Down syndrome from a father's perspective.

Down syndrome and inclusive education from a high school student’s perspective

I try not to think to far into the future but there will be a point when Leigh Ann and I need to decide if mainstreaming Treyton in an inclusive classroom is the right choice for his education. If you were to ask me what I thought about the subject at this point in time I would tell you that I am leaning toward mainstreaming Treyton. The reality is that I have not put a lot of thought into it yet; however, Treyton’s oldest sister Bailey has done some research on the topic.

Balancing Act

As a father I understand that each of my children have different gifts, talents, personalities, and needs; I want to provide for each of my kids. When you are blessed with a child that has what the world calls “special needs” that child can require a little more of your time and effort than the others. This is part of the challenge of having a son with Down syndrome, you are concerned about how it impacts your other children. You are also concerned about how much of your time is devoted to that one child and if your other kids are feeling neglected.

My observation has been that having a child with a disability, like Down syndrome, has helped to make all of us more compassionate toward others. I have seen my kids reach out to other kids they may not have before Treyton came into our lives. It has also caused each of the three girls to choose the subject of Down syndrome or disability in general as a focus in different school projects.

When Bailey, my oldest daughter, told me about the paper she was writing for her college writing class I asked her permission to post it on as a guest article. The project was to pick a topic and then write an “argumentative research paper” on the chosen topic. As you will see she chose the topic of mainstreaming/inclusive education for kids with disabilities. This is her paper.

Count Me In

People think of kids with disabilities as stupid, simple, and slow, while in reality they are actually the opposite. What are intellectual disabilities? Intellectual disabilities are simply mental disabilities that are characterized by different cognitive skills, behavioral skills, and adaptive behaviors. Today kids with mild to severe intellectual disabilities are being excluded from the rhythmic beat of society. It is sad to think about the exclusion that goes on. Education is excluding almost one-hundred-percent of kids with disabilities from normal, everyday activities. Kids with special needs are not warmly welcomed like their neighbors, typical kids, into the educational environment. Who gets to pick what is normal? We are all normal, just made with differences. The whole point of inclusion is to normalize kids with and without disabilities and help them understand the differences in lifestyles of different people. Although many people can argue that inclusive education has a negative effect, the benefits associated with it clearly provide enough evidence to make it worthwhile.

First off, to give an idea of intellectual disabilities and what inclusion is all about, the general public needs to understand a few things. Kids with intellectual disabilities range in function, just like kids without disabilities. Some intellectual disabilities include Down syndrome, Epilepsy, Autism, Tourette syndrome, and ADHD.  The idea of inclusive or mainstream education for kids with special needs is hard to grasp. Placing students with intellectual disabilities in a full-time general education classroom is difficult to visualize, mainly because traditionally our society has been taught that disabilities are not accepted into a general education environment. The environment involved in inclusion could be described as, “A setting that is typical for the child’s same age peers without disabilities(Etscheidt).” With the idea of  inclusion put into play, a child with a  disability is allowed into a typical classroom with typical kids. This choice can be either full-time or  part-time depending on the severity of the disability. Also, in order to fully grasp inclusion the IDEA is essential. An acronym for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, “Is a landmark legislation mandated that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.” Requiring an initial evaluation, an Individual Education Plan (IEP), individualized services and policies to involve the child’s parents really acts as a catalyst to put inclusion into full action (Horn and Tynan).

Sadly, approximately fifty-percent of parents don’t support mainstream education in the public school system. Contrasting feelings arrive to parents when questioned about the idea of inclusion. Things like “Beliefs, fears, and desires” cause parents to double take on the thought (Palmer, Fuller, Nelson, and Arora). Much complex reasoning is needed to oppose inclusion. The biggest opposition according to a few broad surveys was the concept that in our public schools the classrooms are overfilled and if a child with a disability is placed in it they will experience setbacks.  While in realization the children will be placed in smaller classes designed to give all the students the right attention. Additionally parents seemed to believe that their child would become a burden to the general classroom. This is not true; kids with disabilities are welcomed into the class to make it more diverse. Usually intellectually disabled children provide important life and liveliness into an otherwise sedentary setting.

Laughter and smiles are sure to be in any classroom, but there seem to be more in an inclusive classroom. Inclusion is known to provide an increase in positive peer interaction. Inclusion includes increments that incorporate disabled kids in opportunities or activities that they would otherwise not get a chance to be involved in (Alliteration). Take school projects for example, typical kids learn empathy for kids with disabilities and expose them to the diversity in our community by working with them on simple things (Solomon). In a recent study of youth’s attitudes towards inclusion, it was found that stereotypes are able to change if the contact between typical and disabled kids is good and frequent (Siperstein, Parker, Bardon, Norins, Widaman pg 2)! Without inclusion our world becomes closed in their own minds, with their own friends, inside their own box. Research has proven that including kids with intellectual disabilities with teach kids without disabilities is okay. That is an important thing for the future of our nation to know and understand. Supporting the idea of positive peer interaction, a survey suggested that students would also become more accepting of others through classroom inclusion. It is significantly important that this exposure occurs at a young age because without it kids will become more judging as they mature.

