Different Types of Classroom Settings for Your Child: Finding the Right Placement
When it comes to choosing the right classroom setting for your child, there are several factors to consider. In this blog, we will explore the different types of classroom placements and how to determine which one is most suitable for your child.
General Education Placement
A general education placement, also known as mainstream or inclusion, is a classroom setting that closely resembles a typical grade-level classroom. In this type of classroom, students are working on curriculum-based materials at their grade level. The teacher is usually a credentialed general education teacher, although they may hold additional credentials. These classrooms tend to have larger student groups and a higher ratio of students to adults.
Special Education Classroom
A special education (SPED) classroom, or specialized academic instruction (SAI) classroom, is designed for students with unique learning needs, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The teacher in this type of classroom is a credentialed special education teacher. These classrooms are smaller and have a lower student-to-adult ratio. Some students may have a one-on-one aide, while others may have a two-to-one ratio. The focus is on providing individualized support to meet the unique needs of each student.
Choosing the Right Placement
Deciding on the right placement for your child is a highly individualized process. It is essential to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting with your child's IEP team to discuss the best placement option. In the past, students with special needs were often segregated from their peers in separate schools. However, research has shown that including special education students in general education classrooms can be beneficial for both groups of students.
Studies have demonstrated that there are benefits for special education students when they have neurotypical peers as role models. They learn appropriate behaviors and social skills by observing their peers. On the other hand, general education students gain patience, kindness, and compassion from interacting with students who are different from them. It is a win-win situation for both groups.
Federal regulations emphasize the concept of least restrictive placement, which means that students should be placed in the least restrictive environment that allows them to benefit from their education. There is a push to provide general education opportunities to every student. However, it is crucial to find the right balance for each individual student.
The Benefits of Mainstreaming
Mainstreaming, or including special education students in general education classrooms, can be highly beneficial, especially in the early years of education. Preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are critical periods where inclusion can have a significant positive impact on special education students. They benefit from observing their peers and learning from them, while general education students develop empathy and understanding.
As the general education curriculum becomes more complex and advanced, the benefits of mainstreaming for special education students may start to fade and even become detrimental. Students with special needs may struggle to keep up with the fast pace of the general education setting, leading to frustration and a widening gap in learning.
It is important to consider the number of learning opportunities that a student has in each setting. In a special education classroom, the focus is on providing multiple opportunities for learning and repetition of concepts. In a general education classroom, the pace is faster, and there may be fewer opportunities to reinforce specific skills. Evaluating the number of learning opportunities can help determine the most beneficial placement for a student.
The Role of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a highly effective approach for working with autistic children. ABA recognizes that autistic children often require more repetition and slower instruction to grasp concepts fully. In a general education setting, the fast pace may not allow for the necessary repetition and individualized instruction that ABA provides. As a result, the curriculum may advance while the student is still struggling with foundational skills.
While mainstreaming with general education peers is still essential for social opportunities, the focus of ABA interventions may shift to social skills, physical education, music, library, lunch, and recess. These settings provide valuable opportunities for special education students to interact with their neurotypical peers and develop social skills.
Considering Your Child's Feelings
It is vital to pay attention to how your child feels in different classroom settings. Some students may become frustrated or distressed in an academic setting that is too challenging for them. They may exhibit behaviors such as avoidance, acting out, or self-stimulatory behaviors as a result. These signs indicate that the placement may not be beneficial for the student's learning and well-being.
Conversely, if a student spends most of their time in a specialized academic instruction classroom and has minimal exposure to a general education setting, they may miss out on important social and learning opportunities. Finding the right balance between inclusion and specialized instruction is key to ensuring your child's success.
Collaboration and Advocacy
Collaboration with your child's IEP team is crucial in determining the ideal placement and amount of time spent in each setting. Requesting data and discussing the benefits and challenges of different placements can help inform the decision-making process. It is essential to advocate for your child's needs and ensure that the IEP reflects the specific minutes and times allocated for general education and specialized instruction.
Remember, every child is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the mainstream vs. special education debate. The goal is to create an individualized program that maximizes your child's potential and provides them with the best possible learning environment.