Integrated education school systems are flourishing—and for good reason. Academic settings that provide integrated education focus on bringing students together from all walks of life, providing a more meaningful and well-rounded experience for all who attend.
While the process of integrating neurotypical students and students with exceptionalities into one classroom setting produces an abundance of benefits, some questions still arise.
Here, we discuss the benefits of integrated education and inclusive teaching more in-depth, answering questions that may arise throughout, and highlighting how this structure can produce a very much fulfilling experience for the students who enter the door.
Before we approach the benefits of integrated education for neurotypical students and students with exceptionalities, we should first explore the term “neurodiversity.” At its core, neurodiversity refers to the concept that individuals experience and interact with the world differently—understanding that no two individuals have the same brain function, cognition, style of learning, behavior, or life experience. For this reason, we mustn’t view certain differences as deficits, but rather as markers of individuality, of uniqueness.
The term “neurotypical” is commonly defined as an individual—in this case, a student—who has the brain functions, behaviors, and sensory processes considered standard or typical in society. Exceptional learners refer to students who have a disability, who are gifted and talented, and who may meet the criteria for both (commonly referred to as twice exceptional).
State and federal regulations define children with exceptionalities as having one or more of the following:
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures students with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities and are provided with the proper services for their unique needs, also referred to as an Individualized Education Program or IEP. Under this law, school districts are also encouraged to provide education to exceptional students in the least restrictive environment among their peers.
An integrated education system and inclusive teaching model utilize one learning environment for both neurotypical students and students with exceptionalities (as listed above). Additional support may also be given to exceptional students in the classroom setting, through the addition of special education programs and/or pull-out therapeutic services.
This academic structure—along with the implementation of an inclusive teaching model—recognizes the importance of diversity, welcomes a range of learning styles, and can positively impact students and their families, along with teachers, administrators, and communities at large.
By removing the barriers between special education and mainstream education, all students receive access to the same curriculum and opportunities. Through increased awareness and educational efforts, communities can create a ripple effect, helping to address the stigmatization and wrongful perceptions about disabilities.
The reasons for integrated education are many. Still, some question if students who are severely affected by a disability can “keep up” with mainstream curriculum, despite proper accommodations made; oftentimes, this can lead to the belief that said students would be more appropriately placed in special education where they’re more comfortable, even if less challenged.
While the above is a valid concern, to ensure all students are placed in the most appropriate, dynamic, and least restrictive setting for their needs, proper screening, acclimating, and monitoring efforts need to occur (in both mainstream and special education classrooms).
The benefits of an integrated education system and inclusive teaching model are tremendous. Students can gain new perspectives, increase self-confidence, and develop a wide range of skills they may not have outside of an inclusive classroom.
Let’s take a look at these benefits more in-depth.
Integrated education and inclusive classroom settings understand that all students learn differently, even when presented with the same knowledge, in the same way. Students can be visual, auditory, reading and writing, or kinesthetic learners. Teachers who follow an inclusive teaching model are flexible and able to adapt to the needs of their students. Students can also be exposed to new techniques and other styles of learning through the way of their peers, which they may not have been exposed to previously.
Bringing together a diverse group of students helps challenge wrongful perceptions and beliefs. It also allows students to practice empathy, create relationships with those they may not have had the opportunity to otherwise, and uncover their similarities despite having differences. Students will also gain helpful skills for interrelating with others in an inclusive society.
Exceptional students who require additional support in the classroom do not have to feel excluded or isolated from mainstream education. Integrated education and inclusive learning atmospheres will provide accommodations where necessary, helping to smooth the transition and offer assistance when needed. Through this effort, exceptional students may feel better respected and valued; as a result, more confident and trusting of their abilities. This learning environment also reaches and benefits neurotypical students as they connect with new classmates, teachers, administrators, and their community—positively impacting their well-being in more ways than one.
Students can benefit significantly by being challenged, in a healthy, productive manner. Integrated education systems allow students the opportunity to reflect, challenge themselves, and evolve. As neurotypical and exceptional students expand their minds and challenge self-limiting beliefs within a diverse atmosphere, they’ll likely continue on the path to achieving their goals, follow their passions, and continue collaborating with others in the future.
Instead of fearing integrated education among neurotypical and exceptional students, let us embrace the experience it can offer students from all backgrounds, with a range of differences, exemplifying the brilliant possibilities that lie ahead.
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