When I attended school students receiving special education service were clustered together and placed in a classroom separated from their same age peers. I recall one wing of the school building where all students with special needs were housed regardless of age or disability. Today, not only is that practice considered poor educational procedure, but it is illegal.
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that placing a student in a separate class or a specialized school, or removing a child from the general education environment, should occur only when education in regular classes, even with supplemental aids and services, cannot be achieved satisfactorily. Furthermore, IDEA intends that the degree of “inclusion” be driven by the student’s needs as determined by the Planning and Placement Team (PPT), not by the district’s convenience or the parents’ wishes.
In developing the Individual Education Program (IEP) for a child with disabilities, IDEA requires the PPT to consider placement in the regular education classroom as the starting point in determining the appropriate placement for the child. If the PPT determines that the "least restrictive environment" appropriate for a particular child is not the regular education classroom for all or part of the IEP, the PPT must include an explanation in the IEP as to why the regular education classroom is not appropriate.
The International Journal of Inclusive Education (Armstrong 1999) defines inclusion as a system of education which recognizes the right of all children to share a common educational environment in which all are valued equally, regardless of differences in ability and learning styles. Children with learning difficulties or disabilities are described as entitled to the same experiences as others. The purpose of these requirements is to carry out the intent of IDEA, which is to educate as many students with disabilities as possible in the regular education classroom, while still meeting their unique, individual needs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 13% of children have a developmental disability, ranging from speech and language impairments and learning disabilities to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism. The CDC reports an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder. The U.S. Department of Education (2006) reports how approximately half of students with autism spectrum disorders ages 6 to 21 are spending 40% or more of their time in the general education classroom.
Inclusion is the practice of educating students with special needs in regular classes during specific time periods based on their skills. It involves bringing the support services to the child, as opposed to moving the child to the services. A benefit of inclusion is having the child in the class with his/her peers.
Educational researchers have documented the positive effects of including students with disabilities in the general education classroom. These positive effects have been found in the areas of academic achievement, adaptive behavior, social development and classroom work skills. Inclusion allows opportunities for social interactions not available in more segregated settings, which can improve communication and social skills.
Inclusion with peers without disabilities can also provide models of appropriate behavior that can be imitated rather than relying only on models of behavior of other students with disabilities. Inclusion in school environments may enhance the likelihood that students will be included in the community and throughout life.
Inclusion is to appreciate differences rather than to categorize, label, and segregate. It concerns the coming together of communities and attitudes towards differences within the school community.