Intellectual Disabilities: Inclusion

Assignment from Penn State Psych 476:

“There has been some debate for many years about the best way to meet the educational needs of students with intellectual disabilities. Approaches have ranged from self-contained classrooms to mainstreaming, with several advantages and limitations related to each approach. For this discussion, the class will be divided into three groups to explore the best approaches for educating children with Intellectual Disability. You will only have access to the posts for your assigned group throughout the week.”

I believe that children with intellectual disability should be place in regular classes. I believe there are great benefits both for the student and for other students in the presence of children with intellectual disabilities.  There are factors to be considered as well as advantages and disadvantages to inclusion. The crux of the determination in my estimation is the level of support available for students, teachers, and peers.

There are many factors that should be considered in terms of inclusion for individual children. The first factor I’d consider is the severity or classification of intellectual disability for that particular student. Is the student considered mild, moderate, severe, or profound? Once the level of functioning is determined, the second factor I’d consider is the support that is available for the student, teachers, and peers that would be in the classroom. Is the level of support available congruent with the functioning level of the student? Some environments may offer mild support for a severe student which would be a mismatch for inclusion.  The third factor I’d consider is the overall existing environment the student, teacher, and students are in, i.e. is it an overall supportive community or a community that is strained. In the article Regular teachers’ attitudes to the need for additional classroom support for the inclusion of students with intellectual disability the authors (D, M. R., G, C. P., & F, W. R.) cite the importance of environment:

“Kirk, Gallagher and Anastasiow (1997) point out that conceptions of intellectual disability are often problematical. Factors such as cultural differences, the effect of community environments, the individual ’s relative strengths in particular domains, and the levels of various support systems are critical to the definition” (D, M. R., G, C. P., & F, W. R., 2001).

Furthermore, the school district itself must be a consideration on whether inclusion is considered. Bennett, S. M., & Gallagher, T. L.  write in their article, High school students with intellectual disabilities in the school and workplace: Multiple perspectives on inclusion, “…this practice is often school board specific and dependant on the philosophical orientation and embedded practices within the school board”.  (Bennett, S. M., & Gallagher, T. L. , 2013).

Without looking at the legality of inclusion, I now want to review the advantages and disadvantages within a multidimensional model of the student, the teacher, and the peers. The student doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so I believe all 3 need to be looked at. I would be remiss not to include the family as well since inclusion can also benefit the family as well in terms of support and the impact of inclusion or lack thereof but within the context of the classroom, the advantages and disadvantages I am reviewing will be limited to the model of the student, teachers, and peers.  I would also note that this is within the lens of schools in the United States. The Penn State World Campus includes students from all over the world. The authors of “Regular Teachers Attitudes…” note, “The rights of students with disability to as normal an education as possible are recognised in law in the USA and England (Public Law 94–142 and the 1981Education Act, respectively). However, in Australia no such rights are formally acknowledged…Recent research in Australia suggests that regular classroom teachers generally hold less favourable attitudes towards inclusion than do administrators and other professional staff (Center & Ward, 1987).” (D, M. R., G, C. P., & F, W. R., 2001). Put simply, context is king. The advantages and disadvantages within a community is largely contextual to one conducive to inclusion.

There are great advantages of placing children with intellectual disability into regular classes. There is an opportunity to help bolster the self-esteem of a student with intellectual disability as well as the opportunity for the student to interact with others in a social setting. I also believe for other students and teachers there is an opportunity to improve what I would call “moving pieces” that comprise the system of a student with an intellectual disability. Teachers become better equipped to teach those students both in the present and in the future whiles students become acclimated with peers who have intellectual disabilities – students who may either one day have children of their own with ID, go into a profession with ID students, or another such relation in the future. Bennet & Gallagher make a case for the benefits of inclusion to peers in the following excerpt from High School Students with Intellectual Disabilities…:

“The implications and effects of inclusion reach beyond students with disabilities to students without disabilities. Evidence suggests that students without disabilities who are in inclusive environments do not suffer academically as a result of being in inclusive classroom settings and there is also evidence that teaching practices that include differentiated instruction that addresses the needs of multilevel classrooms are more effective (Lawrence-Brown, 2004). Research also indicates that students without disabilities who are in inclusive settings demonstrate higher scores in measures of advocacy and display more tolerant attitudes towards diversity (Braham & Kelly 2004; Wiener & Tardiff, 2004). In employment settings, while challenges exist, positive results of inclusive hiring have been reported (Fillary & Prentice, 2006).” (Bennet & Gallagher, 2013)

There are also some disadvantages of placing children into regular classes. I believe strongly the core disadvantages have to do with the support available to a teacher and their students in an inclusive classroom. Wicks-Neslon, R., & Israel, A. C. write in Abnormal Child and Adolescent Psychology, “Effective inclusion does, however, require considerable investment of resources, time, effort, and commitment (they cite Beirne-Smith et al. , 2006; Hocutt, 1996). This is the core of the disadvatage that can occur. Without that investment, teachers and students can become frustrated, stressed, and as a result the student can be viewed with a negative stigma and stereotypes can be furthered. It’s possible that the child has not been assessed properly and without the proper resources and support in place any benefit is negligible. The load on a teacher can also be considered fairly heavy if proper support is not available.

The crux as I noted above is the support availability. It’s important to note that teachers have an overall reasonability to the classroom at-large and one to the student with ID as well. Support is paramount for the success of the classroom, the peers, the teacher, and student with ID. In addition, this support has to be considered beyond what is normal allocated to the classroom in terms of time, material, and programming as well as personnel.  “Additional requested personnel support refers to any desired additional personnel (specialist teachers, aides, para-professionals, volunteers) who are employed to support the inclusion of students with disability in regular classes.” ).” (D, M. R., G, C. P., & F, W. R., 2001). I would argue further all these resources must be properly mapped to the severity of the disability level.

Children with intellectual disabilities can be included in regular classes but with the appropriate resources. Benefits should outweigh the cost, but proper care must be made to to have support available in the way of materials, personnel, curriculum, and environment. All of these must be assessed properly to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of inclusion. Views on inclusion are progressively changing globally and with those changes further study will bear out the continual feasibility of inclusion.

Works Cited:

Wicks-Neslon, R., & Israel, A. C. (2013). Abnormal Child and Adolescent Psychology (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

D, M. R., G, C. P., & F, W. R. (2001). Regular teachers” attitudes to the need for additional classroom support for the inclusion of students with intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 26(3), 257-273.

Bennett, S. M., & Gallagher, T. L. (2013). High school students with intellectual disabilities in the school and workplace: Multiple perspectives on inclusion. Canadian Journal of Education / Revue Canadienne De l’Éducation, 36(1), 96-124.