Inclusion Models

A working definition of inclusion: Providing to all students, including those with significant disabilities, equitable opportunities to receive effective educational services, with needed supplementary aids and support services, in age-appropriate classes in their neighborhood schools, in order to prepare students for productive lives as full members of society. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) provides that all children receive an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. Because each child has unique educational needs and each school has a unique set of available resources, the least restrictive setting will vary child to child and school to school.
Families often assume that special education always means children are removed from the general classroom and attend a contained educational setting. In fact, families often face choosing between an inclusion model (remaining in the general classroom) or a contained classroom and must weigh the pros and cons of each setting. Sometimes children use both settings, using a resource room or other supports for portions of the day.
Inclusion in a general classroom provides for social interaction with peers and peer models. From a transition standpoint, it replicates the model of optimal societal inclusion. Every child might be educated in a general classroom if adequate supports were available, but for a significant number of children it is not realistic. The balance between the benefits of full inclusion, the necessity of attaining specific goals, and the availability of resources must be evaluated.
The following steps may be helpful in negotiating the optimal school setting (suggested clinician's role in italics):
  • If parents don't understand the special education system, they cannot optimally problem solve with the school. Consider referral to a parent network such as the Utah Parent Center.
  • Encourage the family to maintain a collaborative working relationship with the school system, as opposed to viewing the school as "the bad guy."
  • Parents should be encouraged to explore their options including observing and visiting the various educational settings.
  • Parents should work with the child's current therapists/educators/and care providers to ensure optimal inclusion. The clinician can help identify current goals and the types of supports that will be needed to maintain safety, hygiene, and general health.
  • When the setting recommended by the school is in conflict with the parent's wishes, unique problem solving may be necessary. Peer tutors or volunteer staff might be used to better include the child in a general classroom in a school with limited resources or periods of inclusion may be identified to increase peer interaction for the child in a contained classroom. Clinicians can encourage parents to talk with other parents, visit websites, seek help from support groups and/or obtain an educational consult to identify workable solutions.
  • Limitations in staffing and varying philosophies about the use of one-on-one full time aids often lead to conflict between family and school systems. Clinicians should help the family weigh all factors carefully and encourage them to work though the school. Guard against offering dogmatic statements about the need for a one-on-one aid.
  • Private therapies or outside tutoring can be used to focus on specific academic goals when the family desires to focus more on inclusion at school. The clinician should help the family identify these specific goals, available funding, and prescription of appropriate therapies.
  • When communication breaks down, appeals and legal representation may be necessary. The clinician can refer the parents to appropriate agencies.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

A Guide to the Individualized Education Program (DOE)
Archived Information. Gives a detailed guide to the IEP process, along with information about special education and IEPs; U.S. Department of Education.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Official U.S. Department of Education website of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act including Part B (ages 3-21) and Part C (ages birth-2).

Services for Patients & Families Nationwide (NW)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: October 2008; last update/revision: June 2011
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Lisa Samson-Fang, MD
Reviewer: Meghan Candee, MD