Inclusion and Interactions With Friends Without Disabilities

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Individuals who are typically developing can serve as good language models. They can help individuals with severe communicate disabilities to communicate more effectively. Studies have shown that typically developing children adjust the complexity and functions of their language in accord with the chronological age and developmental level of their communication partners. They also can modify their language structure, content, and use during communication interactions with children with developmental disabilities. For example, typically developing children may use shorter sentences and be more directive in their style during interactions with children with severe disabilities. However, interactions between children with and without disabilities may not occur naturally. The teacher, speech-language pathologist (SLP), or others may have to encourage children with severe disabilities and typically developing friends to communicate with each other.

Bottom Line: Current federal legislation (i.e., the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004) mandates providing services for students with disabilities in settings that include typically developing individuals wherever possible. Inclusive classrooms provide an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to interact with their friends who don't have disabilities.

Benefits to Friends Without Disabilities

Parents of children without disabilities may be concerned that their children will be influenced in negative way by the slower learning rate, possible inappropriate behavior, or communication problems of children with severe disabilities. However, research studies demonstrate that children with typical development do not show a decline in academic performance as a result of interactions with children with severe disabilities. Indeed, such children even show above average scores in educational outcomes following participation in an inclusive preschool program, where children with and without disabilities are placed together.

SLPs and other professionals need to talk to families about inclusive classrooms and the impact on typically developing children. Family concerns may prevent parents from enrolling their children in inclusive preschools. Parents of school-age children may fear negative outcomes in their own children when children with severe disabilities are included in regular education programs. It may be helpful to provide parents with evidence about the value of inclusive practices for students with and without disabilities.

Bottom Line: Individuals who are developing typically can benefit just as much from inclusive experiences as individuals with disabilities. These experiences, when structured appropriately, can lead to enhancements in compassion, acceptance of disability, and appreciation of individual differences.