Mainstreaming refers to the integration of children with special needs in a regular/ traditional classroom environment alongside children their age without disabilities. This is in contrast to giving them specialized/ individualized education separated from peers whether that takes the form of separate classes within the school, hospital separate specialized schools, homeschooling or any other segregated arrangement.
Is Mainstreaming for My Child?
Like any other educational option, mainstreaming has advantages and disadvantages. Advocates point to the unrestricted access to general education that mainstreaming provides. Children with disabilities can avail themselves of the same curriculum offered to other kids their age. Specialized educational opportunities, on the other hand, can be so expensive that they are out of the reach of many parents.
Another benefit of mainstreaming put forth by advocates is that it helps children with disabilities feel part of the whole; it promotes diversity and equality in the classroom. Feelings of normalcy and acceptability are enhanced when a disabled child is welcomed into the community of “normal” children. By contrast, when children with disabilities are given special classes, there’s a risk that they will feel ostracized and isolated.
There are those, however, who feel that mainstreaming does more harm than good. Instead of making children with disabilities feel that they can lead normal lives, mainstreaming may actually make these children feel “different” – self-conscious of their challenges and handicaps. Of course, some children with disabilities mix better than others, depending on their disability. For instance, “invisible disabilities” like learning and perceptual disorders, may be more mainstreaming-friendly than, say, a behavioral condition like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Asperger’s Syndrome.
Furthermore, there is the issue of qualified teachers and disability-compatible teaching tools and methodologies. Not all teachers in traditional schools are sensitive enough, knowledgeable enough or skilled enough to work well with children with disabilities. Specialized instruction in more appropriate settings may sometimes provide superior learning opportunities more targeted to the child’s special needs.
Considering all these factors, it is clear that the decision to mainstream must always be an individual one, based on considerations such as financial resources, the child’s unique personality, the nature of his or her disability, the suitability of the mainstreaming institution and its resources, and the qualifications of available educators. The question is not “is mainstreaming preferable?” but rather, “is mainstreaming preferable for MY child?”
What If I Do Decide to Mainstream My Child?
If you do decide to mainstream your child, it’s important that you constantly monitor your child’s adjustment. Depending on the child, increased socialization with peers without disability can be a good or bad thing. Some may feel challenged – and indeed mainstreamed kids do report being motivated to do better in a mainstreaming school – but others may just feel additional stress. Some may develop lasting friendships, others may get bullied, teased or ostracized.
But there are many things parents can do to prepare their children for mainstreaming. Enhancing their self-esteem and self-worth is a good start. If kids are raised confident of their person, they are less likely to bow down at the face of adversity. Parents must also emphasize that their children have their constant support and love.
On the technical side, parents must exert effort to educate the administrators, instructors and classmates in the mainstreaming school about the child’s disability – unless it is the deliberate choice of the child to keep it hidden, which is their right. If the people around a child with disability are aware of what are the child’s special needs, they would better be able to make reasonable accommodation.