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[This answer assumes that the original wording of the question included an error. The word “inclusion” was replaced by this educator with “exclusion” in an effort at clarifying what I believed was the student’s intent]
Students with multiple disabilities present a challenge to academic institutions, especially at the elementary school level, where overcrowding is a problem in many school districts and teachers are spread thin in their efforts at devoting adequate attention to each student. In addition, those disabilities that involve special equipment, for example, wheelchairs, can exacerbate the difficulty of functioning in confined spaces where class sizes have grown to excessive proportions. That said, schools are legally required and morally expected to make every effort possible at accommodating special needs children, and most have adapted to that requirement.
Four arguments for including children with multiple disabilities in regular classrooms are:
- Special needs students require the normal interaction among children of their age group that can only occur within the “regular” classroom environment. Isolating such children deprives them of the opportunity to develop the social skills necessary to enable them to function in society.
- Depending upon the nature of the disabilities in question – for example, are the disabilities limited to physical infirmities that do not adversely affect learning ability and mental/emotional development – inclusion in regular classrooms is warranted by virtue of the student’s ability to learn at a normal level and to interact with teachers and classmates at the age-appropriate level.
- The goal for most handicapped individuals is to enable them to eventually assimilate into society with their disabilities treated as an extraneous issue that does not preclude such assimilation. The more time children with disabilities, including multiple disabilities, spend immersed in a regular classroom environment, the better able they will be eventually function in society.
- Again, depending upon the nature of the disabilities – for example, is autism or another form of mental disability present and, if so, at what level? – inclusion in the regular classroom environment benefits all students, who observe disabled students functioning in a normal environment and, hopefully, develop both empathy and a sense of normality regarding their classmates’ presence. Children, by virtue of their ages and stage of emotional development, can be cruel regarding any child who appears different. Through immersion in a regular classroom environment, students without disabilities can learn to respond to students with disabilities in a socially appropriate manner.
Four arguments for excluding children with multiple disabilities from regular classrooms are as follows:
- Depending upon the nature of the disabilities, children with multiple disabilities may not be able to receive the level of attention they require in order to progress academically at the level associated with students who are not disabled. Disabled children may need to be separated from the regular classroom for their own benefit so that they can receive the level of individual attention they require.
- Despite legal requirements for public schools to accommodate students with disabilities, classroom size and structure may not be conducive to the equipment certain children require in order to function. While schools are required to accommodate disabled children, such measures may logically involve separate facilities and staff more appropriate for certain types of equipment. Children with autoimmune deficiencies have historically been educated remotely from specially-constructed rooms in their family homes because of the threat to their health from the bacteria certain to be passed around regular classrooms.
- While a goal is always to acclimate students with disabilities into the normal classroom environment and to enable them to eventually assimilate into society, and while nondisabled children need to be taught how to respond to and interact with classmates with disabilities, the realities of human nature do not always allow for such interaction. As noted above, children can be cruel regarding physical and emotional distinctions. There will invariably be cases where the welfare of the special needs child is better met in a more insulated environment.
- Again, depending upon the nature of the disabilities, a regular classroom may simply not be viable option for children with multiple disabilities. There is a reason schools for the blind and deaf exist: such disabilities require unique learning environments with specially-trained staffs. Eventually, it is always hoped, such students will be able to assimilate into regular classrooms, but that will not always be the case. Blind and deaf students can adapt to normal classrooms, especially at the college level; below those levels, the training may not yet be sufficient to allow for such an option. In addition, other types of disabilities, for example, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other mental disabilities, may require special measures all the way through elementary and high school, depending upon the level of severity. Children on the lower-end of the so-called autism spectrum (i.e., minor levels of autism) can often assimilate into regular classrooms at the elementary or high school level, but large public school classrooms are unlikely to provide the attention such students need in the early years.
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