Children with Special Needs in Regular Classrooms: Pros & Cons
by Alan Harchik, Ph.D., BCBA
is a popular approach for educating children with disabilities such
as autism. Inclusion is another term for "mainstreaming,"
or merging special education with regular education classes. The
goal of inclusion is for all children with disabilities to attend
"typical" schools and classrooms and receive the support
they need to be successful.
approach has a lot of appeal. It gives children with special needs
the opportunity to learn in natural, stimulating environments. Inclusion
makes it possible for friendships to occur with non-handicapped
peers, provides positive role models, and may lead to greater acceptance
in the community. In addition, children without disabilities may
benefit by learning about differences between people and by having
the opportunity to assist others. Teachers may benefit by achieving
a broader appreciation of differences and by learning new techniques
approach is also in line with state and federal requirements for
a child to be educated in what is called the "least restrictive
environment." Finally, inclusion combats a long history of
segregation in the field of special education and disabilities.
For decades, people with disabilities did not have access to public
schools, facilities, housing, and healthcare.
children have benefited from being included in their public schools.
However, after more than 10 years of implementation, inclusion has
not fully met its promise. Because inclusion is a philosophy about
how children should be educated, it is sometimes recommended without
prioritizing the needs of the individual child or preferences of
the family. The place where a child is educated does not make instruction
effective. Rather, it is the content and method of instruction that
are most likely to result in improvement in the child's language,
social skills, and other behaviors.
schools are sometimes unable to provide the specialized education
required for children with autism, especially those with the most
severe language and behavior disorders. It is unrealistic to expect
that regular education teachers will always have the specific training
required for this population, be aware of the latest research, or
be able to readily adapt the school's curriculum. In addition, children
with special needs are sometimes assigned one-to-one aides who have
little training or experience in autism or other developmental disabilities.
with consultation from specialists, a regular school setting cannot
always provide the intensive, focused, constant instruction these
children require throughout the entire school day. Although schools
may have a mandate to include all children, it is not uncommon that
some eventually re-create special classrooms because the children
did not receive the appropriate education or their behavior problems
could not be addressed within the regular classroom.
my opinion, inclusion is not always the best choice for every special
needs student. There are other options available such as specialized,
separate day schools for children with autism.
should parents do when considering different options for their child?
First, inclusion should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Parents
need to consider the needs of their own child, the capacity of the
school to meet these needs, and their own preferences. For example,
the parents of children at May Institute's day school in West Springfield
are aware that their son or daughter has fewer opportunities to
interact with typical children. On the other hand, they know their
child is getting an educational program that is more specialized
and intensive than their child could get in the public school.
should find out whether the program they are considering - be it
an inclusion or special setting model - includes these components:
a language-based curriculum;
- a curriculum that progresses in an orderly manner throughout the
day and addresses multiple skill development;
- effective instructional techniques based upon research, including
a strong focus on positive reinforcement, shaping, prompting, and
fading of prompts;
- frequent opportunities for the child to respond to instruction;
- little time when the child is not engaged in instruction;
- daily recording of academic work and behavior problems; and
- frequent review of progress and timely changes in procedures if
progress is not occurring.
Institute operates schools for children and adolescents with autism
and other developmental disabilities in Chatham, Randolph, West
Springfield, and Woburn, Mass., and in Freeport, Maine. For more
information, or to arrange for a tour of one of our schools, contact
the Institute at 800-778-7601, or at www.mayinstitute.org.
Harchik can be contacted in West Springfield at 413-734-0300 or
information presented on this site is intended solely as a general
educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for
any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional
advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar
with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician
or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical
condition and before starting any new treatment.