Mainstreaming Special needs Students Understanding the Debate

I am the mother of three children with Individual Educational Plans (“IEPs”). My eldest was classified as Gifted. School for him was easy, with teachers excited to help him achieve ever higher goals. My middle child was classified as Talented in Visual Arts, and she received special pull-out education for her artistic talents.

In contrast, my youngest, who is now 14, was tested in kindergarten and deemed by the educational system as “mentally challenged” based on one test that required quite a bit of reading. The school immediately wanted to place her into a classroom with other special needs children and a teacher who was clearly overwhelmed and underpaid. I insisted on regular classes with pull-out help. It would take the district over one year to test her for learning disabilities. Once the disabilities were discovered, they could be addressed. Over the years, I have fought each year for her to receive services based on objective test results and not subjective observations of the school staff. Now she is heading to high school on grade level in language/reading and above grade level in math. Quite an achievement for a girl labeled “mentally challenged” by a public school district!

At any rate, I am writing because I see some articles mentioning home schooling as a better option. As a single parent, that is not an option for me. Children need the socialization and sharing that accompanies a classroom and public school experience, and that is not something offered by home schooling them. While it is an option for those parents able to stay at home, for those of us who work full time while taking care of a special needs child on our own, it is not.

Moreover, I had spoken to several private schools, only to learn that services would not be available, or would be available at a high cost to me. My only option was, and is, public school. I have found that if you develop a plan before you meet with the school personnel, you have a better chance of success. My advice would be to read the Indidividuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and research your state’s laws regarding a free appropriate public education for your child and how it works in your state.

I also believe that special needs children belong in a regular classroom setting. It benefits the other children to see that there are individuals less skilled than they are, and it develops compassion and a sense of helping in those children. Special needs children benefit from watching how other children act and react, which helps them with their school experience in a social way. In my experience, the little extra help needed by my child could be accomplished by a peer buddy or aide, and did not slow down the class at all. I know, because I volunteer my time each year in her classroom to ascertain the effect her learning style may have on other children.

I think the debate is a welcome way to air our concerns, but let’s not push these children into some classroom removed from the rest of the population as if they had a contagious disease. Let’s practice some patience and tolerance for those who are less fortunate in the realm of quick learning abilities. Let’s show them how everyone can work together to achieve.

If you need a good resource for working with the public schools when your child has a disability, check out Pete Wright is helpful, insightful, and very knowledgeable about the whole area of special education law.