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Mainstream Vs. Special School

by Billie Wager, studioD

Deciding on the right school placement for your special needs child can be a determining factor in his future school success. Thankfully, there are a few options to choose from when determining your child's educational needs. Parents may choose mainstreaming, inclusion or even a special school with a focus on disabilities. The choice is difficult, but understanding the options available will assist you in finding the right place for your child.

The Mainstream Classroom

Mainstreaming involves students working together for small parts of the day.

Mainstreamed special education students spend the majority of their day in self-contained special education classrooms and then attend one or two class periods a day with their general education peers. Special education students might attend physical education or music classes with the general education students or visit their classroom for part of the day during an instructional period. This allows students to socialize with grade-level peers while still receiving the special education services they need in a separate setting. The amount of time special education students spend with general education peers is determined by their abilities in various subjects.

The Inclusion Classroom

Inclusion provides specific help within general education classrooms.

Special education students in inclusion classrooms spend the majority of the day with general education peers. While these children may not be working on the same level as others in the class, trained professional staff are available to assist throughout the day. These students have individualized education plans, and special education staff and the general education teacher work to accomplish these goals. Through inclusion, special education students remain in the classroom with grade-level peers while working toward their IEP goals.

The Special School

Individualized instruction is the focus of a special school.

Special schools focus on specific disabilities and have trained professionals with expertise in teaching students with specific learning differences. Students attend classes with peers who have similar needs. Schools for autistic students focus on communication and socialization. Schools for the blind provide instruction in Braille and life skills. Schools for the hearing impaired have classes in sign language and speech therapy. These schools teach need-specific skills to students along with academics. Some are meant to prepare students for transition into a mainstream school while others will keep students through graduation.

Making a Choice

Take the time to choose the right school for your child.

When choosing the type of education appropriate for your special needs child, study all the options. Consider the amount of trained staff available to work with students, the types of services provided in each setting and types of accommodations available at the school. Decide if you want the main focus of your child's education to be academic, social or emotional. Talk with the school about their expectations for your child in the short and long-term and be specific when speaking about your child's strengths and areas of difficulty. This will help you determine the right placement for your child and provide the greatest academic success.

About the Author

Billie Wager has been a public school teacher since 1998. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education and Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction, both from Ottawa University. Wager is licensed to teach kindergarten through ninth grade in Kansas.

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