There are many ways to define what an inclusive education entails, but the general consensus is that every single student, including students with disabilities, are entitled to equal access to academic and social opportunities as full members of school communities (Keys, McMahon, & Viola, 2014). In the current literature, there has been an abundance of research that has reflected the advantages of inclusive classrooms, not only for special needs students, but for their neurotypical counterparts as well.
Benefits for Neurotypical Children
1. Improved Prosocial Behaviours
The mere inclusion of children with special needs into classrooms allows for their typical peers to foster a greater understanding as well as positive attitudes towards their diverse counterparts. This is because the school environment provides a platform for repeated and impromptu engagements among students in a natural manner. When children with special needs initiate social interactions with their peers, typically developing children learn to respond by exercising perspective taking, empathy, negotiating sharing, and further initiating interactions. These are crucial skills that are the basis of prosocial behaviours.
2. Strengthened Sense of Self
The opportunity to model exemplary behaviours to their peers with special needs gives children the opportunity to not only practice them but also be immediately reinforced that these behaviours are desirable. In turn, they would be more likely to demonstrate a higher level of ability for such activities. In an inclusive classroom with various opportunities for modelling, neurotypical children would be able to develop greater confidence, self-esteem, leadership, and independence; all of which would lead to a strengthened sense of self.
3. Lifelong Understanding and Acceptance
Being exposed to inclusion firstly at an early age and then consistently throughout their lives, encourages neurotypical children to approach individuals with special needs with acceptance. Not only would they be more likely to assist classmates with school-related tasks, but they would also be more willing to initiate and foster friendships with children who are different. These experiences are crucial for building the right attitudes required for inclusivity not only in the classroom, but in the community.
Benefits for Children with Special Needs:
1. Better Understanding of Socially Accepted Behaviours
According to Banda, Hart and Liu-Gits (2010), the interactions with higher-level socially skilled peers provide children with special needs the relevant exposure that prompts them to imitate the skills and behaviours in the future. In an inclusive classroom setting, many opportunities would arise for prosocial behaviours to be taught. Along with the guidance of teachers and their fellow peers, these students would be able to learn and practice socially accepted behaviours in a natural environment. With the right support, they are more likely to be able to generalize these social skills to the various aspects of their lives in the future.
2. Academic Success
An inclusive classroom provides countless opportunities for children with special needs to engage in activities and routines that would challenge academic performance. Neurotypical peers can act as natural scaffolders of learning when coached by teachers, encouraging interaction amongst students of various academic levels. Additionally, higher expectations are set for these students in such classrooms, ultimately leading to them being able to achieve more. In turn, children with special needs demonstrate clear academic gains such as higher achievement test scores.
3. Improved Employment and Independence Outcomes
Across the research in the current field, there is strong evidence that suggests that inclusive education is a prerequisite for social inclusion not only at a younger age but in the long run after graduation as well. This is especially so for areas such as employment and social life in the community (European Agency 2018a). Being involved in an inclusive education model may allow children with special needs to reduce feelings of social isolation early and grow to be confident young adults who are well-adjusted and independent in their daily lives.
Overall, an inclusive education fosters a sense of belonging and school satisfaction for both neurotypical students as well as students with special needs. It offers better learning opportunities and diverse experiences from a young age. Most importantly, it allows all children to develop a sense of belonging and respect for individual differences, so as to be better prepared for life in the community as children & adults.
Written by Junice.
Banda, D.R., Hart, S.L., & Liu-Gitz, L. (2010). Impact of training peers and children with autism on social skills during center time activities in inclusive classrooms. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 619–625.
Downing, J., Spencer, S., & Cavallaro, C. (2004). The development of an inclusive charter elementary school: Lessons learned. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 29, 11–24. doi:10.2511/rpsd.29.1.11
European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (2018a). Evidence of the link between inclusive education and social inclusion: A review of the literature (S. Symeonidou, Ed.). Odense, Denmark. https ://www.europ ean-agenc y.org/resou rces/publi catio ns/evide nceliteraturereview
Gupta, S. S., Henninger, W. R., & Vinh, M. E. (2014). First steps to preschool inclusion: how to jumpstart your programwide plan. Paul H. Brookes Publishing, Co.
Holahan, A., & Costenbader, V. (2000). A comparison of developmental gains for preschool children with disabilities in inclusive and self-contained classrooms. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 20, 224–235.
Keys, C. B., McMahon, S. D., & Viola, J. J. (2014). Including students with disabilities in urban public schools: Community psychology theory and research. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 42, 1–6.
Koster, M., Nakken, H., Pijl, S. J., & Van Houten, E. (2009). Being part of the peer group: A literature study focusing on the social dimension of inclusion in education. International Journal of Inclusive Education,13, 117–140.