Why Inclusion in Special Education Isn't Enough and Has Long-Term Negative Consequences

Updated on October 22, 2018
letstalkabouteduc profile image

With a master's degree in education and a son with autism, I'm passionate about getting the right services for students in need.

Inclusion saves us money in the short-term because it deprives kids of the special services they need. It costs us in the long-haul with higher drop-out rates, more mental illness, and increased homelessness.
Inclusion saves us money in the short-term because it deprives kids of the special services they need. It costs us in the long-haul with higher drop-out rates, more mental illness, and increased homelessness. | Source

Parents, Beware: Don't Buy the Inclusion Lie!

Inclusion in special education is a big fat lie that bureaucrats brazenly sell to unwitting parents and society as a whole. By foolishly buying into this falsehood, moms and dads sign away their child's chance to receive the unique services needed to ensure progress at school: speech and occupational therapies, small group activities, and one-on-one direct instruction. Parents need to understand that inclusion is in no way a comprehensive plan to help their child succeed; it's merely a cost-saving measure that deprives their child of help. If moms and dads want what's best for their youngster (and I'm sure they do), they must either fight hard for those special services through the public schools or secure them from the private sector. To illustrate how the inclusion lie works, a familiar tale from childhood serves to explain.

The Inclusion Lie and The Emperor's New Clothes

Remember the tale from childhood called The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen? Pretending they were gifted weavers, two swindlers arrive in town to con the emperor and his staff. They convince everyone they make fabulous clothes that everyone admires. But they cleverly add one warning: anyone who is stupid or unfit for his job cannot see these amazing clothes. To the eyes of these foolish folks, they're invisible. Person after person compliments the non-existent wardrobe, not wanting to seem dumb and incompetent. When the Emperor parades down the road, an innocent little boy finally shouts the truth: “He's naked!”

Inclusion: There's Nothing There!

Inclusion is just like the Emperor's new clothes—there's nothing there! Special education bureaucrats, just like the two swindlers, convince parents they're getting something remarkable for their children when, in fact, they're getting nothing at all. While they peddle inclusion to save money, their practice is actually penny wise, pound foolish. Yes, school districts save money on early intervention services for young children, but they then need to shell out even more funds later when these youngsters struggle in elementary school, middle school, high school, and life. The lack of early intervention services leads to some of society's greatest problems: high drop-out rates, more mental illness, and increased rates of homelessness.

Inclusion Was Well-Intentioned But Got Corrupted by Bureaucrats

The original intent of inclusion was a noble one—to integrate children with special needs into regular classrooms instead of keeping them isolated in resource rooms. However, as is often the case when government gets involved, things got corrupted with bureaucrats taking the reigns from experienced educators. They seized the opportunity to sell inclusion to a bunch of naïve parents (part of the rapidly growing politically correct crowd) who bought it hook, line, and sinker. After all, what sounds more politically correct than inclusion—treating all children the same regardless of whether they have Down syndrome, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, learning differences, or no label at all.

Child With Special Needs Deserve More Than a Kumbaya Moment

These parents—already vulnerable and emotionally beaten up from getting a recent diagnosis for their child—are often not thinking straight and willingly accept inclusion because it lets their youngster blend in and be "one of the guys." They think: How wonderful! All children receive instruction in the same classroom with the same teacher. My child won't stick out and won't be treated differently. Let's all join hands, sing Kumbaya, and call it a day! Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

Of course, the bureaucrats are more than happy to sell the inclusion lie to unsuspecting parents. Inclusion costs absolutely nothing—just throw the child with special needs into the regular classroom and shout: "Sink or swim!" It also creates cushy jobs for other bureaucrats who visit these students in classrooms— omnipresent clipboards in hand—to document their progress. The paperwork created from one child with special needs could fill an entire file cabinet but does nothing to help the kid.

Unsuspecting parents trade away the special education services their child needs in favor of inclusion and  "blending in" with the other kids.
Unsuspecting parents trade away the special education services their child needs in favor of inclusion and "blending in" with the other kids. | Source

Thanks to Meathead, California Leads the Way in Providing Early Intervention Services

Unlike most states, California has made early intervention services a priority—thanks in large part to the actor/director, Rob Reiner, best known for playing Meathead on All in the Family and directing over 50 movies such as When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride. In 1998 Reiner led the campaign to pass Prop 10, the California Children and Families Initiative. The passage of this initiative created First 5 California, a program of early childhood development services. First 5 California is a proactive organization that offers concrete services for children 0-5 and their families through parent education, coaching for early learning professionals, health and nutrition counseling, prenatal services, and early literacy events.

California Invests in Its Young Children by Offering Concrete Services, Not Just Inclusion

If your child with special needs is born in California like my son with autism, he'll receive many explicit services such as speech and occupational therapies, small group activities, and one-on-one direct instruction. In the three years my son received early intervention services in the Napa Valley, no early education professional ever uttered the word "inclusion." My son attended a regular preschool where he was fully involved in all activities. But he also attended weekly speech and occupational therapy sessions where he received the individualized one-on-one attention he needed to guarantee rapid progress. When starting kindergarten, he required minimal help.

Oregon and Other States Offer Inclusion and Little Else

Make no mistake about it, those with degrees in special education know full well that inclusion is not the one-size-fits-all solution for children with special needs. But many of them go along with the inclusion lie because they're no longer acting as educators looking out for the best interest of young children but bureaucrats looking to keep costs low. This is especially true in states such as Oregon that have limited funds for early intervention services.

