Inclusion is a Philosophy - Not a Place

Inclusion is the belief that ALL students belong to their school community. Regardless of label, students should have access to a variety of curriculum options.

A culture of inclusion starts with the school administration and spreads throughout the staff and students.

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.

Collaborate with the Team

  • A successful inclusive environment requires collaboration between parents and the members of the IEP team.
  • Ask your child what they want in a teaching environment, if appropriate.
  • Inclusion encompasses all areas of the school environment - not just social interaction.
    • A child just being near neurotypical peers is not learning, it is simply management.
    • Be open to trying a variety of settings and supports to find the appropriate fit for your child.
  • Effective inclusion involves collaborative planning and open communication between special education and general education staff. Make a plan on how this will be done.
    • There needs to be specialized training and teaching about best practices for inclusion.
    • Document staff responsibilities, specialized trainings, accommodations, and modifications in the IEP.

Models of Inclusion

Full Inclusion

Child receives all special education services within the general education program at all times.


Both a general education teacher and 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 is often used in secondary classrooms.


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.


Child leaves the general education classroom to receive special education services in a specialized classroom.

Self-Contained Classrooms

There are times when a self-contained special education classroom is the most appropriate placement for a child.

  • This decision is made through a collaborative discussion between the parents and the IEP team.
    • Only consider this option after ruling out other placements.
  • Frequently reassess your child’s ability to be with neurotypical peers as much as possible.
  • When appropriate, have the child float between classes with staff support to participate in electives, lunch, recess, etc. with their neurotypical peers.
  • Your child remains a member of the school community. Work with staff to ensure your child is included in all facets of the school.

Communication Inside the Classroom

Children who are non-speaking use a variety of ways to communicate, called Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

  • Non-speaking students need to be included in classroom discussions.
    • This includes equal opportunity for expressing opinions and comments - not just basic requests.
    • Having access to AAC gives non-speaking students the opportunity to express their needs, wants, thoughts, and ideas without talking.
  • Non-speaking students should have access to their:
    • Preferred communication modality/modalities.
      • AAC modalities include letter boards, typing, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Dynavox, Proloquo2Go, and many more.
      • Many people use multiple AAC modalities. They should have access to all of them in the classroom.
    • Preferred teaching method.
      • Teaching methods should take into account the student’s individual needs and unique learning style.
      • This is essential for students who have difficulties with motor planning (apraxia, dyspraxia, etc.).
      • Teaching methods include Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Functional Communication Training (FCT), PROMPT, RPM, S2C, and many more.
  • All teachers and staff interacting with your child require training in both their method and modality(ies) of communication.
    • Include staff training in your child's IEP.
  • Learn more information about AAC methods and modalities here.

Be Thoughtful About Inclusion

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

3 Steps for Successful Inclusion + IEPs

Last but not least, here's a short video with some great tips from our friend Catherine Whitcher, M.Ed. about inclusion.

In summary, it's time to think about Inclusion and IEPs differently. If you follow these three steps, you can help ensure that your child receives an appropriate education that truly prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living:

  1. Inclusion is an experience, not a place.
  2. Inclusion should be centered on strengths and reflect the real world.
  3. Inclusion needs to be a written plan inside of the IEP.

Further Reading:

*All content in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice. When it comes to matter of the law and policy – please consult an attorney or advocate on your child’s behalf.