Guest Author - Vicki McCarthy
The idea of inclusion within education is a popular concept within today’s society and with the rising numbers of children being diagnosed with special needs and the declining numbers of special education schools, many parents have no choice but to send their children to mainstream (public) schools. However, there is much debate concerning the issues of inclusion, and very often the standards which should be met to include children with special educational needs in mainstream schools often falls way short of parent’s and teacher’s expectations.
Successful inclusion would ensure that a child’s educational, emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs are met. However, the difficulty with inclusion is that it is often confused with integration, which requires the child to adapt to his or her surroundings, which for many may just not be possible. So rather than the child having the environment and staff within a mainstream setting adapt to meet their needs, they are often left trying to “fit in” because nothing has been adapted for them. The impact of this happening can be very stressful and can create a wide gulf between the child and their classmates from both an educational and social perspective.
In order for inclusion to be successful many things need to happen. Any physical changes to the environment should be carried out both within the classroom and throughout the rest of the school where required. Training and resources must be provided for teaching staff and practitioners, otherwise everyone suffers. Teachers should also take the time to really get to know the child, see them as an individual and build and maintain a good relationship with them. There is also a need for open and honest communication between parents and teaching staff where they collaborate and work together to meet the needs of the child. It is also essential that the wider school community (including the other students) is educated about children with special needs and taught through example by teaching staff to show acceptance, tolerance, compassion and understanding for anyone who is different.
Every child’s education should be one of the most positive and meaningful experiences in their lifetime, regardless of the fact that they have special needs. For many of these children an appropriate education can provide the starting block on which they can build successful and possibly independent lives and the importance of supporting them in their education should never be underestimated. When a school practices inclusion, the right way, the child should feel happy, secure and accepted fully for who they are and when that happens they will be able to reach their unique and full potential.