Benefits for Disabled Students
The inclusion of special needs students is increasingly popular. In the 1984-5 school year only 25% of disabled students were educated in inclusive environments. The number almost doubled to 47.4% by the 1998-9 school year (Fine 2002). What makes the practice of inclusion accepted by so many? Research shows a plethora of benefits for the disabled child being taught in a general education setting. Learning in an inclusive environment provides for many an opportunity to grow academically. The mother of an autistic boy placed in an inclusive classroom said that “it has allowed him to realize an academic potential she never thought possible, even grasping abstract math concepts” (Bishop 2003). In a study comparing disabled students in a special education environment to those in an inclusive environment, statistics showed that those in the inclusive setting made more academic progress (Peetsma 2001).
The most significant benefit attributed to inclusion practices seems to be social development. Being involved in the same learning activities as their non-disabled peers allows disabled children to develop better interpersonal skills (Forrest & Maclay, 1997). Often disabled children are lonely, and increased social connections give them more opportunities for forming relationships with their peers (D’Alonzo, Giordano & VanLeeuwen, 1997). Also, research shows that in an inclusive environment there is a greater “demand for appropriate social behavior” as well as increased “opportunities for observational learning and interactions” and “higher levels of play” (Hanline & Daley, 2002). Expectations are higher (Hines 2001) and self- esteem may increase, as students are no longer labeled “special” but are fully included in a normal learning environment (Tompkins & Deloney, 1995).
Benefits for Non- Disabled Students
Studies not only point to benefits for the special- needs child, but for their non-disabled peers as well, most of these benefits being social in nature. Advocates of inclusion applaud beneficial effects such as increased diversity awareness and tolerance. Students can “learn to be helpers- not superior, but useful” (Forrest & Maclay, 1997). Similarly noted is an “increased responsiveness to the needs of others” (Peltier, 1997). Apparently, being around students with disabilities creates a willingness to help, and this characteristic can remain with students for the rest of their lives. As well as being more accepting and helpful, students report a better self-image after serving their disabled peers in such a unique way. Non- disabled students also find that true affectionate friendships can be formed with their special- needs classmates (Peltier, 1997). If the students had not been included but rather set apart in a special classroom, these special relationships most likely would not have been formed.
Other benefits for “normal” students include the presence of an extra aide in the classroom as well...