Inclusion allows both the class and the teacher to embrace individual differences of each and every student. It allows children with disabilities to be in a normal classroom with differentiated teaching instruction instead of a whole different curriculum like in special education classrooms. The best way to help children overcome stereotypes of special education is to bring the different kids together in an integrated fashion. This means that while your child is at school he is not only learning new academic skills, but gaining social skills that will help him later on in the real world.  Being able to handle and understand the differences of kids with and without disabilities is a strong quality to have when confronting different situations. Specifically by embracing individuals qualities, especially the strengths and needs will allow the teacher to work with the child and benefit them (Mitchell pg 2). Embracing individual’s differences is supported through the general education classroom. Even if a child’s disability is very severe, inclusion is still beneficial because kids will learn to warm up to the child, learning about his differences. Eventually socializing the child and stimulating his brain will be a clear plus to inclusive education (Palmer). “You can’t learn how to be in human society if you’re separated from  it.” Andrew Solomon once said, proving the embracing point in his book Far From the Tree. Kids shouldn’t be in a place where they always succeed. Kids should be in an environment where their minds are always challenged through differentiated teaching helping them to be the best they can (Solomon).

Inclusion is also a great motivator. It encourages students with disabilities to achieve their dreams and goals. When students with disabilities are constantly bathed by students without disabilities the classroom competition tends to increase. It is definitely not a bad competitive environment, but an environment that is pushing kids to work their hardest and achieve the best scores on a test possible. Low motivation in kids with special needs is often directly correlated with low self-esteem. Self esteem can be changed in an inclusive setting. Kids without disabilities learn to befriend kids with disabilities therefore  promoting self-esteem. The gained self-esteem will then encourage motivation. It is a chain reaction! Get it started! Success goes hand in hand with motivation. Children need to be in an environment where they feel successful; an environment where they have other peers to push them and help them (Solomon). All of this motivation and success is needed by the kids with intellectual disabilities to complete their IEP goals. The IEP goals range from completing a certain type of math to writing a five paragraph essay for a job application. When leaving high school the more goals accomplished the better, it is a plus on your resume. In those regards, the motivation in a general classroom is needed to help push children along the right path to all kinds of success (Steps to Obtaining Educational Support).

Mainstreaming a child with a disability, severe or not, will surely increase their social and behavioral skills. Both of these skills are not only important for children with special needs but also for children without a diagnosis. In a special education classroom, social and behavioral skills can be postponed because poor behavior is usually accepted as the norm. Kids cannot be taught like that if they are expected to act appropriately later on. Society does not want to accept people with awkward behaviors therefore inclusive education is aiming to squelch the acts. During the school day in a general classroom social interaction is in motion constantly; proving that the appropriate behavior of many kids without a disability can positively affect the behavior of a child with special needs. Appropriate behavior is a huge plus to parents. It is a step to making their kid as typical as possible. Parents accept their children as they come but they also know what is best for them, which is learning appropriate interaction with other children. In the ideal inclusive classroom a teacher will be trained to understand that if a kid with a disability works with a kid without a disability then there will  be a forced close peer interaction that will affect both of the kids for the good. “Nondisabled students learn how to help others achieve academic success and learn difficult information, a skill that can only improve their own academic performance and their ability to succeed later in life.” This quote actively displays that inclusion does not only improve the skills of kids with disabilities but also helps kids without. These newly acquired skills show to not only the disabled community but to the rest of the world that inclusive education is not only a benefit to special needs. The positives of strictly skills gained in an inclusive class will allow students to prosper after their time in school (Westminster).

Looking beyond school, inclusion allows kids with disabilities to have an easier adjustment to post educational situations. Moving on after high school can be scary for anyone, but it is especially scary for children with disabilities. There is no more persuading reason to be for inclusive education than this. Every child needs to take some kind of business class in high school; business classes are usually not offered to kids with special needs which is a shame. Which means that if a child is included into regular classes they will have a wider range of classes to choose from. They will be able to choose a class that sounds interesting to them or one that may affect their job choice one day. With the ability to take more classes children are able to engage in real business practices, which also means they will know more about business and will no longer be viewed as a challenge to industry (Mitchell). Being in the least restrictive environment allows the benefit of building relationships. This teaches kids the proper relation skills needed for complying with people of different backgrounds and abilities. While children of any sort are in high school a main goal of regular educators it to prepare them for the workforce or any post school situations. If kids with intellectual disabilities are included in a regular classroom, they can learn, just like other students, to make crucial decisions regarding business and other job related options later on in life. As is evident through mainstream education, “Students develop confidence and understand the connection between school and work.” A connection necessary for moving on in life, either to college or to the job field.

