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Politically Incorrect and Liking It

ADDitude’s mom blogger bucks the trend toward forced inclusion at school, and advocates maintaining self-contained classrooms as one option for kids with ADHD and LD.

A woman works with two children with learning disabilities
Multi-ethnic teacher (20s) and preschool children (4 years) in classroom working with colorful wooden shapes.

Dr. Mark Bertin, a developmental pediatrician and author of the book The Family ADHD Solution, has an interesting post on his Psychology Today blog. The topic of the blog is the growing trend to integrate kids with ADHD, LD, and other issues into general education classrooms, and the gradual demise of self-contained special education classrooms.

Dr. Bertin’s take is that one size doesn’t fit all; that in order to have a chance at successfully mainstreaming kids in the long run, teachers must meet their educational needs in the short run. Those needs might include remediation, differentiated instruction, and adjustments in the curriculum delivered in — yes — small, contained classrooms.

My daughter, Natalie, is in fifth grade and has always attended public school in Ames, Iowa. Due in part to spending her earliest years in a Russian orphanage, and in part to her ADHD, she’s benefited from special education programs (such as having an IEP).

Since pre-kindergarten, Natalie has spent a portion of her day in the special education classroom. The amount of time that she is pulled out, rather than mainstreamed, has increased significantly over the years, not decreased. And that’s exactly the way I like it.

I feel like I’m being terribly politically incorrect when I say that I DO NOT want my daughter mainstreamed into the general classroom population. For a generation, parents of kids with disabilities have fought for full inclusion for our children. But I just don’t see full inclusion as the best option for my daughter.

For one thing, between her ADHD distractibility and her sensory processing issues, a full-size classroom teaming with 20-or-so kids is way too stimulating for Natalie. She also has social and emotional issues that make it difficult for her to succeed in that environment.

More kids to deal with means that she has more unsupervised interactions, social pressures, and opportunities to note the differences between herself and others. When the curriculum gets to be too difficult for Natalie to master, her anxiety level rises and her resulting behavior often dictates that she cannot stay with the general education class. I just can’t see how even the best teacher could mitigate the issues that are built-in to a large group situation.

I realize from my online interactions with many other parents of kids with ADHD that school systems across the U.S. vary greatly in how they approach serving kids with special needs. I’ve learned that my family is blessed to live in Ames, Iowa — that the services Natalie receives through our public school system are vastly better than many schools other parents and kids have to deal with. If we are “behind the times” because we still have self-contained special education classrooms, I can only hope we stay there.

I agree with Dr. Bertin. Although I’m not an expert in educational approaches like he is, I do know that one size will never fit all when it comes to kids with ADHD and their education.

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