The First Five Years of Life Offer a Spectacular Opportunity for Effective Intervention

I experienced this for myself when we moved from California to Oregon and I began working as a preschool teacher. The early intervention services my son received in the Golden State were not here. I had a child with Down syndrome in my class and inherited his whole team of early intervention specialists. They visited, interrupted my class, filled out paperwork, but offered no services to this child who clearly needed one-on-one speech and occupational therapies. His parents were so thrilled that he was just “one of the guys” that they were willing to forgo the special help he desperately needed. The early intervention team did nothing to convince them otherwise. These adults squandered that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for early intervention services.

Parents need to get informed and push for the services their child needs. Ninety percent of the brain develops from birth to 5 so there's no time to waste.
Parents need to get informed and push for the services their child needs. Ninety percent of the brain develops from birth to 5 so there's no time to waste. | Source

Final Thoughts

Parents need to understand that inclusion in a regular classroom should be just one feature of a child's overall program. It's not a comprehensive plan. When bureaucrats say otherwise and mislead parents, they're no longer after the best interest of the youngster. That's why it's crucial that parents read up on services that are necessary for their child's progress and become informed advocates. The services are available from the government but parents must push for them or get them from the private sector. Ninety percent of a child's brain develops from birth to 5 so this is the time to act and not be conned. Parents beware: inclusion in special education is the biggest lie of them all. Push for what your child needs!

Over-reliance on Inclusion

Why do you think states such as Oregon rely almost solely on inclusion?

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This Book Helped Me Survive After Hearing My Son's Autism Diagnosis, Giving Me Hope and Peace of Mind

Family-Centered Early Intervention: Supporting Infants and Toddlers in Natural Environments
Family-Centered Early Intervention: Supporting Infants and Toddlers in Natural Environments

As a teacher and mother of an autistic son, I know firsthand inclusion is not enough. My child benefited immensely from early intervention services—weekly speech and occupational therapies. I was there every step of the way, learning how to continue the activities at home so my son made fast and efficient progress. This book details how important parental involvement is and how school and home must work together. It's a valuable resource and I highly recommend it to parents.


Questions & Answers

    © 2015 McKenna Meyers


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      • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

        McKenna Meyers 

        4 months ago from Bend, OR

        That really means something coming from you, kariamor, a mother of a child with Down syndrome. I hope parents will heed my warning about inclusion and push for the services their youngsters need, especially during those critical first five years. Thanks for your support!

      • profile image


        4 months ago

        Am a social worker and a parent of a child with down syndrome. I agree with you!!!!!

      • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

        McKenna Meyers 

        9 months ago from Bend, OR

        Well, Wilson, your point of view is way more extreme than mine, but I must say I'm wary of the government's current expansion into early childhood education. As experts in the field know, preschool is not just another year of schooling; it's quite unique because kids need hands-on experiences, lots of play, and time to explore. The government's focus on "academic rigor" in preschool is preposterous, not developmentally appropriate, and cruel to young children.

        As for early intervention services, I think the government can make a huge difference for the better, especially during the first 5 years. However, we need professionals to be working directly with the kids and not just visiting the preschools with clipboards in hand, observing and documenting. The first 5 years are when a child's brain is malleable and a lot of progress can be made. It's a good investment of time and money.

      • profile image

        wilson todd 

        9 months ago

        i say get rid of the schools and get goverment out of are schools

      • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

        McKenna Meyers 

        9 months ago from Bend, OR

        I agree with you, Nicola. When my autistic son was little, he had a spectacular speech therapist and an awesome occupational therapist who made all the difference in the world to him and me. But this was in California where the philosophy about early intervention services is very different from many places like Oregon where I now live. The professionals in California were able to make an impact because California strongly believes that the first five years are the best opportunity to make a difference in a child's life. Their programs are all about investing time and money in those early years. Places such as Oregon have talented and compassionate professionals, too, but with limited resources and a myopic approach on inclusion, they're not allowed to fully use their knowledge and abilities. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the matter. I hope you and your son are doing well.

      • profile image

        Nicola Hunt 

        9 months ago

        I found your statements thought provoking and found myself thinking about this for a while.

        I am left feeling quite sure that Inclusion is only as effective as the school, nursery or practitioner/teacher implementing it. If individual people do not understand what good inclusive practice looks like they wont be putting it into practice.

        Sometimes, not always, it is individuals that make the most difference to a child's learning and development not the level of funding.

        I have a son with ASD and he has a EHCP - this is not what made the difference, individuals did.

      • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

        McKenna Meyers 

        2 years ago from Bend, OR

        Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and your work with special needs kids. I agree with you. My son has autism. Who he was at four -- a timid boy who was always stimming, unable to make eye contact, and hypersensitive to touch and sound -- does not at all resemble the confident and competent high school student he is today. He always received full inclusion, but he also got speech and occupational therapies, and I'm forever grateful for that.

      • profile image

        Lady Lilith 

        2 years ago

        Working with special needs kids, I will have to say I mostly agree with you. All in all, it depends on the child. I have seen children who are fully included with services at home thrive. I have also seen childen in special education classes fail. I think the most important key is to have a good support group who is always looking for the best in the child. Who the child is today, might not be who they are tomorrow.


      • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

        McKenna Meyers 

        3 years ago from Bend, OR

        Thanks for the support, Bill. I hope someone will benefit from what I learned along the way with my autistic son. He received awesome early intervention services and is doing so well now. I want every kid to have that same experience.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        3 years ago from Olympia, WA

        Call it like it is...good for you. Keep screaming from the rooftops. Parents need to know this.


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