By Jenny Wise
Like all parents, the parents of children with special needs are faced with their share of joys and challenges. One of the biggest questions to consider when raising a child with special needs is which education path to take.
There are very polarized views in our society about how children with special needs should be educated. Of course, this is a deeply personal decision that deserves to be made by parents. It is a decision that should only be made after carefully considering what is best for their child’s unique needs and situation. While nobody can make the decision for you, there are some things you should consider to help ensure you make the best possible decision for your child.
Perhaps the biggest questions parents struggle with: Would my child learn better from a specially trained instructor who specializes in special needs education or is it better to keep my child integrated with other students, including those who do not have special needs?
One strong argument for placing your child in a special needs class is that the teachers of those classes have a strong professional background working with special needs students. This equips special needs teachers to better identify disabilities and to design custom-tailored learning curriculum for your child’s needs. Special needs classrooms also often have safe spaces specifically created to help children calm down during higher energy moments.
However, some parents believe it is harmful to the special needs child to place them in their own separate learning environment. For many, it feels like segregation rather than equal education.
As an alternative, inclusive learning environments are growing in popularity. In an inclusive learning environment, your child will be placed in a classroom with a variety of students (with or without special needs). Depending on your child’s needs, they may be able to excel in an inclusive environment, especially if they have the assistance of a trained service dog. And, of course, inclusive learning environments also always have trained special education teachers available in addition to a traditional regular education teacher.
Unfortunately, not all cities have these inclusive classroom environments yet. Because inclusive education is still growing in popularity, even if you have inclusive classrooms locally, each classroom will vary greatly in methods, approaches, and the experiences of your child. Additionally, some schools only educate certain types of special needs students, such as those with mild disabilities. If your child has a moderate or more severe disability, there is a chance that he or she will still be placed in a separate special needs classroom - even in a so-called “inclusive” school.
It also might be helpful to tour the school and meet potential instructors prior to making your final decision. Take note of classroom setup, the teacher’s background and experience level, and whether the classroom environment would be a good fit for your child. When it comes to children with special needs, a classroom with desks organized into small groups or “pods” can be a signal of an inclusive environment that allows abled and disabled students to work together in teams.
It can feel overwhelming when you begin to take those first steps towards getting the proper education for your child with special needs. You don’t have to do it alone; there are support groups for families with special needs children, and the internet is full of helpful resources. With some research, some effort, and some soul-searching, you can find the best possible situation for your child.
Big thanks to the Hamber Foundation, which has granted $1,000 to our reading programs for learners with Down syndrome. The Hamber Foundation previously supported the DSRF library. We appreciate their support!