Inclusion: It Works Both Ways

Author: Kathleen M. Cleaver - Contact: Contact Details
Published: 2021/09/08 - Updated: 2022/03/11
Peer-Reviewed: N/A
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Synopsis: Kathleen M. Cleaver writes on the various forms of inclusion both at home and in the classroom. While studies list the numerous pros and cons to inclusion there is one effect not listed. There are times when a person with a disability can feel isolated in an inclusive setting. Parents often feel alone when their child has a disability. I have two sets of friends. I have my "normal" friends who I hang out with socially. Then, I have friends whose family member has a disability. These friends are my support. They understand my feelings and concerns. They are my source of valuable information. They are my special friends. I would be lost without them.


Main Digest

Since the birth of my younger sister 62 years ago, I have witnessed the growth in acceptance of people with disabilities. We have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We have the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) and Individual Education Plans (IEP's).

These laws and plans have allowed people with disabilities to become part of our "normal" world. It is my belief from my experience as a sister, a mother, and a teacher, to fully accept and understand someone with a disability we need to be a part of their world too.

Family Inclusion

My sister and my daughter have multiple disabilities. My sister lived at home until she was 54 years old. My daughter lived at home until she was 36 years old. They were always included in family functions and outings. Both girls enjoyed family vacations at the beach, family parties, and holiday celebrations. Siblings were their playmates and their teachers. The girls were part of the neighborhood. Our friends and neighbors acknowledged and protected them. "Life was good!"

"The only constant is change." (Heraclitus) Families change. Siblings move away. Parents grow older, become ill and pass away. Sometimes, full family inclusion is no longer an option for a family. My parents were fortunate to have a support team of family, friends and neighbors who loved and helped care for my sister. Slowly, that support team dwindled leaving me and my brothers to care for my sister. My parents' wish upon their death was for me and my family to move into their home to care for my sister. This was not practical for many reasons. Being in the house without my parents was very upsetting for my sister. Their house was not accessible for my daughter. It would mean uprooting my family. After living with us in our home for six months, my sister was accepted into a beautiful facility for women with intellectual disabilities. Recently, our daughter became her roommate. They are very happy with their living arrangements and have more friends and activities than they would have living with us. They have benefitted from community outings as well as community support within the facility, engaging the women in a variety of activities and entertainment. My sister and daughter enjoy their home visits yet are eager to return to friends and activities at their facility.

We are now included in their world. When the girls moved into their cottage, we helped to decorate their room. The staff and the residents became our friends. We were able to connect with the residents' families through zoom, in person and at special events. The support of family members who have the same interests and concerns has been invaluable. It is awesome to see the girls having fun with their friends and direct care workers.

School Inclusion

Inclusive education is when all students regardless of any challenges they may have, are placed in age-appropriate general education classes that are in their own neighborhood schools to receive high quality instruction, interventions, and supports that enable them to meet success in the core curriculum (Bui, Quirk, Almazan & Valenti, 2010; Alquaini & Gut, 2012).

During my career as a special education teacher I have witnessed the evolution of education from institutional settings to full inclusion. My experience included teaching in a residential school, day schools with self-contained classrooms, resource rooms, and programs where students were mainstreamed or included in regular classroom settings. It is my belief, from my experience, ( and some may disagree) that the type of inclusion depends on the child. Thank goodness very few children are educated in residential facilities where they are away from their family.

There are situations where full inclusion is not the best option.

Residential Schools

My first teaching experience was at a residential school shortly before IDEA and FAPE became law. As the public schools began to open their doors to children with disabilities, many students left the residential school to be educated in their home district. The school slowly became a day program for students with multiple disabilities. The residential program remained in operation to accommodate students where living at home was not a viable option. Residential programs remain in operation for children who are unable to live at home due to severe medical or behavioral issues or where services are not available where they reside. A strong relationship between professionals and family members is instrumental in helping these children return to their home setting and family.

