8 Tips for Introducing a Student with Disabilities to a General Education Classroom
Inclusive classrooms are becoming far more common in our public schools. There are greater numbers of students with disabilities receiving their education in general education classrooms. The National Center for Education Statistics notes that the number of students with disabilities who spend most of their day in the general education classroom has gone from 33 percent in 1990 to 62 percent in 2014.
Transitioning students with disabilities from self-contained special education classrooms to inclusive general education classrooms is not an overnight process. It requires thoughtful planning. Teacher training, appropriate student supports, resources, personnel, and a meaningful individual educational program need to exist prior to the new class placement.
It’s also important to remember that if the child with disabilities has never experienced an inclusive education, then chances are, neither has his or her peers. Students in the general education class might be curious about the situation, may feel anxious about having a student with disabilities in their class, or have misconceptions about students with disabilities.
Here are some tips to help facilitate a smooth transition for students with disabilities to the inclusive education classroom. These tips are also helpful for preparing the general education students for their new classroom member:
1. Establish Basic Principals
Establish general concepts about students with and without disabilities through class discussions, books, movies or a guest speaker. Primarily, teach students that:
- Everyone wants to belong and be included
- Everyone is different
- Everyone has areas of strengths and areas of weaknesses
2. Let Each Student Share
Give all students an opportunity to talk about themselves, their strengths and interests. Allow others to ask questions. (Make sure you talk about the types of questions that can be asked prior to the activity.)
3. Dispell Myths
Dis-spell any myths and misunderstandings about students with disabilities. Most importantly:
- Some disabilities you can see and some you can’t
- A physical disability does not determine a person’s intelligence
- People with disabilities are people first
4. Address The Challenges
Address student-specific issues that are important for the class to know about in order to interact and learn alongside each other. For example, if a student has a peanut allergy, invite the class nurse in to talk about allergies and the importance of keeping peanut products out of the classroom. If the student with disabilities communicates with an iPad, have the student (parent and/or paraprofessional) give a demonstration.
5. Talk About The People We Know With A Disability
Point out that 1 in 5 Americans has a disability (according to the Center for Disease Control). We will all live, shop, drive and work beside a person with a disability at some point in our life.
6. Highlight Famous People
Identify famous people with disabilities and highlight their contributions to society not as a source of inspiration but as an important to human growth.
7. Give Disability Awareness Lessons
Provide an opportunity for students to become more understanding of people with disabilities by giving disability awareness lessons.
8. Make A Positive Classroom Community
Establish and maintain a positive classroom community throughout the entire school year. Encourage respect for one another, the use of appropriate language, and pro-active social skills.
Remember, that discretion should be used when discussing the needs of the student with disabilities with others. A conversation with the student prior to any of the above strategies can determine how comfortable the student is with sharing information about his or her disabilities. The sharing of information is not meant to put the student with disabilities “on show”, but help others understand what the student needs in order to participate and learn in the classroom.