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Inclusion is a philosophy based on the belief that ALL students belong to their school community. Inclusion gives all students–regardless of label–access to equal opportunities for meaningful participation. To clarify, access to meaningful participation is not limited to social interactions; it includes various curriculum options too.

Furthermore, inclusion encompasses all areas of the school. It isn’t something your child can only obtain in the gym, cafeteria, or playground. On the contrary, inclusion can occur in any setting throughout the school.

In this article, we discuss:

  • Inclusion in the classroom, including placement settings and things to consider when determining the right fit for your child
  • Tips for successful inclusion
  • Inclusion for non-speaking students

Inclusion in the Classroom

IDEA does not require that a school district provide full-time inclusion. However, the law does state that students should be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) as appropriate. This means that students who receive special education services have a right to be educated, as much as possible, with their non-disabled peers.

Below, you will find brief descriptions of educational settings, ranging from the least restrictive to the most restrictive, as well as things to consider when determining the right placement for your child.

Placement Settings

  • Full inclusion occurs when a student receives all special education services within the general education program at all times.
  • Co-Teaching is when both a general education teacher and a special education teacher or paraprofessional provide classroom instruction at the same time. Often the general education teacher will teach the lesson while the special education teacher modifies assignments and assists with student questions. This method frequently occurs in secondary classrooms.
  • Push-In occurs when a special education teacher or paraprofessional comes to the general education classroom at specific times of the day to lead small-group or individualized instruction focusing on IEP goals.
  • Pull-Out is when a student leaves the general education classroom to receive special education services in a specialized classroom.
  • In self-contained classrooms, students are taught all academic subjects in a classroom separate from the general education classrooms.

Determining the Right Placement

When determining the appropriate fit for your child, be open to trying a variety of settings and supports.  

Additionally, be mindful that:

  • Placing a child near neurotypical peers is not learning; it is simply management.
  • No matter the setting, the school must provide your child with “specially designed instruction” to address their academic and functional deficits.
    • This includes (but is not limited to) adaptations and modifications.
  • There are times when a self-contained setting is the most appropriate placement for a child. However, this placement is more restrictive, so it’s essential to keep in mind that:
    • You should only consider it an option after ruling out other placements.
    • It’s a decision that should be made through a collaborative discussion involving all members of the IEP team.
      • In other words, the school alone cannot make this decision without you. After all, as the parent, you are an important member of the IEP team!
    • Even in a self-contained placement, your child remains a member of the school community.
      • Accordingly, work with staff to ensure your child is included in all facets of the school and ask them to frequently reassess your child’s ability to be with neurotypical peers as much as possible.
        • For instance, have your child float between classes with staff support to participate in electives, lunch, recess, etc., with their neurotypical peers.

Tips for Successful Inclusion

First and foremost, successful inclusion involves collaboration between you and the rest of the members of your child’s IEP team.

Likewise, it entails collective preparation and open communication between special education and general education staff.

Equally important, successful inclusion requires thoughtful planning. When creating your plan for inclusion, ask: 

  • What are your child’s strengths, and how can they be used within an inclusive school environment?
  • Which environment can your child learn best in?
    • If/when appropriate, ask your child what they want in a teaching environment.
  • What do you want your child to learn?
  • Does your child need any skills or strategies to be successful in a general education setting?
  • What is your child’s attention span for a preferred activity? Non-preferred?
  • What kind of supports does your child need to be successful?
  • Does your child need any adaptive equipment to have meaningful participation?
    • If your child has speech issues, how will they communicate? Has the staff had adequate training on their preferred method and modality(ies) of communication?
  • What kind of safety measures need to be in place?

And, by all means, don’t forget to document your written plan for inclusion as part of the IEP. Make sure it provides specific details about staff responsibilities, accommodations, and modifications. Likewise, include provisions for specialized staff trainings regarding best practices for inclusion.

3 Steps for Successful Inclusion + IEPs

To summarize, here are three ways IEP teams can build an inclusive environment at school:

  1. Look at inclusion as an experience, not a place.
    • As a team, discuss what it feels like to be included and how you’re going to create those experiences throughout the school day.
  2. Identify opportunities for inclusion outside of the traditional gym, music, and art settings.
    • These opportunities should center around your child’s strengths and reflect the real world.
  3. Document your written plan for inclusion as part of the IEP.
    • Provide specific details about what is expected regarding inclusion and minutes on the Service and Placement page of the IEP.

Inclusion for Non-Speaking Students

Inclusion gives ALL students an opportunity for meaningful participation and interactions. Therefore, providing an effective way for non-speaking students to communicate their thoughts, opinions, experiences, feelings, and knowledge is essential to creating an inclusive school environment.  

To clarify, inclusion goes beyond giving non-speaking students the ability to communicate their basic needs. It provides a way for non-speaking students to participate in class discussions, giving them equal opportunities to share their comments and opinions.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

You can’t create an inclusive school environment for non-speaking students without giving them access to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). AAC is the term that defines all forms (modalities) of communication a person can use to express their needs, wants, thoughts, and ideas without talking.  

But, simply having access to AAC is not enough. Your child needs to be taught how to use AAC in a way that meets their unique learning style and needs. This means that your child’s IEP should include AAC accommodations and goals.

When writing AAC needs into the IEP, be sure to provide specific details about:

  1. Your child’s preferred teaching method.
    • In this context, the teaching method refers to how school staff will help your child develop and build communication skills.
      • It bears repeating: teaching methods should consider your child’s individual needs and unique learning style–especially if they have motor planning difficulties, such as apraxia and dyspraxia.
    • Examples of teaching methods include Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Functional Communication Training (FCT), PROMPT, RPM, S2C, and many more.
  2. Your child’s preferred AAC modality.
    • AAC Modalities include letter boards, typing, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Dynavox, Proloquo2Go, and many more.
    • Most people use multiple forms of AAC.
    • Your child should have access to all of their preferred AAC modalities in the classroom.
  3. Staff training regarding your child’s preferred teaching method(s) and AAC modalities.
    • All teachers and staff who interact with your child should receive this training.

You can learn more about AAC by reading Therapeutic and Communication Options for Speech Issues in Autism.

Further Reading


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