as additional staff and appropriate accommodations, they will often rise to the occasion and make great strides. Students without disabilities and disorders learn tolerance, respect, and experience a boost in self-esteem as they mentor and assist their classmates. However, when communication and collaboration between general education teachers and special education teachers is less than stellar, all students can fall between the cracks and fall farther behind their peers. The argument against full inclusion usually includes the statement that students with an IEP take most of the attention and resources away from the other students.
We can do both: include students with disabilities and disorders and support our general education students so that all students experience success. Through careful, thorough, and thoughtful methodologies, we can write and implement appropriate IEPs enabling students to be with their general education peers in situations and classes where they can find success and receive intensive educational supports in areas where they struggle. We can have special education teachers and general education teachers collaborate and write lessons together that will engage ALL students within the class at every ability level. These lessons will include appropriate differentiations to accommodate the needs of students on IEPs and others. We can pull students out during more difficult lessons to provide them with additional opportunities for instruction, whether they are on an IEP or not. We can give students opportunities to engage in constructive and collaborative conversations where they will grow both in academic ability and confidence. Students with IEPs as well as average students struggle sometimes and all need support in different ways and at different times. We must move past the stereotyped and rigid classifications of students as being in “special education” or being in “general education”, and view them all as students who are capable of learning and achieving. This brings me to my final thoughts.
Oftentimes, when asked “why does Charlie keep getting out of his seat?”, the response I hear is “he is ADHD”. When asked, “why does Natalie look down when you speak to her?”, I hear, “she is autistic”. Another common question is, “why is Billy SO moody and angry?”, to which the reply is, “he is bi-polar”. One of the first lessons I learned in credential school was to use people first language. We would not say, “Kelly is cancer”, or “Bobby is bronchitis” when asked why they are sick. Students are NOT defined by their disorders or their disabilities. Simply changing the statements to “Charlie is a student with ADHD”, or “Natalie has autism” can go a long way to changing the narrative when we discuss students with disabilities and disorders. We then see them as students first, who have struggles and issues with which we can help. Of course, it is vital to understand the whys and hows of incorporating them into our classrooms on a daily basis, but using language that places the disability or disorder before the person perpetuates the stigmas. Through continued collaboration, all stake-holders can help students find success in the educational setting that is most appropriate to their distinct needs.
Vanessa Rogers teaches a special day class at a middle school in Central California. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and obtained her Education Specialist Credential from California State University, Stanislaus. Prior to being an educator, she worked in the school system as a classified employee at a high school for 13 years, managing the attendance office and later as a data entry operator. She has taught special education for 6 years.
I have included some sample IEPs I found on line. Editor.
Article originally published on 21 August, 2019