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How Inclusive Education Positively Impacts All Students : A drop in the ocean – by Sujatha Sriram

While inclusive education is often associated only with students who have special educational needs such as disabilities or learning difficulties, inclusivity is about more than meets the eye.  

Inclusion is all about celebrating diverse learners in the mainstream setup. It is the first step in changing perspectives and attitudes towards students with various difficulties and giftedness. Inclusion paves the way for the attitude that every child is welcomed regardless of their ability or disability. Inclusive education is not just a set of practices but also an attitude. It means the doors to schools, classrooms, and all non-scholastic activities are open to every child, and they are given every opportunity to be included with peers with and without diverse needs. This means adopting the approach of inclusion and not integration.  

Inclusion vs. Integration 

As an Inclusion Consultant for more than 20 years, I would like to highlight the difference between Inclusion and Integration. Inclusion is all about welcoming the child into the process of their learning journey with the intention and preparedness to alter the school infrastructure and curriculum and evaluation modalities. Whereas integration is welcoming the child into the class and expecting the child to make accommodations for their own success.  

By taking the approach of Normalization, you offer the opportunity for students with diverse needs to develop a rhythm of developmental experiences and “aha” moments as well as giving a wider range of choices, desires, and respect. Inclusion impacts the entire classroom, allowing for more experiences and creating more positive day-to-day interactions. 

To expand further, 

Inclusive education is not: 

  • Placing children with disabilities into general classrooms without the support and services they need to be successful. 
  • Cutting back on special education services as a “trade-off” for being in the general education classroom. 
  •  Sacrificing the learning and socialization of children without disabilities so children with diverse needs can be included. 

Ultimately, it is about creating an environment where all types of children can flourish. But also to keep in mind that special services such as accessibility, modifications, and other needs may still be applicable and beneficial for students.

Why Inclusion in the Classroom is Necessary

As the Right to Education Act 2008 states, every child has the right to education. Normalization and this approach to inclusion allow children with diverse needs to go to regular schools, just like their peers or siblings. Schools need to be based on the premise that school is for everyone, and that all children can learn, but the environment must first be built. Schools should function on the premise that school is for everyone thus no child should be limited in their learning opportunities. e limited in their learning opportunities.  

Inclusion of children with disabilities or other special needs is a vital step towards inclusion into college, employment, and overall society as there are still many prejudices throughout. With a strong focus on Social Emotional Learning, students can learn how to navigate prejudices they face as well as help break down barriers and misunderstandings for children without special needs. 

How to Build Inclusion in the Classroom

In my experience as a professional, the “how” of inclusion marked a great sense of fulfilment and a desire to keep the child at the forefront above all. The experience and joy of inclusion and these children’s happiness became a way of life for me.  

To build more inclusion in the classroom, there is a two-throng approach we can practice as professionals to enable every child with the opportunity and ability to be a contributing factor in the learning journey.  

Making School Inclusive

Establishing the Entry Port  

In the past, inclusion was seen more as a favour and simply a matter of actionless corporate social responsibility rather than the rights of the child. It was a practicing medical model with few traditional-based approaches and interventions to make the child participate in class so that they would not be thrown out due to non-performance.  

Over the years, awareness of inclusive education has grown, and many schools now grasp that inclusion is feasible with various methodologies and understanding. With this, we have seen more acceptance of the idea. but the challenge still remains that for me is shifting the overall attitude and begin intervention as a right-based model encompassing it as a transdisciplinary approach.   

Overall, we have seen more acceptance of inclusion of different students, but in my experience, changing attitudes still remains one of the biggest challenges. Once attitudes have been changed, schools can begin using intervention tactics as a transdisciplinary approach based on rights.

Tying Opportunities to the general curriculum

Alongside building awareness, providing inclusive opportunities involves a detailed examination of how barriers to learning and participation can be limited. In order to make sure that both students with and without special needs can be successful, there must be a connection between the general curriculum objectives and the individual education plans (IEP) for students.  

How do the IEP goals fit into the general curriculum?

