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Mainstreaming, Inclusion, and the Least Restrictive Environment Happy sounds fill the air as a small group of youngsters talk and laugh and learn together. Megan reads aloud, her nimble fingers flying across her Braille textbook. Ms. Eastham has a smile in her voice for Megan as she praises the child’s efforts. David enthusiastically responds to Jon’s request for help with a difficult word, and both boys enjoy the cooperative interaction. Ryan laughs hardest and loudest of all the children when the story takes a humorous turn. When Ryan’s opportunity to read comes, his facilitator, Mr. Harris, reads each sentence aloud and Ryan repeats the words after him. Comfortable in her wheelchair, Lindsey listens to the other children read and looks forward to recess when she’ll be scorekeeper for a lively game.
Achievable goal or impossible dream? As educators, parents, legislators, and other concerned citizens struggle with the difficult questions regarding how best to serve our diverse student population, the only certainty is that there are no easy answers. Though education is viewed in our culture as the path to achievement and success, it is perhaps even more significant to those with disabilities. “In a society too frequently preoccupied with defining people in terms of their disabilities, a good education offers people an opportunity to define themselves in terms of their abilities”.
One of the most controversial and complex issues related to this effort at “best service” for all students revolves around the integration-segregation dilemma. A careful review of the literature reveals both the large number of children involved and the broad range of situations with which these students must cope. According to an author, individuals with disabilities comprise at least 10% of the world’s population. In school settings, children with developmental delays and impoverished environments add to the numbers requiring accommodation. And societal changes contribute as well. In this country in recent years, there has been an alarming increase in the number of substance-exposed babies born, with addiction the short-term outcome and multiple cognitive deficits sometimes the longer legacy. HIV infection is now identified as the primary cause for mental retardation in children. One study estimates that nearly seven percent of children in major urban areas have learning or behavioral difficulties related to a congenital problem.