Mainstreaming is such an emotional topic to those involved in the education profession and parents who are helping to make these hard decisions for their own children. There is no simple answer. For one child who has the potential to do age appropriate work Mainstreaming may hinder them as a large classroom offers distractions and less specialized services that they may receive in an appropriate seclusion setting.
There is a myth among parents of children with mild learning disabilities that their children belong mainstreamed but that children with more severe disabilities should be placed in seclusion. As a teacher and a mother with a special needs child I see what I think is probably not observed by many. In my own experience the children with more severe disabilities have more to gain from inclusion and that children with milder disabilities might be better severed in seclusion, of course each and every situation is not cut and dry and should be evaluated.
Children with more severe disabilities that are going to be life long are often thrown into level 3 classrooms with teachers that do little more than babysit them. While their are some great teachers out there focusing in special ed there are some very poor ones as well and many times the better teachers are kept for the ‘salvageable’ special ed students. Children with Down syndrome, angelman syndrome and and other more life long disabilities are often expected to learn to take out the trash , wash windows and run meaningless task throughout the day. While that may be an appropriate goal of career someday some regular ed students will have careers at McDonald’s, grocery stores and other blue collar jobs and we don’t have them start wrapping hamburgers at the age of 7. Its really a shame. Many of children with these conditions absolutely blossom when given the opportunity to participate in regular classes and what they receive from that experience they give back to their peers as well. Often children with severe disabilities have a pure love to give they can help others learn compassion and they also are often great friends as well which makes every one feel good to be appreciated and helps improve both students self esteem. Life is about differences and to isolate those from the classroom takes away a very good opportunity. With proper supports in place its a beautiful and successful experience for all.
My enthusiasm above may give the impression that I’m a ‘mainstream’ junkie but to the contrary for children with milder learning disabilities I’m very cautious about the mainstream concept and tend to be a proponent for children in these situations to find a classroom or better yet a school that is specialized to their struggle. With mild learning disabilities, children often get overlooked in the classroom , and usually do not qualify for the benefits of a one on one aide, and when they do it isolates them even more from their peers. With severe disabilities small children seem to grasp fairly easily kindness and compassion but with its a mild learning disability children are often isolated by peers who are unable to grasp their struggles or that their is a disability present. While schools have developed great zero tolerance programs at schools they still are not great at stopping it completely and the effect on self-esteem can be detrimental.
Each and every school district needs to be looked at individually and their ability to accommodate for learning disabilities and special needs carefully examined before a decision on placement is made. what is successful for one child will vary for the next and its okay to reevaluate if the situation is not working for a particular concept. Education is not a one size fit all program and its exciting to see that classrooms are becoming inclusive to all.