Is inclusionary learning effective for students with learning disabilities?

My son is slightly autistic and has executive functioning issues. He will be entering sixth grade this fall. Up until now he has received specialized learning with other students who have learning disabilities but upon entering middle school he will be placed in mainstream classrooms with other students. Will this make things harder for him?


Julie Gordon, Special Education teacher

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I think this is a great question. It is often difficult to decide what is the best placement for your child to be both challenged and successful. I agree with the response above. Specifically, if the teacher is providing a structured, nurturing classroom with appropriate accommodations in the mainstream setting, then your child could and should be successful and thrive. You should discuss the accommodations within the IEP to make sure they are appropriate to setting and allow for the teacher to help your child as much as possible. I hope this helps. Wishing you the best of luck.

Tim Villegas, Founder and Curator-At-Large for Think Inclusive

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Wow. I think the transition from elementary to middle school is one of the scariest for parents. Typically students who are in special education classrooms don't move into general education placement unless the team thinks that it would be appropriate. It is usually the opposite I think you have that going for your son. The question of whether it will be harder for him is a hard one to answer. It depends on a number of factors.

  • Will the classroom be structured enough to provide a predictable environment?
  • Will the classroom teacher cultivate an accepting culture where students who are different are celebrated and included?
  • How will the teacher provide the accommodations and modifications in your son's IEP?
  • Will there be any environmental issues that your son will be sensitive to?

I think many of these things can be addressed with you being upfront about what your son needs at the beginning of the year. If they are a good teacher...they will listen and be open to your suggestions. Also...teaching your son to advocate for himself will be a great step in helping him get the support he needs in the classroom.

Sounds like this will be a fantastic opportunity for everyone to grow. Good luck next year!

Anonymous, Second Grade Teacher, Writer, and Parent of an 8 and 10 year old.

Last year I had four students diagnosed with autism in my second grade classroom. My belief is that every child needs differentiated instruction. Having autism may require some more explicit procedures outlined in an IEP, but it by no means should hold a child back. Your son has much to learn and much to share in a mainstream environment. It would be important as his parent for you to share as much as you can with his teacher. You obviously know him best and when you know what works for him in terms of motivation, organization, and socialization, you will be able to help his teacher put those strategies into place. This may be a time of anxiety for both of you and your son may take on some of your anxiety, but rest assured that anxiety does not indicate a poor experience. It will be an adjustment, but you will both learn the new daily routine. One thing that has helped my previous students with Autism is maintaining a close connection with the teacher. Some of my students emailed me over long vacations or weekends to relieve some of their anxiety about returning to the classroom. You might want to suggest this. Best of luck in your amazing journey. Having an Autistic child can also be a gift.

Lisa Friedman, Inclusive Educator, Religious School Director, teacher, wife, mom & friend

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How exciting to have a child begin middle school! I am sure that both you and your son are feeling a mix of excitement and trepidation, so I want to make sure that I address both of the questions that you pose here.

First, "Is inclusionary learning effective for students with learning disabilities?" Absolutely yes! All students can thrive in an inclusive classroom setting. In addition to being exposed to developmentally appropriate academics, students in inclusive classrooms learn vital character skills such as kindness, empathy, patience, cooperation and so much more. Students with and without disabilities benefit from recognizing that there are a wide range of abilities in all subjects.

But you also asked, "will being in mainstream classes make things harder for him". The answer is maybe, as it really depends upon teachers at this new school. Successful inclusive teachers are those who understand a broad range of abilities and have the skills to differentiate instruction to meet each student's needs. It is also these teachers who will help the children to develop meaningful friendships with one another. It is wonderful that you are asking this question now, as there is plenty of time to advocate for your son before school begins. Don't be shy in sharing the strategies that help him find success and speak often about his strengths in addition to any weaknesses. Help the staff at his middle school to recognize that all students have gifts and than an inclusive class is an opportunity, not a challenge. Only you can know, but I hope that the school has recommended this placement because they know that the teachers are motivated and prepared to be inclusive.

Best of luck!

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