When determining how IEPs fit into your curriculum goals may be different but need to be related, for example, learning to recognize a triangle when others are learning the angles in a triangle. There are some strategies you can take to help mesh the two: 

  • The student may need to be taught in a different way (like doing hands-on activities instead of listening to a lecture) and using multimodal evaluation instead of pen, pencil, and paper. 
  • Using Alternative Augmentative Communication in the case of a nonverbal student to measure his/her performance yardstick or computers.  

However, to do this, one must have a good understanding of the curriculum. One way to ensure you are meeting goals of both the students and the curriculum is to use the TEAM transdisciplinary approach involving educators, parents, therapists, and students in the teaching process. This ensures that the functional aspect of the curriculum is at top of mind but does not hinder student learning.  

Building Support Classroom

Approaching Inclusive Education in a Least Restrictive Environment

When talking about inclusive education, an understanding of a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), is crucial for integrating IEPs into the general curriculum. Least restrictive environments refer to making sure students with IEPs or other needs are given as many opportunities as possible to be in general classrooms. However, if they must be placed outside the classroom, it must be justified with as many possibilities for learning as possible. 

You can think about this through the principle of “Normalization” which simply means allowing the right to all learning opportunities that would allow for them to function within social expectations.  

Whether using LREs or driving towards Normalization, always make sure that the student’s opportunity for independent socializing or initiative are not hindered. Encourage students to participate in activities to the best of their ability and look for opportunities for students to work together.

Creating Opportunities in Least Restrictive Environments

When it comes to creating opportunities for inclusivity, there are different options and approaches available to different types of teachers. In my experience, activities incorporating  sensory breaks, emotional freedom techniques (EFT), and brain exercises are great ways to build inclusion in the classroom, as they can be applied to all students.

Brain Gym Exercises

Brain gym exercises are simple activities that aim to improve students’ cognitive function like concentration, attention span, and visual perception. It also can help students enhance their memory and aid in word retrieval. Because these exercises require both left and right brain coordination,  students become both sharper and smarter in a fun and engaging way.

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)

Emotional freedom techniques (EFT), or tapping techniques, are methods often used in clinical settings that can be applied into classroom to help with both mental and physical wellbeing. The concept comes from traditional Chinese medicine acupressure points and is a simple way to potentially improve energy flow and overall wellbeing.  

Tapping at specific points of the body can help relieve anxiety and stress, allowing students to improve their ability to stay on track with listening and learning. Supplemented with positive affirmation, EFT’s effects can be decupled, relieving students from their negative feelings. 

I have seen remarkable progress in students with autism and hyperactivity disorders by using EFT at least twice a week. These sessions had a very positive effect on their stomach and belly aches, often associated with stress, it reduced the frequency of reduced anxiety attacks. as well, EFT helps them better work through sensory overload and unpredictability presented in situations.  

Some alternatives to EFT are: 

  • Physical gross motor activities in the playground or swing  
  • Quiet mandala art in the class  
  • Mild music and subtle somatic movements to satiate vestibular needs

Final Thoughts for Breaking Down Barriers

As we bring in more awareness about the power of inclusive education, breaking down the barriers is something we all must join hands in as professionals and stakeholders of the community. The end goal is to bring about access in ALL WAYS for a student with disabilities or other special needs.  

If you’re currently reflecting on the inclusive classroom and would like to take some actions to make people surrounding you more aware, here are two activities you should consider: 

Peer sensitization workshop 

  • Simulator learning
  • Holding hands together to learn, play and accept differences
  • Understand that children with a disability can be active contributors like them in class and school events
  • I have seen such intermittent workshops make the peer speak for their friends with disabilities to their parents when they object to them being friendly or assisting a disabled child

Teacher orientation programs  

  • Demystify disabilities through simulation games and experiences to enable the perspectives of difficulties and strengths (multiple disabilities) 
  • Enabling empathy rather than sympathy is the mantra for such orientations
  • Demonstrating inclusive games to the co-curricular team 
  • Inculcating ownership and accountability to the student rather than seeing them as students with special ed team  
  • Somatic movement and neurobic/neuroplasticity exercise sessions to explore the differential approach to teaching and learning  

Sujatha Sriram Headshot (1)

Sujatha Sriram is a seasoned educational consultant, trainer, and counselor with 20 years of rich experience in the field of inclusion in special education. She is a published author and lecturer, and has received multiple awards for her continuous work in promoting a more inclusive education in India.