Mainstreaming: The Special Needs Child Goes to School

The kindergarten through elementary school years are crucial, formative years for your child both educationally and socially. There are things you can do as a parent to make these years more beneficial and enjoyable for your child.

What is mainstreaming?

Mainstreaming means that the special needs child attends a regular classroom along with students who are his or her actual (not developmental) age. Mainstreaming means that the child is not kept isolated in a special class, away from peers, but is included just like everybody else. Adaptations are made so that the child’s special needs are met, while still being able to participate and associate with regular kids.

Should I mainstream my child?

Studies have shown that children who are mainstreamed tend to function better as adults in society than children who were isolated in special classrooms. Research and the law also support this. However, children with very severe disabilities who need constant care and supervision may be better suited for self-contained classroom settings. A child whose behaviors are too disruptive to other students, or whose medical problems require constant attention, may simply need the more individualized focus of a specialized class. Or, some mothers choose to homeschool their special needs kids, providing social activities for their child with other local boys and girls who are homeschooled.

My personal opinion is that whenever possible the push should be towards inclusion rather than exclusion from typical peers. This is a decision best made by parents and special education professionals in an IEP (individualized education plan) meeting.

Here are some tips to help the mainstreamed special needs child have a better schooling experience:

1. Make careful teacher selections. Select a teacher who comes highly recommended, who is dynamic, who cares deeply about children and has an excellent teaching style. A teacher who has experience with special needs children attending her classes would be ideal.

2. Teach your child how to identify bullying, and give him or her “tools” to use if bullying occurs. See my blogs about bullying by clicking here.

3. Help your child to arrive at school properly groomed. Make sure her hair is washed and styled, or that his clothes are clean and reflect today’s fashions. This will make a tremendous difference in how your child is treated by other children. For tips, see my blog: Don’t let your special needs teen be a fashion reject! (The blog is directed at teens but applies just as well to elementary school-aged children.)

4. Make a visit to your child’s school. Early in the year, involve the teacher in planning a visit to your child’s school where you bring pictures of your son or daughter at home, doing her favorite things. In simple terms, explain the disability and how it affects your child. Let the children raise hands and ask questions, and don’t be offended. “Why does she look that way?” or “Is he always going to be like that?” are innocent questions, even if they sound blunt. Answer simply and positively. Have your child participate in the presentation as much as possible. Conclude the visit by passing out your child’s favorite treat. This kind of classroom visit can completely transform your child’s experience at school. Educating the class and humanizing your child will do wonders.

Many teachers have programs already incorporated into their curriculum where they highlight one child per week, having them do this same kind of presentation anyway. The child shares her favorite things, and brings a poster with a collage of pictures, etc. Ask your child’s teacher if she spotlights students in this way. If so, request that your child’s “spotlight” be as early in the year as possible, and ask to attend so that you can address your child’s disability with the class.

5. Keep in close, frequent contact with your child’s teacher. A phone call a week is not too much. Ask how things are going, and what problems exist if any. At any time you may request an IEP through the school district to review your child’s progress.

6. Ask your child’s teacher for the names of a couple students that have shown kindness and friendship to your child at school. Plan a social activity outside of school with your child and a few of these classmates. You may wish to call their parents and explain that their son or daughter has shown tremendous kindness to yours, and you’d like to invite the kids out for ice cream or a movie. Don’t wait for children to invite yours out socially—it may not happen. Help your child make the first move.

7. Push for your child’s inclusion in after school activities, school testing and assessments (with assistance) and other typical activities for kids her age. Again, your goal should be to include your child whenever possible. Investigate new technologies or strategies to assist with learning in the classroom. Fabulous new technologies are available for speech and hearing impaired students. New teaching techniques are available for learning disabled kids. Make sure you’re aware of what’s out there, so your child gets the best help available.

Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here.