I recently read an interesting article titled "Inclusion: Friend or Foe?" by Lauren Isaac about the advantages and disadvantages of inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classes. This article has a lot of relevance to my life and education. When I was first diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome by Dr. Lynn Koegel, I went from being confined to a small special education classroom to being included in mainstream classes. Dr. Koegel has always been a huge proponent for the inclusion of autistic students in mainstream classes. According to the article, inclusion is a very divisive issue among parents, professionals, teachers and administrators.
Those who are against inclusion in mainstream classes make the argument that students with disabilities require more individualized instruction or a more controlled environment. Advocates for inclusion argue that it has many good benefits beyond just academics including many social benefits. Reading this article, I am able to see both sides of the argument. In Elementary School, I was in a small self contained special education class with only 6 children. I have ambivalent feelings about being in this setting.
On the positive side I benefited academically from the more individualized attention the teacher was able to give me. Until second grade I was unable to read because the reading programs in place at the time did not fit my learning style. My teacher was able to see that and she worked individually with me. She found an old reading program called distar which was geared toward multi modality learners like me. Soon I was reading! If I had been in a mainstream class in elementary school, the teacher would likely not have been able to give me that individual attention. But along with the academic benefits came some drawbacks.
Being separate from the mainstream students made socialization harder for me. The only times I would interact with the general education students was at lunch and recess. Because of my lack of social skills and relative isolation, I was slow to be accepted by my typical peers. For most of elementary school, my only friends were the other children in the special education class with very few friends in the general student population. However, that all changed when I started middle school, was included in mainstream classes and simultaneously started working with the Koegel Autism Center on social skills. In middle school and high school, inclusion in the mainstream setting allowed me to practice my new social skills, gain confidence and make inroads socially.
While the mainstream setting is more of a one-size-fits-all style of education, without it, I do not think I would have made friends nor would I gained the skills necessary to attend UCSB. So yes, I am an advocate for inclusion in education. I realize there are some children with special needs that are unable to handle an all mainstream setting. This is why the amount of mainstreaming a child receives should be determined on a case by case basis. My experiences demonstrate the benefits of children with disabilities should be included in the general education setting as much as possible.