Sunday, June 08, 2008

What's the Point of Inclusion?

If you ask most advocates of including developmentally disabled kids in regular classes why these kids should be included, they'll say it's so the child can be friends with normal children.
But does this actually happen?
In the European Journal of Special Needs Education, volume 19, issue 3, pages 317-330, Monchy et al studied 21 mainstreamed kids with 'behavior problems' - 9 with PDD NOS, 1 with ADHD, 3 with PDD NOS and ADHD, 1 with Tourette Syndrome, 2 with Asperger Syndrome, 1 with Reactive Attachment Disorder, and 4 with no specific diagnosis. They categorized these kids and their classmates as 'popular' (liked by the majority of the class), average, ignored (not liked or disliked by most of the class), controversial (liked by many and disliked by many) and rejected (disliked by most of the class) based on children's nominations of their top 3 favorite and top 3 least favorite classmates.
Among the neurotypical kids, 27% were popular, 31% were average, 18% were ignored, 6% were controversial and 19% were rejected. Among the behaviorally disabled kids, none of them were popular, 8 (38%) were average, 3(14%) were ignored, none were controversial, and 10(48%) were rejected. So in other words, about half of the disabled kids were actively disliked by most of their classmates. Around two-thirds were in the two categories that could be considered 'social failure'.
For mainstreamed kids with Down Syndrome, it was better, but still pretty bad. An earlier article in the same journal as the above one (in volume 14, issue 3, pages 212-220) found using the same method that 17% were popular, 26% were average, 52% were ignored, none were controversial and 4% were rejected. For these kids, a little over half could be considered social failures, although most were not actually disliked.
So, for a normal-looking child with unusual behavior, in a regular class, about half of them will be disliked by most of the kids (and probably bullied), and only about a third will be accepted by their classmates. Down Syndrome kids are actually less likely to be actually disliked than neurotypical kids, but about half of them will have few friends in their class. Even for kids with more 'acceptable' disabilities like Down Syndrome, social failure is quite common.
So what's the point of inclusion? As it is now, inclusion is failing to achieve the primary goal for (assuming these numbers generalize to other conditions) the majority of developmentally disabled kids. Either we need to fix it, or try something else.

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Blogger Athena Grele said...

Hello! Great post.
I'm a person on the NT/AS borderline. When I was a kid, I was a lot "more autistic" than I am now, but no one noticed. This situation emerged because of my school life.
I went to an alternative school with 48 students grades 1-8. I would guess about one half or even two thirds of them were not "normal"; we didn't exactly share disagnoses or anything, but I'd guess maybe as many as 15 students there had some form of autism, and one had MR. At this school it was totally, 100% normal to be weird (if that makes sense) and in some ways it was actively celebrated. I'm a fairly extroverted person, although I wear out quickly, so I made friends quickly and kept them; that's why, in this environment, my difficulties weren't obvious enough to be noted. I had a friend who was definitely very autistic, and he had lots of friends, too. It was the best example I've ever seen of a near-perfectly inclusive classroom.
The school still exists; my little brother goes there. He's autistic and his best friend has tourettes. Another of his friends has ADD, and yet another is completely "normal". All of these kids are liked and accepted by their peers at this school.
Having seen this, I support inclusion. But I don't support throwing kids with difficulties into a normal classroom and treating them like normal kids. That will accomplish nothing. One has to cultivate an environment of caring and accepting, and most of all one has to educate students to understand differences and accept them. The teachers at my little brother's school introduced his friend with tourettes to the whole class when he first came there. They explained that he made noises and movements he couldn't control and that that was OK. They invited the students to make him feel comfortable and help him out- as all the students there help each other when they need help- and because of the attitude of acceptance fostered in those classrooms, he's a happy and well-liked kid now.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings on this whole issues. As an individual with AS, inclusion has been a mostly negative experience for me socially but it allow allowed me to gain the necessary academic requirements to attend university. I find small, specialized classes (such as the advanced placement english class I took in grade 12) to be the most accepting of differences. I wish they could either address the academic needs of high achieving students with disabilities in a special education environment or somehow better be able to accomodate their needs in a regular education setting. I think gifted classes with accomodations such as extra time for exams or being allowed to write essays on computer is one solution because these environments tend to be more accepting.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Gracenwilk said...

I felt in my bones that there was something skewed about this study, so I sent this article without comment to my brother, who is father to a child with Ds. He and his wife have also spent their careers working with special needs kids. See below:

"The study was an attempt to see how well liked developmentally disabled kids are like and as we could tell from our own experiences children born with Down Syndrome faired better.
As a grizzled veteran of the depopulation of Texas State Schools and Texas State Hospitals our main concerns (in fighting for the mainstreaming of our son) were the presence of intstiuatlized behaviors in special needs children who are ghettoized, i.e. segregated from the "normal" population. These behaviors are typical of humans who are warehoused and forgotten. I have always been amazed how we (humans of every type) resent and resist being ignored.

In my mind mainstreaming is not about my child having normal friends, whatever that statement means. In my mind Clark has a divine purpose and his interaction with “normal people” is vital to the Gospel message.

"The study only concerned itself with rating developmentally disabled children. Was there a baseline? And if so how did “normal” children rate? It would be interesting to read the authors' definition of "normal" because that strong assumption underlies this study yet the authors themselves do not own their own biases.

7:05 AM  

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