Inclusion vs Self-Contained: What’s best for your child?

Recently I was reminded of the heartache about appropriate classrooms for our special needs children through a friend who was grieving the loss of inclusion as her son was being placed into a self-contained classroom. The school gave her son a 30 day trial in the regular classroom and a new IEP meeting was done to change him to the self-contained classroom. She had inclusion for her son for years in another county but with her recent move her son was also being moved into a new setting. I don’t know the circumstances or if this is a good or bad change but it is a loss for what was wanted and hoped for. Many of you may have felt this before too.

Corey and I have done the range from full inclusion to full self-contained, with good and bad experiences and after 5 years I can say that there is a time for everything. Each type of classroom has its pros and cons. It really comes down to what is best for your child at that time in his life and who is the teacher. How will your child be taught? Will he be loved for who he is and given the opportunity to shine?

Did you notice I wrote knowing the teacher is better than what the classroom or program is was called? I used to be really hung up on the title but now have come to accept that it doesn’t matter. What matters is who is teaching the class, the support they are given, and the current makeup of the classroom.

If the teacher loves the child, has a passion for her job, understands the child’s needs and has the school’s support your child will flourish. If the teacher loves the child, is tired of her job and doesn’t understand your child’s needs, your child will not receive what they need, even if she had the school support. This can happen in either type of classroom and has happened to Corey.

True full inclusion requires a team of believers and supporters for it to work well. The administration must be willing to support the teacher and provide the accommodations needed to be successful, the teacher must have enough time and energy to give the attention needed to your child along with the 19 or so other children, the special therapy services need to be willing to schedule the therapies during times that are not crucial academics but then what is left…the fun times. I know I’m missing link… your child. He must be able to learn in the environment and feel good about himself.

True inclusion can happen and does happen successfully it just seems hard to find sometimes and can take alot of personal effort to create it. Self-contained or a combination of both can be very successful and rewarding for your child too. It really comes down to what is best for your child at this time in their life.

Ask yourself, and your child if you can, what would make the child happy, how will the child learn their academics best, how will the child learn life skills best, how will the child learn social skills best, and the questions go on. Maybe make a list of the things needed to be learned at the school (not just the IEP goals) and how each setting would provide it. You may not know how each setting will provide it until the IEP so bring the list with you. Keep your mind open to all the possibilities and really try to get to know each of the teachers present by asking the questions on your list and how they respond.

The teacher you may end up with may not be at the meeting. If you have concerns, you can ask at the IEP meeting towards the end when placement is being discussed to see the different options in the actual classroom. Ask that you go to the classroom your child could attend and the teacher who could be teaching your child. This isn’t always able to be done because they may have new teachers coming in or some leaving but most likely you will meet the actual teacher.

Do not sign the IEP. Go to each of the options with your questions and see how they are answered. Stay quietly in a corner and watch how the teacher responds to the students and how the students respond to her. The actual class makeup will probably be different for your child since new IEPs are made with new children coming in and the current children may be moving on to other classes. Unfortunately we don’t have a crystal ball but we can get close. You can get a feeling about the different teachers and make the best choice with the information you have at the time.

We knew during one of our IEPs that a teacher would not be appropriate for Corey and we really wanted full inclusion for him. He had it for 2 years already. Unfortunately without the school support for accommodations and the chosen classroom being too large for Corey to do his best, we ended up having to go back to that teacher. We were right with our feelings. It was a difficult year. If I had to do it over, I would have called another IEP meeting for more options instead of going with the only one being offered. The last IEP we were presented four options and knew from how the teachers were responding to the goals who would be best for Corey. We were right and the teacher is right for Corey. The name of the class is not what I would have thought I would have accepted and did not accept in the past. But at this time it is what is best for Corey because the teacher is the best, the setting is where Corey needs to learn and he shines in this class. He comes home talking about what he has learned for the first time. I am also thrilled about the new opportunities he has to participate in special olympics, learn to swim, learn real life skills and learn academics in a meaningful way.

Wishing your child and you the best teacher and classroom setting for this year.