Inclusion Is Not Osmosis

Published on April 28, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

As most parents of children with special education needs have heard, children with disabilities are required, by law, to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) appropriate to meet their needs.  The strong preference is that we have our children with special education needs in the same educational setting that they would be in if they did not have disabilities.

This provision of the federal special education laws (now known as IDEA) was a necessary part of the original legislation that parents fought to have passed.  Over three decades ago, when the first version of this statute was enacted, kids with disabilities were literally prohibited from attending their public schools entirely.

The issue then was “access” to public schools.

Fast-forward more than thirty years, and while we do have our kids with special needs in our school buildings, we are still fighting to have them properly included once they get there.  By “properly included” I do not mean simply placing a child with disabilities in a classroom with virtually no genuine effort to integrate him or her into the general education environment.

School districts often seem to think that “inclusion” happens by osmosis.

It takes more than just sitting a child with disabilities next to a “typical” child for benefit to befall the child with disabilities.  What often passes for inclusive education these days is providing a child with a parallel environment within the regular education classroom, rather than seamlessly making that child a member of the class.

The LRE provision of the IDEA insists that school districts provide intensive support to children with special education needs before justifying removal from the mainstream, unless the child clearly requires a more restrictive environment.

And yet, so often I see school districts “give up” on the regular education environment before any real efforts at inclusion are made.  I do not suggest that appropriate inclusion is easy; it is not.

It takes a comprehensive plan, willing staff, and administrative support.

But it is worth it.  If we do not take the time to provide authentic inclusion, rather than the all too common token mainstreaming that is prevalent in our public schools, then we are not really far from access after all.

4 Responses to Inclusion Is Not Osmosis

  1. My Autism Insights
    May 15th, 2009 | 11:42 am

    Well said. One reason I refused to have my son placed in inclusion years ago was that it never does seem like the special needs children in those classes get as much support as they really need while the expectations seem much higher.

  2. RobinHausmanMorris
    June 19th, 2009 | 5:23 pm

    Jennifer,
    This is valuable information. Given that my son who has autism is now 21, I am reminded of those years of PPTS.
    My caveat was “Check your egos at the door”. There were adversarial moments about inclusion. There was always the issue of casting blame.
    Sadly, it’s the child that suffers.
    Regards,
    Robin

  3. S. Cronick
    April 5th, 2011 | 7:54 pm

    I like the comments in this article, this is a true issue in special education. I work with students with varying needs on the autism spectrum and this is an issue I frequently run into, what is the best setting? I see teams debate the needs of a student every year. Due to the needs of students we often have people support the mainstream setting because they feel the child needs to observe the “typically developing” students. I have heard many professionals in the area of autism argue that students do not learn social skills by observing peers and when they do they lack the common sense strategies of things like not getting caught by an adult (students not on the spectrum tend to pick up this skill and get away with jokes that staff would not find appropriate). LRE is a tricky balance for many students, exposing them to the mainstream is important and it helps students to develop coping skills to get along in that setting but without appropriate inclusion strategies students get left behind because they do not have the academic vocabulary necessary to participate and understand the academics. Just putting students into a mainstream classroom environment does not mean they are gaining knowledge or skills from being there, they need to be prepared and at a level that causes them to be able to take the information in and process it. This leads me to another issue, frequently the mainstream classrooms are over 30 students and they are busy and moving quickly with students socializing and moving around. This natural setting is not cohesive for students with significant sensory issues that can get in the way of learning. All in all, it is always best for the team to consider all the needs of the student prior to placing them in the mainstream or pull-out setting.