Integration addresses two sides of an issue: the children with special needs and the children of regular capabilities or development. The matter, however, became more complicated as teachers, parents, social workers, health workers, education administrators, and policy-makers are included in the process. The debate on how to effectively address the education of children at the same age group but with varying learning abilities and physical, social, or mental capabilities led to more debates. Always.
Many policy-makers, parents, education officials, and authorities, as well as the teachers, have provided more than what should be viewed as necessary to address these concerns. However, the search and pursuit are continued as settings and approaches provide a varying degree of satisfaction for all parties concerned. This paper shall provide an overview of the effects of integration on children in a school setting.
Integrated classrooms are also called mainstreamed classrooms, and although synonymous, they are not the same as inclusive classrooms as “Inclusion is 100% placement in general education, whereas in mainstreaming, a student with special needs is educated partially in a special education program, but to the maximum extent possible is educated in the general education program,” (Idol, 1997, pp. 384-385).
Mainstreaming and similar terms are said to have evolved from two parallel school systems: general education and special education. As such, there had been an assumption of inequity between the two systems. Nevertheless, this practice is simply cultural in public education. Special education has become a recent focus but is smaller and separate from general education. Integration then is involving members of the lesser system joining the majority and favored or mainstream system. The rationale for mainstreaming is that participation in the majority group is in accordance with the standards of the dominant system. In contrast, Sage defines inclusion as that which implies the existence of only one unified education system that encompasses all members equitably (cited in Idol, 1997, p. 285).
Snyder, Garriott, & Taylor (2001) suggested that integrated classrooms may be considered a happy medium between segregated and inclusive classrooms as students with disabilities spend some time with typical students. However, part of the day is still spent in special education or segregated environments. “Mainstreaming removes students who are not functioning well in general education classes and returns them when they are able to function academically and socially” (Snyder et al., 2001, p. 199).
Advocates of integration argue that it is favorable to include students with disabilities when they are “academically and socially ready.” It is advantageous for students with disabilities as well as their typical peers. It will prevent students from feeling pressured to keep up with their regular classmates. The classroom teacher likewise is not forced to cope up with the need of both regular and students with disabilities needs in the class all of the time.
It is necessary for teaching that the needs of learners who have disabilities are recognized. But in reality, even well-trained and enthusiastic teachers have difficulty meeting the diverse needs of their heterogeneous classes and would be too much for the special requirements of students with moderate to severe disabilities. This challenge proves to be difficult to address even among hard-core supporters of inclusion and provides a picture of the roadblocks to a full inclusionary program (Chesley & Calaluce, Jr., 1997, p. 489)
It was proposed that integrated or “less than full inclusion” programs have the advantage of segregated programs but not the weaknesses. Students with disabilities have the expertise and individualized attention of the special education teacher for part of their school day but without the deprivation of being in a segregated setting full-time. It was also proposed that within an integrated setting, students experience the strengths of those with disabilities as well as understand what it means to live in a diverse society. Nevertheless, integrated settings are doubted whether they deliver the expected when it comes to their regular students, increasing their understanding of students with disabilities.
It was also posted that the biggest disadvantage of integrated classrooms is that students with disabilities do really belong. According to Roberta Schnorr (1990), regular students cannot grasp the rationale behind an irregular student’s absence or presence in specified time frames. Snow (2001) cited about a student with an aide, where students assumed the aide is responsible for the student: academically, behaviorally, and in other ways as much as the classroom teacher is responsible for the twenty-something other students in the classroom except for the kid who belongs to the aide.
It may be called integration or mainstreaming. The student is physically in the classroom, although, more importantly, not included because he is not really part of the class and that he does not belong (Snow, 2001, p. 149).
Another strength mentioned was that of students with disabilities having a chance to spend time in a special ed room until such time that “they are able to function academically and socially.” This is problematic as some students with disabilities will never reach that point, as Snow (2001) refers to as the “myth of readiness.”
It has also been argued whether special programs prepare kids for the next level of special programs. “Prepare” was even considered a wrong word as once in the system, children are propelled along the path of more specialized services to come.
Snow (2001) wrote that “We must ask: why aren’t children with disabilities OK’ the way they are? Why do they have to be ready for anything? Because they don’t meet the artificial standards for readiness or normalcy set by experts, professionals, parents, and society in general.” (p. 111)
Snow (2001, p 395) added with conviction that “Regardless of the labels assigned to them, our children are blossoming and developing right before our eyes. Each is unique, each deserves every opportunity and privilege we can provide, and each has distinctive needs. Differences aside, all children with disabilities have the same basic needs as other children: to be unconditionally loved, valued, and respected for who they are; to love, value, and respect themselves as they are; and to grow up knowing they can and should participate in, and contribute to, the world around them.” With reference to Matthew 5:13 (CEV), it was said, “You are like salt for everyone on earth.” This means that each individual has meaning for every other person.
