Mainstreaming Students with Disabilities

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1. Introduction

Students with learning disabilities are faced with several obstacles during their educational careers. Therefore, it is extremely important to develop educational approaches so as best to optimize their learning experience. It is commonly debated whether or not students with disabilities should be mainstreamed. Mainstreaming is when students with disabilities, which can vary from blindness to Down syndrome, are included in classrooms with children without disabilities. It has been called into question, though whether mainstreaming is successful or harmful. There are several advantages to mainstreaming special needs students into the general population, but each one it met with a disadvantage to match. 

2. Advantages of Mainstreaming

There are several advantages to mainstreaming. One of the major benefits of mainstreaming students with disabilities into regular classrooms is that it helps students with special needs cope and adapt to the real world (Reynolds, Zupanick, and Dombeck).. When students with disabilities are mainstreamed, they are able to develop social skills along with academics, a lack of which would exclude them from their peers. Research shows that students with special needs often suffer from additional challenges in developing their social skills, effecting their personal development and growth (Bernstein). Often times, children with disabilities find themselves ostracized from the general student population. This isolation only furthers their delays in social development, but mainstreaming provides support for the development of social skills and an inclusive learning community. 

A second gain to mainstreaming students with disabilities is that is provides them with an academic advantage that they would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. Disabled students are able to be taught the same curricula as students without disabilities. When students with special needs are mainstreamed, they do receive accommodations and assistance; however, they are still able to learn what everyone else in their grade level is learning (Foust). This enables them to learn things that they may not have been exposed to in a classroom that caters to students with disabilities.

An additional benefit to mainstreaming students with special needs is that it can have positive effects on their self-esteem. Unfortunately, there is definitely a stigma surrounding being different in any way that creates a barrier in building acceptance. These students know that they are in the same classes as everyone else in their age group, which helps them to feel like they are not any different from any of their peers. In addition, when non-disabled students are in a position in which they are able to assist in the education of another student, they experience an increase in self-esteem themselves (Foust). Mainstreaming students with disabilities can have positive effects on the self-esteem of all students, not just those with disabilities. 

Another benefit to mainstreaming students with disabilities is beneficial to the general student population. Non-disabled students can benefit from mainstreaming because it prepares them for the real world by providing an opportunity to learn about diversity and helping develop empathy (Lawrence). Students from the general population are able to for meaningful relationships with students who have disabilities; something they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to do. Non-disabled students also benefit from peer-tutoring models, in which they can help students with special needs practice certain skills. This can further their own understanding of the subject, as well. In addition, students without special needs can benefit from mainstreaming because it teaches them how to work with people who learn and communicate differently from themselves (Foust). They learn acceptance, compassion, collaboration, and patience, all of which will better prepare them for the future.

3. Disadvantages of Mainstreaming

Despite the list of benefits, there are still several disadvantages to mainstreaming students with disabilities. Many non-special needs teachers and classrooms lack the resources required to provide an adequate learning experience for children with disabilities. Some studies have reported that this lack of resources has been linked to poorer academic performance (Bernstein). Sometimes students with disabilities have needs that just cannot be met in regular classroom environment. Roberta Thomas, the Executive Director of the American Society for Deaf Children, who is also the parents of a deaf teenager, stated that the majority of deaf children live in households in which no one uses sign language to communicate (National Council on Disability). Because of this, deaf children have no language skills at all before they reach school, resulting in them living in isolation from their family and peers. “Everywhere in this country are deaf children with neither speech nor sign, placed in regular classrooms with almost no support services. No communication, no language, no socialization, no education, no opportunity to acquire even the most basic life skills. These children often become emotionally disturbed. Their desperately depraved condition is consistently blamed on their deafness and not the program.” (National Council on Disability). Ms. Thomas asserts that even her own son, who is totally fluent in both American Sign Language and English, is not adequately served in a mainstreamed environment. “I know that mainstreaming is intended to normalize deaf children, but the opposite can more easily happen. Mainstreaming does not usually support deaf children’s identity, and puts them at such a disadvantage socially and educationally that they often cannot reach their potential. Their poor performance reinforces the stigma of deafness in the world’s view that deafness is something wrong with the people that have it.” (National Council on Disability). Deaf students have also testified that when they are in mainstreamed classes, they have to follow an interpreter and that this can be extremely difficult (National Council on Disability). This is because these interpreters are often poorly qualified and ill-trained, making it difficult for the deaf students to focus and truly grasp the information being taught. Ms. Thomas also feels that it is essential to their development and self-esteem for deaf children to have regular access to deaf culture. She states that, “…Deaf language and culture provide deaf human beings with a powerful, positive identity, and a self-image as adequate people, rather than as imperfect hearing people, and this self-image makes it possible for them eventually to function better in the hearing world. The unconscious, but terribly destructive message that a deaf person often received in the mainstream is that his adequacy and success depends upon resembling hearing people.” (National Council on Disability). 

