Five Benefits of Inclusion
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
With Disability Awareness Month upon us, I’ve been reflecting recently on the inclusion of students with disabilities and why it is so important. The school district that my kids attend has over the years made progress in increased inclusion of students with disabilities within general education settings. For example, the number of integrated co-taught, or ICT, classes has increased at every grade level. ICT classes have both special education and general education students in one classroom.
I could go on about the benefits of ICT classes, including a lower student-to-teacher ratio, but I think the broader concept of “inclusion” deserves attention. Why should we strive for inclusion? While inherently it seems to make sense to “include” kids in different activities, settings and daily life regardless of their abilities, why does inclusion matter?
Inclusion, technically defined as being a part of a group or having equal access, is not simply about proximity and putting kids near each other. It is a mindset that recognizes the value of every child. Inclusion benefits kids in multiple ways, including helping to build skills, character, and friendships.
Speaking of friendships, what kid doesn’t like to make new friends? Kids with disabilities are at the end of the day just kids. Although they may learn differently from their general education peers, they have interests, passions and personality quirks just like every other kid. They can make you laugh or make you think or help you learn about something completely new that perhaps you never considered before. Bringing kids together in inclusive settings can help them discover friends that they may not have otherwise made through the course of their day or extracurriculars
Being better humans. Inclusion is good for the development of all kids. Meeting people who are different from us helps us see beyond ourselves and gain new perspectives. Research done by the Open Society Foundation shows that inclusive education helps to highlight the unique contributions that each student brings and facilitates a sense of belonging for all students. Schools, after all, provide the first opportunity for kids to interact beyond their families. The opportunity to be a part of a community with diversity of abilities and backgrounds can set a foundation for strong social interactions and relationships.
Preparing for their future. Empathy, understanding, ability to communicate and collaborate often top the lists of the most sought-after traits in the corporate world. While these skills are discussed in schools as part of character education programs, being in settings with diverse learners can help our kids actually put them into practice. A child that is having a tough day can provide an opportunity for fellow students to demonstrate empathy toward that student. Inclusive group work can encourage kids to problem solve, and help them recognize the unique skills of each group member. A student that has difficulty expressing thoughts in a written paper, for example, may conversely be very good at oral presentations. Early experiences of working with diverse groups can help prepare strong, future team leaders.
Gaining confidence in what they know. Education research demonstrates that when students “teach” or tutor their peers, their own learning and understanding of the material improves, with gains in memory and comprehension of the material. While not all students will be in a “teaching” capacity in inclusive classrooms, such settings can provide more opportunities for students to show what they know if they need to assist a peer from time to time.
Learning from their peers. Children learn socialization through observation and modeling from others. For students with disabilities, the power of peer modeling and peer-to-peer assistance has proven to be highly effective in everything from appropriate learning behaviors, speech, language and social skills. Inclusive settings provide natural environments where peers can reinforce skills and behaviors.
Inclusive schools can create rich, meaningful experiences for all kids and ultimately are a precursor for the diverse society in which we live and that our kids will one day function in as adults. Through thoughtful and intentional efforts, we can ensure that we not only meet the needs for all learners within a school, but also better prepare them for their future.
May 2019. The Value of Inclusive Education. Open Society Foundations. Publications. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/explainers/value-inclusive-education.
Guerrero, T. A., & Wiley, J. (2021). Expecting to teach affects learning during study of expository texts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 113(7), 1281–1303. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000657