Appropriateness for Children with Disabilities
Peck, Furman, and Helmstetter (1993, p.249-270), found that children with disabilities in integrated early childhood programs showed higher levels of social play and more appropriate social interactions. Likewise, they were more likely to initiate interactions with peers than children in self-contained special education preschool classes. It was also noted that children with disabilities in integrated classes gain more in language, cognitive, and motor development that are comparable to peers in self-contained special education classrooms (Fewell & Oelwein, 1990). It is to be recalled that in 1 Corinthians 2:9-12, it was said that, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so, the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
In addition, it was also noted that children with disabilities display more advanced play in inclusive settings than they do in self-contained classrooms. Nevertheless, Peck et al. (1993, p.39-64) noted that in a discussion of social interaction skills interventions, even in inclusive settings, young children with disabilities are more likely to engage in non-interactive play, participate less in playgroups, and are chosen as playmates less frequently than their peers.
A few research argued that it is the type of learning experiences that are provided rather than the type of classroom setting — integrated or segregated— that is critical in fostering children’s development. Mahoney et al. (1992) found that where the adults displayed responsive and child-oriented teaching styles, children with disabilities were more likely to initiate play activities and communications with their peers. This was in comparison with settings of classes where adults used directed and instructionally oriented styles. Another study (Yoder et al., 1991) showed that child-directed teaching strategies resulted in greater gains in communication skills for children with severe disabilities than did direct instruction.
Integrated Programs and Children Without Disabilities
Several studies also suggested that children without disabilities benefit from integrated classes that also address the needs of children with disabilities. Odom and McEvoy (1998) found that normally developing children enrolled in integrated programs make developmental gains at least equivalent to those made by their peers in nonintegrated programs.
In addition, parents and teachers noted that integrated programs offer additional benefits for children without disabilities. In a study conducted by Peck et al. (1992), parents reported that normally developing children enrolled in integrated settings become less prejudiced and had fewer stereotypes, and were more responsive and helpful to others, as compared to children in other settings. Giangreco et al. (1993) supported this with findings that teachers had reported that children without disabilities became increasingly aware of the needs of others when they were enrolled in a class including a child with a severe disability. These findings may be based on teachers’ and parents’ perceptions, but they provide a view on the potential social benefits of integration for children without disabilities.
Administrative Structure of Integrated Programs
Administrative characteristics of successfully integrated programs emphasize the acceptance of diversity and place value on the program’s role in and participation in its community (Peck et al., 1993, p.187-205). Likewise, the implementation of specialized interventions within naturally occurring situations without disrupting the curriculum and educational routines of the early childhood classroom is an important factor in ensuring the success of an integrated program.
Peck et al. (1993) suggested that the progress made by individual children in meeting developmental goals was not a critical factor in determining whether or not a program remained integrated. It was pointed out that the major reasons integrated childhood programs failed or became re-segregated are due to the struggles between professionals on issues like the management of time during the school day, types of classroom activities, and intervention strategies. It was also found in other studies that teachers emphasized the need for goals shared with special education and support personnel (Giangreco et al., 1993).
Implications of Integrated Programs
Knowledge and understanding about the ways in which integrated programs meet the needs of children and parents for high-quality early childhood education have grown significantly in the past few years. Most crucial on this matter is the dedication and active involvement of parents, regular and special education teachers, and administrators in developing integrated preschool programs. Regular education preschool teachers have expressed that they are able to meet the needs of children with disabilities in their classes when intervention supports their expertise and respects the educational approaches of the regular classroom.
However, there must be a continuous approach to teaching strategies as well as the development of aides that meet the individualized needs of children with disabilities in inclusive classes. It is also important to note that researchers, parents, and practitioners’ participation in an inclusive preschool classroom influences regularly developing children’s understanding of disabilities and sensitivity to their peers. All parties involved must address this immediately and find the best ways to provide education that is respectful of the talents and needs of individual children, parents, and teachers.
Children of two kinds are addressed in this issue: the regular kids and the kids with special needs. More important are the respect, kindness, and true sharing that every individual need in the fast-changing, the almost impersonal world we are all getting into. Economic reasons would have to take a backseat for the moment to enable children of all abilities to develop fully to become positive contributors to society.
In the end, the effect of integrating normal kids with children that need special attention is positive for both. Normal children are exposed to children who are unique, and somehow, they begin to understand that there is always a certain quality for every person that needs understanding, including him or herself. For the children with learning disabilities, exposure to regular children could help them adapt to a real-world where various kinds of individuals mingle and live with one another. Reality is not always pretty and pastel-colored. But in finding and understanding differences, individuals begin to understand the importance of respect, sharing, and caring.
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Snow, K. (2001). Disability is natural: Revolutionary common sense for raising successful children with disabilities. Woodland Park, CO: Braveheart Press.