Self-Contained Classrooms

Self-contained classrooms are defined as settings where students with similar disabilities are educated together in small groups by a teacher trained in special education. They can be found in public schools and special education schools.

The students in these classrooms usually have multiple impairments requiring intensive intervention. My sister and my daughter were educated in self-contained classrooms with one big difference. Since there was no public law mandating education for children with disabilities when my sister reached school age, my parents had to find a school for her. They found a small school founded by a woman who saw the need for a day program for children with multiple disabilities. My parents petitioned their school district to pay my sister's tuition and provide bussing for the forty-five minute ride from our home to the special school. The school grew from three classrooms in a converted stable to a building with multiple classrooms. The school was taken over by the city school district after my sister graduated at the age of 21. There was no community inclusion in her program.

We had a much different experience with our daughter. We had a choice of where our daughter could attend school. While her classroom was self-contained, the idea of community inclusion was included in her program. Field trips to stores and community events were built into the program. Student volunteers from local high schools and colleges were welcomed into the classrooms. When she reached high school age, our daughter was able to attend the same high school as her younger sisters. She still required a self-contained classroom. The high school students volunteered in her classroom, became involved in the Best-Buddy Program and welcomed the special needs students in extracurricular activities. This was "reverse inclusion" at its best.

Inclusive Classrooms

The majority of my teaching experience was at a small parochial school for children who were visually impaired. Students attended school from kindergarten through eighth grade. Grades k-2 were self-contained where students received intensive instruction in braille and low vision materials. Beginning in third grade, students were included for part of the day with their normal peers in the parish school located on the same campus. Upon graduation in eighth grade, most of the students were fully included in their neighborhood high school.

I am proud to say that the small school that formed my teaching career and provided a high quality education to students is still in operation today. Each child's program is tailored to their educational, physical and emotional needs whether it be a self contained classroom, partial or full inclusion.

When Inclusion is Isolation

While studies list the numerous pros and cons to inclusion there is one effect not listed. There are times when a person with a disability can feel isolated in an inclusive setting. Parents often feel alone when their child has a disability. They have friends and relatives offer help and words of comfort, but as the old saying goes -"You don't know what it is like until you have gone through it!" The best advice I can give to parents is to connect with families who have a child with a disability. I have two sets of friends. I have my "normal" friends who I hang out with socially. Then, I have friends whose family member has a disability. These friends are my support. They understand my feelings and concerns. They are my source of valuable information. They are my special friends. I would be lost without them.

A person with a disability might feel isolated in a normal setting when he or she hasn't met others with a similar disability. I had a student who was in an inclusive setting in his public school. He felt different because of his disability and the adaptations he required to function in a regular classroom. The student asked to be transferred to a special school so he could be with children just like him. After spending four years in a semi- inclusive setting with other students with similar disabilities, he was happy and forged friendships with his disabled and non-disabled peers. He returned to his neighborhood district and is fully included with support.


The paradigm shift in special education from residential programs to full inclusion has opened countless opportunities for many children with disabilities. While studies show the benefits of full inclusion, we must remain cognizant that one educational program does not meet the needs of all students. Each child is unique, and one type of placement does not work for all. "As the pendulum for special education swings to a more inclusive setting, it is important to remember that a continuum of placement options must still be considered for each child." (Gilmour 2019)

About Kathleen M. Cleaver

Kathleen M. Cleaver holds a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and the education of children whose primary disability is a visual impairment (TVI). During her thirty year career as a teacher, Kathleen received the Penn-Del AER Elinor Long Award and the AER Membership Award for her service and contributions to the education of children with visual impairments. She also received the Elizabeth Nolan O’Donnell Achievement Award for years of dedicated service to St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments.


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Cite This Page (APA): Kathleen M. Cleaver. (2021, September 8). Inclusion: It Works Both Ways. Disabled World. Retrieved December 4, 2023 from

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