Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Taking Sides: Parent Views on Inclusion for Their Children with Severe Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Taking Sides: Parent Views on Inclusion for Their Children with Severe Disabilities

Article excerpt

   I have watched the progress of the inclusion movement for the last 4 years.
   I always wonder if I am doing the right thing. My son is not socialized, so
   I do not push for mainstreaming. But does he need to be mainstreamed to
   even be socialized? I would love to believe that mainstreaming would help,
   but in my heart I believe that he is just too disabled. And it breaks my
   heart.

Given the high degree of debate regarding inclusion that has taken place among educational advocacy groups and in the mass media (Borthwick-Duffy, Palmer, & Lane, 1996), it can be assumed that many, if not most, parents of children with severe disabilities are aware of the inclusion option. This awareness has likely caused some to pause and consider--possibly for the first time--the merits of special education versus general education class placement for their own children. While some may continue to struggle with the previous question, others have developed strongly held views, with a significant number of parents opposing the practice (Palmer, Borthwick-Duffy, Widaman, & Best, 1998).

While inclusive educational programming has become more common for many students over the last several years (Katsiyannis, Conderman, & Franks, 1995; Sawyer, McLaughlin, & Winglee, 1994), recent data (McLeskey, Henry, & Hodges, 1999) suggest that the vast majority of children with severe disabilities continue to be served in traditional special day class settings with minimal integration into general education programs. In fact, it seems a paradox that while the current inclusion movement has been largely promoted by those advocating for students with severe disabilities (Borthwick-Duffy et al., 1996; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994), the most significant increase in inclusive placements over the last few years has occurred for those students with the mildest forms of disability (McLeskey et al., 1999). It appears that, while the inclusion movement has opened up previously unavailable placement opportunities for many students with severe disabilities, a wide-scale move toward general education service delivery for all as envisioned by some (e.g., Lipsky & Gartner, 1997; Stainback, Stainback, & Forest, 1989) has not materialized.

One reason may be that the inclusion movement is lacking support from a critical mass of parents whose children with severe disabilities would be directly affected by this agenda. It is widely recognized that parental support and involvement is essential for any educational reform movement to succeed (Erwin & Soodak, 1995; Glenn, 1992; Grove & Fisher, 1999; Hiatt, 1994; Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990). In addition, Katsiyannis, Conderman, & Franks (1995) found that anti-inclusion attitudes were among the most frequently cited barriers to the development of inclusion programs and initiatives. Such attitudes may be found among parents who express concerns regarding the lack of individual attention and support or the possibility of rejection or mistreatment that may result from inclusion (Garrick-Duhaney & Salend, 2000; Green & Shinn, 1994; Guralnick, Connor, & Hammond, 1995; Strong & Sandoval, 1999).

Additional understanding of reasons behind parent perceptions of inclusion may offer insight into the status of the inclusion movement. What leads some parents to enthusiastically embrace the inclusion model while others strongly oppose the practice? The answer is likely to vary from parent to parent. Attitudes toward educational practices are inclined to be multidimensional and difficult to determine (Anotonak & Larrivee, 1995; Garrick-Duhaney & Salend, 2000; Palmer, Borthwick-Duffy, Widaman & Best 1998; Semmel, Abernathy, Butera, & Lesar, 1991; Wilczenski, 1992). Further, as noted by Giangreco, Cloninger, Mueller, & Ashworth (1991), a parent's satisfaction with a school program is often based on such subjective criteria as perceptions regarding their child's sense of well being or the presence of a caring teacher in a given placement. …

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