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A Somewhat Different Approach
Inclusion receives a lot of press these days, as more and more special education students are included in a general education classroom. There are some situations, however, in which is it difficult or impossible for special education to join an inclusion classroom. In those cases, some schools will consider using reverse inclusion instead.
Reverse inclusion is the process of including typically developing children in a special education classroom. In very low grades (e.g., kindergarten), typically developing children may stay in the classroom all day or for a large part of the day. In higher grades, they may join the special educational classroom for a short, set amount of time in order to interact with the students who have disabilities.
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There are several benefits of reverse inclusion. Most importantly, students with disabilities are able to make lasting friendships with typically developing students. It can also motivate them to improve their communication skills, due to both increased communication and strong modeling from their peers. Students who are part of a reverse inclusion setting often successfully meet social/emotional goals on their IEPs, and they also improve their chances of eventually joining an inclusion setting, along with all of the benefits that accompany such a change.
The students without disabilities benefit as well. In addition to building friendships that will hopefully last outside of the classroom setting, they improve their own social skills as they learn how to get along well with students who are different from them. This helps to combat stereotypes about people with disabilities and encourages students to embrace diversity and respect those who have challenges outside of their experiences.
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While there are many benefits, there can also be challenges. The special education instructor will need to plan appropriate activities, in which both disabled and non-disabled students can contribute effectively. For severely disabled students, this may be difficult, especially if they have very limited motor skills. In addition, some students with disabilities lack strong communication skills, which can make interacting with typically-developing peers difficult. Some young students with disabilities are just learning how to use an assistive communication device, but are not yet comfortable with using it in varied situations. Communication training can help these students benefit from reverse inclusion.
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Which Approach Is Better?
A description of reverse inclusion begs the question – Why use this approach instead of inclusion itself? Professionals often suggest reverse inclusion when an attempted inclusion placement has proven overly difficult. This may be the case if a student is unable to communicate well, extremely uncomfortable in large groups, or can sometimes exhibit violent behavior.
In addition, a student may have medical needs that cannot be easily accommodated in a general education classroom, so bringing typically developing students into the special education classroom is preferable. Schools even turn to reverse inclusion because of lack of funding or support (such as a one-on-one paraprofessional) for inclusion in a regular education classroom.
The most important thing to remember is that each case is unique. What works for one student may not work for the next. Staff, parents, and sometimes even the child, should collaborate to ensure that the approach chosen is the one which best meets the needs of the student.
What Do You Think About Reverse Inclusion?
Today's school systems are continuously moving towards inclusion, rather than homogeneous grouping. This series includes several articles on inclusion, including inclusion strategies, benefits of inclusion, and reverse inclusion.