Mainstreaming is the integration of special needs children and non-special needs children in the same classroom.
When students are not on the educational, physical and or emotional level of their regular education counterparts, transitioning and them in a methodical way into a regular educational environment eases them into a curriculum that would otherwise be too difficult for them to maintain on their own.
There are many issues involved for all parties when a school puts a special-needs child into a regular school setting. For example, we need to define which disability a child has, whether it’s physical, emotional or cognitive; then we need to understand the severity of the disability, the school’s resources and willingness to accept the student, and the parents’ involvement.
Questions to be addressed prior to mainstreaming the child include:
Is the school willing to accept the child?
Is the teacher capable of integrating this child into the class?
What are the social ramifications for the child/ other students?
What is the right degree of parent involvement?
What kind of support is available to the student?
There are no cookie-cutter solutions. Any time a child is mainstreamed, a tailor-made program is necessary to make that student’s transition as smooth as possible.
Should the School Accept a Child with Disabilities?
Many schools I have worked in have been open to the idea of mainstreaming students, but are unaware of the obstacles they may encounter.
The school has to understand the ramifications of accepting a child with disabilities. If the child has physical disabilities (such as motor coordination) the location of the classroom is extremely important. If the child’s classroom is on the third floor, and the lunchroom is on the first floor, and the gym is in the basement; who will be available to assist when this child needs help?
Should a school be worried about their reputation and educational status if they accept a learning disabled child?
Another important factor is the teacher’s knowledge of working with a special ed. student, and the teacher’s willingness to work with this child in class. For example:
I once went into a Cheder with a veteran teacher of 30 years, who had accepted a child with both physical and cognitive disabilities. The classroom was on the third floor, and the school yard was on the second floor. When the Rebbe sent the class down to the school yard on the first day of school, this child refused to go; he had a fear of climbing steps. The Rebbe had to send the rest of the class down with his assistant teacher, while he personally escorted this child down by holding both of his hands.
After the first week of doing this each day, the Rebbe called the parents and said, “I can’t keep escorting your child down to the school yard, and back up to the classroom.” The parents informed the Rebbe that their child knows how to ascend and descend stairs on his own, and had no idea why the child was acting in this manner. Working as an intermediary between the parent and the teacher, I discovered that this was more of a behavioral issue — the child was seeking the Rebbe’s attention. I then created goals to decrease this behavior, such as by having the Rebbe shower the child with praise for ascending and descending the stairs without assistance.
In this situation the Rebbe felt that he had to treat this child differently because he had special needs, but in actuality it was a behavioral issue which needed to be dealt with in a creative way.
Most schools that do not have previous experience with accepting children with learning disabilities cannot take into account all of the facets involved and the effective ways to transition the child.
What Are the Social Ramifications for the Child?
The age of the child has an impact on how important socialization is in integrating the student. For example: a five-year-old child will generally acclimate better socially than a 6th grader. The older the child, the more they will try to hide their learning issues, which may impact upon their ability to form close ties with peers. On the other hand, if they have an outgoing personality and are comfortable with their level of self esteem, they may not let their learning issues affect their socialization.
For the socially inept child, techniques need to be incorporated to integrate them into group activities, because peer interaction is a large component of the school experience.
Social techniques are not normally addressed in the classroom. A mainstreaming therapist can assist the teacher in creating peer interaction groups during regular lessons. For example, instead of the typical frontal approach method of teaching, a teacher can divide the class into groups of four (clusters) and give each group an assignment to work on together. This method assists in creative thinking, leadership, organizational skills, team work, and a sense of accomplishment.
The regular students can also benefit from having a disabled peer in their class by learning to become more sensitive to others, learning that there are different types of people in the world, and how to work together as a group.
What is the Right Degree of Parent Involvement?
For a child to be mainstreamed properly, parental involvement is crucial. Parents need to be there when the child comes home from school in a bad mood because of a bad test score, a reprimand from the teacher or rejection by other students. All children need support, but kids with disabilities may take longer to recover from an incident due to factors such as low self esteem.
Furthermore, parents need to be involved with their child’s class work and follow though on modified assignments and homework. Parents generally know their children well enough to give valuable advice on how to handle them; this information that needs to be channeled into the classroom environment.