An inclusive education, as determined by the law, does not merely refer to the setting in which the student is placed. Instead, an inclusive education provides students with individualized support and services that would allow that student to maximize their educational potential. Beyond the law, inclusionary practices afford students the opportunity to feel accepted and valued in their communities. To this end, I believe that students with exceptional needs must be allowed to fully and meaningfully participate in school, their community, and society as a whole. Whether or not each student is provided that opportunity is dependent on whether leaders have cultured an environment where the needs of the community members are provided for. A truly inclusive environment is never
static: it would evolve over time to meet the needs of each member. Each member’s contributions to that environment should be valued and recognized by other members, therefore involving everyone in a meaningful way. While we, as educators and clinicians, cannot control every one of our students’ environments, we can work to bridge gaps in inclusion through advocacy, professional development, and careful implementation of inclusionary practices in our classrooms.
In the educational environment, educators and clinicians are the leaders that have the obligation to foster a community atmosphere that promotes the meaningful participation and interaction of every student . Every child deserves the opportunity to feel that they belong in their classroom. They each deserve to develop alongside their peers, so the general education classroom is not only the least restrictive, but the preferred environment for all students with exceptional needs, including students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, AAC users, and students with complex
communication needs. In the general education classroom, students are afforded additional opportunities to participate with other students, with and without exceptional needs. It is not only those exceptional students who arrive with differences. Every student will come to the classroom with diverse intelligences, competencies, and a desire to learn. When proper supports for students across this spectrum are implemented, the needs of all students can be met in the general education classroom. This inclusionary practice ensures that students will have access to diverse experiences that improve the quality of education that everyone receives. However, the space is only part of the equation: curricula and instructional processes should be inclusionary as well.
Adaptations or modifications for students with exceptional needs should be built into the curriculum so that all students can benefit and excel with learning supports tailored to their needs. Classroom practices that involve a variety of interventions for students at each level ensures that students with a range of competencies and experiences can be taught together effectively. For example, supports that can be used for students with complex communication needs can be useful for students with a range of abilities, such as text-to-speech readers, peer-mediated social interaction, visual supports, and teacher modeling. In traditional learning environments, students are expected to fit a mold, and the curriculum reflected this. In rejecting this notion, educators and clinicians are noticing that
instructional supports and inclusive curriculum adaptations allow every student to maximize their abilities, both as students and as members of the classroom community. When adaptations to the curriculum are available to students at all levels, it creates a continuum of supports that can be used to inform the decisions made on a student’s behalf in more specialized settings.
Inclusive educational decision making for students with exceptional needs should always be a collaborative process that involves the student, their caregivers, and the educational team. When students and caregivers are meaningfully involved in creating and maintaining the educational plan, they can provide an interdisciplinary team with insight into their concerns and educational goals. The team should work in concert to provide for the individual needs of the student by providing ongoing opportunities for the student, whether in specialized settings or in the general education classroom. There are many factors that affect the success of an educational team, but one of the most important lies in their ability to advocate for that student to be provided more inclusive opportunities in their
A truly inclusive environment is more than just the sum of its parts: while the classroom, curriculum, and planning team are integral to student success, the quality of a program lies in the creation of an environment that is accepting of the diversity that each community member brings. With the exuberant support of their peers, students with exceptional needs are more likely to succeed in their educational and life goals. When students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, complex communication needs, and AAC users are accepted and included in their environments, they will feel a greater sense of belonging and engagement with the community. Inclusionary practices improve students' self-image and the tolerance and empathy of their peers. Every student can be a full participant in their school and community with appropriate instructional supports, opportunities to engage meaningfully, and a culture of acceptance that praises each student for their diverse