Inclusion Confusion

by Carolyn Ito

Inclusion has many names and faces. In some divisions inclusion is referred to as integration or mainstreaming. In other places it is called full or partial inclusion. What are the inclusion practices in your setting? The articles in this newsletter and the T/TAC library resources may help you clarify your inclusion philosophy and assist you in developing best practices.

No universally accepted definition of inclusion and the related terms, mainstreaming and integration, exists. Examination of various definitions of these terms highlights common and distinguishing elements. Lewis and Doorlag (1995) consider students with disabilities mainstreamed if they spend any part of the school day with general class peers in common instructional or social activities with additional instruction and support from a special educator. Some portion of the student's educational experience is delivered in the special education classroom, and some in a general education setting. Mainstreaming generally occurs when students can meet "traditional academic expectations with minimal assistance" (Friend & Bursuck, 1996, p. 2) or when academic expectations are not relevant such as during lunch, assemblies, recess, sports, or clubs. The student requires few or minor adaptations for success in the mainstream placement.

Inclusion is a newer term originated by educators such as Stainback and Stainback (1996) from the severe disabilities arena. These professionals define inclusion as the placement for all students with disabilities in general education classrooms with necessary support given within these classrooms. Another definition refers to inclusion as the philosophy, process, and practice of educating students with disabilities in general education classrooms in neighborhood schools with the supports and accommodations needed by those students (NICHCY, 1997, p. 2). The types and number of supports and accommodations vary greatly (e.g., daily co-teaching, personal full-time paraeducators; augmentative devices; related services provided by occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech personnel; testing and note-taking adaptations). Under the practices of full or partial inclusion, students with disabilities are included whether or not they can meet the general education curricular standards.

Integration refers to either mainstreaming or inclusion. The integration approach includes elements common to both philosophies:

  • Attendance in the student's neighborhood school,

  • Placement of the student with disabilities in the general education classroom for all or part of the school day,

  • Interaction with typical peers for academic instruction and social interaction, and

  • Provision of appropriate support and accommodations.

Observation and questioning are necessary to determine the philosophy of the educational staff and the primary purpose for student placement in any given school. What, how, where, and with whom is the student with disabilities able to learn? Must the student with disabilities earn the right to the general education classroom, or do educators believe all students can be educated together with appropriate support? Who is responsible for the student's education? How will the needs of all the students be met? How are all the educators prepared to meet their responsibilities?

Professionals and parents are concerned about which educational environment is best for students. The most appropriate educational environment must be determined by the IEP team (which includes parents or family members) on a case-by-case basis. Present and future needs of the student should be carefully considered. To meet these needs, a continuum of placement options and supports must be available for students and teachers so that best practices may be implemented.


Friend, M. & Bursuck, W. (1996). Including students with special needs: A practical guide for classroom teachers. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Lewis, R., & Doorlag, D. (1995). Teaching special students in the mainstream (4th Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill.

Planning for inclusion. (1995, July). NICHCY News Digest 5, 1-9.

Stainback, S. & Stainback, W. (1996). Inclusion: A guide for educators. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes

Date: March/April 1998