Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Parent Perceptions of Inclusive Practices for Their Children with Significant Cognitive Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Parent Perceptions of Inclusive Practices for Their Children with Significant Cognitive Disabilities

Article excerpt

Inclusive education programs for students with identified disabilities have become increasingly prevalent over the last several years (Katsiyannis, Conderman, & Franks, 1995; Sawyer, McLaughlin, & Winglee, 1994). This trend may be due in part to a general perception created by the extant literature, and by exposure of the subject in the mass media, that such programs are endorsed by most of those concerned with the education of exceptional children. However, concerns over the practical implications of a wide scale move toward inclusive models of educational service delivery have resulted in much divisiveness among parents and educators over the merits of some inclusion ideals (Borthwick-Duffy, Palmer, & Lane, 1996; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994).

Support for more inclusive models of educational service delivery has traditionally been associated with advocates of the Regular Education Initiative (REI) who proposed merging the resources of general and special education to better serve students whose needs were primarily academic remediation. While REI proponents called for large scale mainstreaming, there was never any formal intent to eliminate all special programs. However, current and more fervent reform efforts calling for inclusion of all special education students into the general education classroom, and often for the elimination of separate special education programs, is now led by organizations such as The Association for Persons with Severe Disabilities (TASH) whose primary constituents are students with significant cognitive disabilities (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994).

These advocates have done much to expand educational opportunities and extend the continuum of placement options for students with significant cognitive disabilities, as witnessed by the trend toward an increasing number of such students being served in general class settings (Sawyer et al., 1994). Yet, while most educators appear to agree with the worthy principles, ideals, and goals associated with the inclusion position, many (i.e., Davis, 1989; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994; Kaufman, 1989; Lieberman, 1985) have expressed concerns that the movement appears to be led by a small number of disillusioned special educators who may be ignoring input from many of those who are affected by the implementation of such programs.

While there is increasing literature regarding the perceived benefits of inclusive education (Brinker & Thorpe, 1984; Giangreco, Dennis, Cloninger, Edelman, & Schattman, 1993; Sharpe, York, & Knight, 1994; Staub & Hunt, 1993), it is also becoming clear that the goal of providing services to exceptional children strictly within general education classrooms is inconsistent with views expressed by many within the special education community. Citing the need to preserve the continuum of specialized programs and placement options which have been hard won in previous years, many parent and advocacy groups, primarily representing students with forms of disability that do not include a significant delay in cognitive functioning, have come out against the elimination of separate special education programs (Borthwick-Duffy et al., 1996; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994).

This lack of unity in opinion regarding the efficacy of inclusive practices may result from conflicting views regarding the primary mission of the schools. While those advocating essentially for students with significant cognitive disabilities appear most interested in increased opportunities to develop social competence and friendships, and in the concept of providing a "normalized" environment, parents and advocates pledged to students with milder forms of disability are principally interested in the school's ability to provide specialized services designed to address academic goals (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994). The latter group believes that their goals can best be met through the availability of specialized programs and services that may be offered outside of the general education classroom, and are therefore against the elimination of such programs in the name of inclusive education. …

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