Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mainstreaming or Warehousing?

"Mainstreaming theory in some case exempts the student from learning according to their ability, skill level, and developmental pattern. They will never reach their greatest potential."

I've been reading a lot of articles about mainstreaming. I see a river of difference in mainstreaming theory and mainstreaming reality.

In theory, it works only when there are plenty of available resources, time, and finances. In order for it to work for the individual, mainstreaming is a long-term  and ongoing process requiring support for  everyone in the community -- from the mayor or city manager on down.

Unfortunately today, mainstreaming reality is still  a vision involving coordination from people and organizations most of which exist on the margins of our society in terms of funding and support. In fact most of these organizations that advocate for the rights of people with special needs are not even mainstreamed into our society!

We hope that one day all our children will be mainstreamed into community life and be embraced and accepted for who they are instead of what they aren't. Planting those seeds requires tapping into  a education system that is letting go their teacher's aids  because the budget cuts at the state level have been severe and steady in Ohio since 1998.

What our government has developed for the schools as "mainstreaming" is a package deal claiming that all kids can be included in the classroom as participants and school related social settings regardless of their disability. In reality, we hope they are, but many are only visible and not included. Their needs are just being "warehoused" until they go home.

Buying into this neatly packaged "mainstream reality" involves developing an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), a 503 plan, or behavior plan. In the IEP, for example, are specific objectives and goals for the child and additional assisting technologies, therapeutic services, and adaptive aids to accommodate the child's needs in the classroom. For some children, an IEP is what separates them from the rest of the class so they can learn according to their "own ability."

For some children who are globally or developmentally delayed, children who process information differently, and children who have have neurological-diverse behaviors emerging, being in the classroom with their biological peers who are on "curriculum track" may be counterproductive or irrelevant. In this case, parents, advocates, and school district representatives should seek out alternative special education environments or services that will match the child's ability. An environment that promotes learning based on the child's ability.

When alternatives are not offered or not available or if school does not support a particular "ALTERNATIVE" service that might greatly enhance a child's special education experience, many times parents and caregivers are forced into accepting the district's school-government "mainstreaming" option. In other cases, parents and caregivers have elected to keep their child at home.

Since I can only go by personal experiences as a mother and by what I have experienced by working in schools, all I can say that most parents and caregivers are absolutely clueless about what goes on in the classroom where the child is presumed to be "mainstreamed. Many parents are clueless because their view of mainstreaming is based on the theory, not the true reality.

Not all children benefit from mainstreaming, but this information is not given to parents during meetings. In some case studies, mainstreaming in the classroom interferes with the child's progress. It might trigger sensory issues as in the case of  children diagnosed ASD.

Unfortunately there are no alternatives in some school districts. In other schools, alternatives exist but it is not supported by the school district so most children settle for mainstreaming theory which turned out to be nothing more than babysitting services or "warehousing" a child's needs until the school day is over.

Sure, once in a while the parents are invited to school-related programs where they see their child "included" with the rest of the kids and everybody goes home happy that the child is "mainstreamed" but this is where the mainstreaming begins and ends for many of our children with varying abilities.

For many of the schools offering packaged mainstreaming where children's needs are being warehoused, all I see are kids being pulled in and out of classrooms and in some cases, roaming around the school or left in "a special resources room."

I see kids who are not expected to develop or learn according to their own ability since they are also exempt from most classroom activities, tests, and given alternative assessments. Sure, they have IEPs and 503s and behavior plans, and the paperwork is getting done, but the kids are not getting any benefit from this situation because in this mainstreaming "reality" created by government and districts schools, children are not expected to do anything. Mainstreaming theory exempts some children from learning according to their ability, skill level, and developmental pattern.

Grant it, I have seen many special education environments that can accommodate a diversity of special education needs for many different children but this is not mainstreaming. This is offering separate, equitable, and equal opportunities for the individual child and I see nothing wrong with this alternative.

On eric.ed.gov website, there are annotated bibliographic records for more than 1.2 million articles about special education that have been indexed since 1966, including:

journal articles
research syntheses
conference papers
technical reports
policy papers, and
other education-related materials

I encourage each and every caregiver or parent of a child with special needs to read over the current research about the challenges of mainstreaming in the classroom -- specifically learning what "individualized special education" means and how their son or daughter can benefit from it.

Our understanding of mainstreaming has changed over the years. Clearly, "mainstreaming" is not for every child. We cannot build our our entire education system with a "one size fits all" model when it comes to providing special education opportunities for our children.


Beth said...

Oh this is such a huge issue...I feel like if I start, I will not be able to stop! It is so complex and issue...yet such a simple one. Just do what is right for the child! I am afraid that the majority o f school systems simply do not put the needs of their students receiving special education services first, or second...or even third. You are right that it should be an issue concerning and involving the entire community.

Kristi Campbell said...

My son is being mainstreamed with support for the first time this year in kindergarten. So far, I think (?) it's going well but I'm very eager to ask a million questions during our parent/teacher conference this afternoon. I do volunteer in his school when I can as well - mostly so that I can see first-hand what's going on in there. I do know that one thing that's not good is that unlike in his preschool autism classroom, the teachers often let him get away with rigid behavior, like making another student move so he can have "his spot" on the carpet. I want them to interrupt that behavior rather than reinforce it...

Elisabeth's Mom said...

I agree, Beth. Do what is best for the child. I am lucky that our school district has been so supportive and willing to understand the barriers our daughter encounters when trying to access her FAPE which accounts for her "sensory and therapy-based" IEP.

It is difficult to hear families who cannot get their student's education plan to reflect the student true ability and sequential (or not) pattern of development.

Kristi, I think it's important to have teachers who know how to teach to ASD. (Teachers who trust the parent's observation.) I know too many teachers personally who are overwhelmed in their classroom because they are teaching to the state exam and not the individual student's special ability. It's more true that teachers will not "interrupt that behavior" because they are without additional resources? (KWIM? Qualified teaching assistants and room aides?)

Jolene Philo said...

Thanks for sharing the results of your research with all of us. And thanks for adding this to DifferentDream.com's Tuesday link up.