Integration idea may not work with all special needs children
There has been a recent surge in the number of people advocating mainstream schooling for children with developmental delays and disabilities.
Programmes promoting inclusion of children with special needs do have some benefits. Typically developing children get to learn, study and play with special needs children in a classroom setting. As a result, they often become more patient and appreciate the special qualities and uniqueness of others. They also learn from children with developmental delays, while at the same time helping them learn skills.
However, many individuals with significant developmental delays such as autism spectrum disorders require very specialised instruction even to learn the most basic skills. They often do not learn many basic skills simply by being with children who already have these skills.
Research shows that intensive educational services are essential to help a child with significant delays reach their maximum potential. Educational services such as applied behaviour analysis that emphasise teaching specific language skills have helped many children with significant delays overcome those delays and become able to learn the same academic skills as typical children. However, even with such focused and intensive intervention, many of these children still require and benefit from specialised instruction throughout their lives to learn many important life skills.
Some people believe the inclusion of children with disabilities into educational programmes with typically developing children is an effective way of helping them acquire important skills. Although children with mild delays, and who can effectively communicate and attend to their peers, will benefit from interacting with their developing peers, these children often still need some specialised educational services.
Only when provided with intensive, individualised instruction at a very young age would many of these children acquire the skills that allow them to learn from their daily learning activities. A child needs sufficient skills to pay attention to what other children are doing and understand what they’re saying for the child to benefit from the opportunity to learn by watching and interacting with individuals with typical development.
I am glad people want to help children with disabilities by including them with typically developing children. But, it is far more important that children with developmental delays learn many critical skills to be able to care for themselves now, and in the future.
Therefore, we must ensure that children with disabilities receive appropriate educational services that help them, and not only be included with typically developing peers.
Dino Trakakis, founder, Autism Recovery Network