Inclusion is a dream that has become a reality for kids with special needs, allowing them to participate in activities that they never thought they would be able to do.(Horismos) It is a celebration of connection between kids with and without disabilities. Encouraging not only positive in-school interaction, but also interaction outside of school. Through mainstream education diversity is tangibly shaped and aspires children to not only survive in the normal world, but to feel unremarkable in it. “Inclusion’s benefits are truly universal…” (Solomon). Like Cooke Center says, “When everyone is included we all learn more” (Cooke Center).

Works Cited

  • Cooke. “Cooke Center.” Cooke Center. N.p., 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
  • Etscheidt, Susan. “Least Restrictive and Natural Environments for Young Children With Disabilities: A Legal Analysis.” Bright Hub Education. N.p., 1 Oct. 2006. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
  • Horn, Wade F., and Douglas Tynan. “Revamping Special Education.” High Beam Research. N.p., 1 July 2001. Web. 14 Dec. 2012.
    Mitchell, David. United States. Committee on Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Americans with Disabilities Act. Cong. Doc. N.p.: n.p., 2012. Print.
  • Palmer, David S., Kathy Fuller, Tina Arora, and Marianna Nelson. “Taking Sides: Parents Views on Inclusion for Their Children with Severe Disabilities.” N.p., 8 July 2001. Web. 14 Dec. 2012.
  • Siperstein, Gary N., Robin C. Bardon, Jennifer Norins, and Keith Widaman. “A National Study of Youth Attitudes toward the Inclusion of Students with Intellectual Disabilities.” A National Study of Youth Attitudes toward the Inclusion of Students with Intellectual Disabilities. N.p., 8 Oct. 2001. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
  • Solomon, Andrew. Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. New York: Scribner, 2012. Print.
  • “Steps to Obtain Educational Support.” ABC Advocacy. N.p., 6 Jan. 2011. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
  • Westminster, Lucie. “Adaptations for an Inclusive Classroom.” EHow. Demand Media, 03 May 2011. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
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About the author

Bailey is the oldest of four kids. She likes swimming, water polo, and training our dog Beckett. She is currently a sophomore in high school and interested in becoming a doctor some day. She loves her little brother and is a great big-sister to him.

  1. Thomas Brandon

    There was a time when putting kids with Down Syndrome in institutions was the \’only\’ way. There is a danger now that inclusive education will become the \’only\’ way. In theory inclusive education works well, in practice it often works well too. However there is no right or wrong answer. there is only the battle for balance.

    A large part of inclusive education is driven by manipulation of a politically expedient plan to save money. It is cheaper to have less specialized teachers and more, less qualified, classroom assistants.

    Having experienced special education for kids with Down\’s Syndrome as a teacher, and as a parent, I believe that kids with special needs should interact outside the school as much as possible with their peers, and dedicate as much time as possible in school to language, speech and other skills.

    There is no perfect solution. Having parents who are prepared to take up the slack left by an ailing school system, that seems to care about budget first and students second, is a great help.
    It is truly scary how often in teacher training I heard peers, trainee teachers – now with their own classrooms, saying a kid with special needs in \’their\’ classroom was their worst nightmare.
    If segregation is dangerous, so too is a culture that pushes inclusion as an absolute goal.

    Special needs require special solutions. It is all too easy for schools and academics to say inclusion works best. But there is truly no longitudinal data, or anecdotal evidence, that proves this. There is only opinion, often opinion formed by ulterior motives such as saving money or getting papers published. Few things in life are black or white, and the argument inclusion versus special education is no different.

    It is also my experience that special education classrooms are among the warmest, happiest, places on earth. can we say this of regular classrooms?

    • Rob Arnold


      Thank you for your input. If I understand correctly you are a parent of a child with Down syndrome and have also worked with individuals with Down syndrome as a special education teacher – that combination makes your comment even more important to me. My son is not quite 4 and is also non-verbal at this point so the issue of inclusion has not been a reality for us yet. However, in my limited experience I have already seen a tendency for educators and the general public to make some strong assumptions about kids with Down syndrome that create lower expectations for these kids than necessary.

      I read a comment by a mother that I thought made a good point. She said that it was important to place your child in a situation where they can grow and learn but also experience success. I think that fits with what you are saying especially when you said, “Few things in life are black or white, and the argument inclusion versus special education is no different.” I am right there with you, I see a lot of gray areas in issues like this as well.

      I also would like to highlight this comment that you made. “Having parents who are prepared to take up the slack left by an ailing school system….is a great help.” I am working hard to advocate for my child as well as others to do the same. I want to make sure that my son gets the education he needs but we all need to make sure that we do our part in that process as well. The parent does need to be in contact with the school and those professionals directly involved with the education of their child but they also need to be actively working to supplement the work done in the classroom with continued education at home.

      Thank you again for your input.


      Rob Arnold