Another disadvantage to mainstreaming students with disabilities is that they are often ill-prepared to be mainstreamed with the regular student population, particualry with preschool age children. The Executive Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, Fred Schroeder, who is also a former director of the Albuquerque public school program for deaf and blind children, testified to the National Council on Disability that blind children often required very specialized training before they are prepared to perform well in a mainstreamed environment (National Council on Disability). He points out that blind students need intensive instruction in Braille in order for them to be literate, they must learn how to walk through a crowded hallway with a cane, and acquire the skills to type in order to complete assignments. “For a young blind child to really a develop a self-concept that he or she can compete, that child has to have the tools to compete… If you put a young blind child in a classroom with sighted kids, and the young blind child does not have the skills to compete, then the child will be at a disadvantage and will come away feelings inferior… that “I can’t compete because I am blind.”” (National Council on Disability). Some students require a lot of intensive preparation in order to do well in a mainstreamed environment which can make it very difficult and time-consuming to do so.

Another disadvantage to mainstreaming students with disabilities is that all students are less likely to receive the attention they need from their teachers in a mainstreamed environment. In special needs classroom, lesson plans can be tailored to fit the needs of the students in those classes. But when students are mainstreamed, though, there are a higher number of students per teacher and teachers do not always have all the time and resources to address the needs of every student in the classroom (Baker). In addition, those teachers are often not adequately trained on how to teach special need students (Bailey). For example, children on the autism spectrum can vary from very high functioning to a severe disability. Some children are non-verbal and are incapable of communicating even the simplest things. For a teacher to be able to effectively educate a student with such a severe disability, they need to totally understand the condition and adapt their teaching methods to include different teaching styles and sensory activities in order to meet all their students’ needs (Bailey). Special education teachers receive special training and instruction in order to effectively teach students with these disabilities. While a regular teacher might try their best, they simply do not have the benefit of the specialized training and therefore will not have the necessary knowledge to give the special needs students what they need.

One more disadvantage to mainstreaming students with disabilities is that the inclusion of disabled students should be based on the student themselves rather than the diagnosis but it is not always taken into account. There are many children of varying degrees of disabilities that are perfectly capable of functioning in the general population with little to no preparation. In contrast, though, some students have more severe disabilities and find it very difficult to function in a mainstreamed environment (Bailey). For these children, it would be more appropriate and conducive to their education to be taught in smaller classrooms where they have more access to aides and teachers. In these cases, children in smaller classrooms are able to receive the attention they need and are therefore more successful in their education. Their inclusion into the general student population should definitely be determined on a case-by-case basis.

4. Conclusion

To reiterate, mainstreaming students is a teaching method involving including students with special needs into the general student population. While many feel like mainstreaming has a positive impact on the educational experience of students with and without disabilities, others feel that the disadvantages far outweigh the benefits. Advantages include that they help special needs students adapt to the real world, they are provided with opportunities to improve both their academic performance as well as their social skills, it can have positive effects on their self-esteem, and it can provide benefits for non-disabled students as well. Disadvantages include how many regular teachers and classrooms are not adequately equipped to provide the optimal environment for disabled students, the amount of preparation required to get some students ready to thrive in the general population, that students are less likely to receive the attention they need, and that many students are mainstreamed based on diagnosis rather than the child. It seems that while there are positives and negatives to mainstreaming, it may be best if it were determined on a case-by-case basis.

Works Cited

Bailey, Eileen. “The Pros and Cons of Mainstream Classrooms for Children with Autism”. Health Central. Remedy Health Media, LLC., 9 Oct. 2014. Web. 13 Jun. 2016.<> 

Baker, Celia R. “Teaching students with intellectual disabilities in regular classrooms: good for kids, or good for budgets?”. Deseret News. Desert News, 7 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Jun. 2016. Web. < intellectual-disabilities-in-regular-classrooms-good-for-kids-or-good-for.html?pg=all> 

Bernstein, Angela. “Mainstreaming Pros and Cons”. Panmore Institute. Panmore Institute, 20 Jul. 2015. Web. 13 Jun. 2015. <> 

Foust, Kathy. “Examining the Pros and Cons of Mainstreaming.” Bright Hub Education., 5 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Jun. 2016. < +-the-pros-and-cons-of-mainstreaming/> 

Lawrence, Carissa. “Advantages & Disadvantages to Mainstreaming Special Education Children”. Our Everyday Life. Our Everyday Life, 2016. Wheeb. 13 Jun. 2016.< children-25659.html> 

National Council on Disability. The Education of Students with Disabilities: Where Do We Stand?. Washington D.C. National Council of Disability. September 1989. NCD. National Council on Disability. Web. 13 Jun. 2016. <> 

Reynolds, Tammy, Zupanick, C.E., and Dombeck, Mark. “The Choice Of Educational Settings: The Pros and Cons Of Mainstreaming Children With Intellectual Disabilities.” Centersite, LLC, 2015. Web. 13 Jun. 2016. < cons-of-mainstreaming-children-with-intellectual-disabilities/>