What Education Do You Need To Be A Music Therapist Inclusion: Help or Hinderance?

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Inclusion: Help or Hinderance?

Over the past few years, there has been a growing desire to integrate children of all ages with special needs into “peer” settings. While this may be the magic ticket for some kids, it’s not for everyone.

Many parents of children with special needs want their children to be “normal”. Part of that is moving to traditional classrooms. Some parents push their children into a “normal” peer group from infancy and expect that to be the case. There is a case for this type of action, but there are also cautions.

Pros: Inclusion is an older concept than many people think. Vygotsky considered this in his theory of education. He felt that placing children in an environment with peers of different abilities would eventually move children into the middle of the developmental spectrum found in the classroom. Every child will learn not only from their teacher but also from their peers. Inclusion can be an ideal learning environment for children with special needs. They may benefit from other peers who can help them with their social conversation skills. For example, by working with more talkative classmates, children can learn to use words in conversation, pretend, and take turns. Children can observe how other children behave in group situations and adapt accordingly. More active peers can encourage children with disabilities to participate in recreational activities.

Disadvantages: Some children are very difficult to engage. For those with extreme needs, receiving personal assistance may not be enough to fully interact with the rest of the class. Children with severe mobility needs and cognitive impairments may not receive the same benefits from inclusion. These children may sit alone or may not receive the one-on-one care they need to prevent pressure ulcers and other health problems. Similarly, inclusion classes for children with problems such as autism are too stimulating for them. This leads to behavioral outbursts, self-abuse, and self-isolation. Likewise, too many exceptions can be made when the help is doing too much for the child or when the child is doing little or no work in the inclusion classroom. Although embedding may be the least restrictive environment, the structure may not be optimal for optimal results.

Special Considerations: With all of this mentioned, there are some factors to consider. Some schools have well-established and tried-and-tested programs. They introduce coverage in a scheduled and controlled manner. They use transitional tools such as Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) and social stories to facilitate the process. The education team meets regularly to discuss problems and solutions. Other schools are not so organized. In these situations, children may be placed in “regular” classrooms without the support they need to succeed. Teachers and support staff may not be trained in how to engage children with communication or mobility needs or special needs. The team may not communicate with each other or with their families. Without good support and communication, the success of inclusion programs is limited.

Parents need to take an honest look at their child and identify the abilities and issues that could be beneficial or detrimental to their involvement. Talking to the school about their policies, communication and support, not only for the child, but also with other members of the team will help determine whether inclusion is appropriate. Inclusion is not for everyone. Some children require more attention throughout the day. By taking the time to truly explore a child’s needs and abilities and how they might work in different classroom scenarios, parenting and education teams can find the most successful and optimal placement!

©R. Wellman 2011

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