I am a physical therapist and have worked in the school system for 19 years. My own four children go to public school, and attend school with many of the kids I work with. Throughout the years, I’ve gained a better understanding of the positive impact that inclusion can have for children with disabilities.
But what about my own children without disabilities? How can inclusion benefit them? And what exactly is inclusion?
What is Inclusion?
Inclusive education means that all students are full and accepted members of their school community. Their educational setting is the same as their non-disabled peers, whenever appropriate.
There are many resources on how inclusion positively impacts students with disabilities. There are countless research studies and articles out there if you want to do your own reading. But the short answer is that inclusion allows children with disabilities to learn from their peers and develop social and communication skills.
But inclusion in the classroom also allows for children without disabilities to benefit as well. Here’s why.
How inclusion benefits children without disabilities.
1. More exposure to human differences.
Children will learn to see a variety of ways people behave differently when children with disabilities are included in the classroom setting. This can help kids prepare for life in an inclusive society, where they have to work alongside people every day who look and act differently than they do.
2. Increased personal morals and ethical principles.
When children learn alongside children with disabilities they have less prejudice and more responsiveness to the needs of others. Students with special needs can humanize any educational environment, sending a message to students that we all need to pitch in to help each other out in life.
3. Respect for diversity creates a welcoming environment for all.
Students with disabilities add to the diversity of the classroom. Diversity enriches our lives. And true inclusive education allows students with disabilities to feel that they are truly a part of the school community.
This requires open and honest discussion about difference, and respect for people of all backgrounds and abilities. In inclusive schools, this means creating an environment where students are valued for who they are.
4. Increased communication skills.
Children will learn how to communicate more effectively. Behavioral supports help maintain a positive learning environment for all students, not just those with emotional or behavioral disabilities. School-wide behavioral supports establish high expectations through the school community, helping children learn to be respectful, helpful, and accepting.
5. Improved self-esteem.
Being in a classroom with a student with autism, for example, makes differences less “different.” Inclusive classrooms are filled with diverse learners, each with strengths and challenges. Inclusion gives kids a way to talk about how everyone learns in their own way.
They may find that they have more in common with other kids than they thought, bridging new friendships. This can go a long way in helping kids know that difference is just a normal part of life.
6.Exposure to a variety of teaching methods and academic support.
All students learn differently, and so inclusive schools place great importance on creating opportunities for students to learn in a variety of ways. Teachers therefore must consider a range of learning methods (such as visual, auditory, etc.). For example, in math that could involve visual aids and objects, like cubes or colored chips, to help kids learn new concepts. Inclusive schools also provide multiple academic supports (flexible pacing and grouping, reading and literacy specialists, tutoring, etc.) that create a supportive environment for all learners. These strategies can be helpful for all students.
Many people have learned about their own unconscious biases and history of race in our country in this last year. We ask ourselves “How can we stop this cycle of racism, stop gender bias, and raise kids who are accepting of all? What are ways we can expose our kids to diversity where we live? How can we be ‘the hands and feet of Jesus‘ in day to day life, doing the most for the ‘least of my brothers and sisters’ (Matthew 25:40)?”
And the answer is both complicated and intense, overwhelming and necessary. And there isn’t just ONE thing we can do that will solve all the problems. But welcoming children with all disabilities into our classrooms is one small step we can take in the journey of acceptance.