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Relationships That Change the World

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Relationships that Change the World

Every student hopes that his or her high school experience will consist of strong friendships, great memories, and most of all, a sense of belonging. These desires belong to every student, even those with special needs or handicaps. Unfortunately, most students in high school have never taken the time to interact with their peers with disabilities; when in fact, these two groups are more alike than different.

If these two groups of teenagers could regularly interact as equals, both sides would benefit in countless ways. This can only happen if general education students are made aware of the importance of having relationships with their disabled peers. Mainstreaming makes that possible, but that is not enough. High school students, both with and without intellectual disabilities, need to experience the diversity of each others' talents in order to encourage social acceptance and understanding.

An intellectual disability is defined by three standards. First, an IQ below 70-75. Second, the student shows limitations in two or more adaptive skills areas. Third, the condition has existed since childhood, or before age eighteen. However, these disabilities are significantly different with each individual. Eighty-seven percent of people who have intellectual disabilities are only mildly affected, or slightly below average ("Best Buddies International" 1).

As recent as fifty years ago, children with disabilities were excluded from regular classrooms and shut in basements or other areas far away from the normal school environment (Paquette and Tuttle 7). Now, these kinds of injustices are prevented. First passed in 1975 and amended several times, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that school systems receive money for students with disabilities until they're twenty-two. The school system must also develop an individualized testing program (IEP) and individualized transition plan (ITP) (Turkington and Harris 73).

Harris, a school psychologist and former special education director, and Turkington, a specialist on writing about medical topics, know this act has had a huge impact on students with disabilities. Along with that, the entire world has been affected. Before IDEA, millions of children with disabilities were turned away from schools and thousands more never received appropriate accommodations. Because of this, ninety percent of children with disabilities spent their lives in state institutions. Today, three times as many young people with disabilities attend college and twice as many are employed (75).

Another law that has been passed to promote equality is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA) which focuses on accommodations needed in post-secondary institutions. Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 and the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 both promote equality and accessibility in the workplace and other public buildings (Turkington and Harris 76-78).

Now that students with disabilities have gained acknowledgement under the law, it is about time the rest of society became advocates for these students. The place to begin the increase of acceptance and understanding of these differences is in high school. High school is an important time in every teenager's life. Not only are students taught academics, but this is the place where the adults of tomorrow are prepared for the real world. Creating an accurate picture of the world that is to come is essential. This is done with mainstreaming. The action of "mainstreaming" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "to place (as a disabled child) in regular school classes" (mainstreaming 1). "The philosophy of mainstreaming disabled children into the regular classroom comes from the idea that since most individuals will be mainstreamed into society, the integration of regular and disabled students should begin at an early age" (Turkington and Harris 73).

In most cases, mainstreaming does not mean students with disabilities go to regular classes all day. School systems use mainstreaming based on the students needs and abilities and their IEP. For some students this could mean one subject, for others it could be a portion of the day. (Turkington and Harris 74).

Mainstreaming has increased in the past years. Because of IEP and IDEA, an increasing amount of students are mainstreamed for some or most of the school day. "In 2005, more than half of all special-education students were considered mainstreamed, or "fully included," nationally. These students spent eighty percent or more of the school day in regular classrooms, up from about a third in 1990, according to the U.S. Department of Education" (Tomsho 2).

This is tremendous progress, but it cannot stop there. Inclusion, or mainstreaming, only works when a few key factors are in place. Parents and teachers must work together to always be doing what is best for the student. Also, specific mainstreaming instances of progress or regression must be recorded in the student's IEP. Most importantly, regular students need to be educated on how to better understand students with special needs (Turkington and Harris 74).

In most schools, encouragement of this interaction and willingness to accept others has not been made a priority. Carter and Hughes, members of the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education in Madison, Wisconsin, admit, "Typical secondary schools do not support social interaction between individuals with disabilities and their general educations peers" (180). Most regular, or general, education students feel they have not been taught how to interact with their disabled peers. In the same regard, students with disabilities have not developed the skills to interact with their peers. But, this inadequacy "may reflect limited learning and interaction opportunities, as much as they reflect intellectual disabilities" (Carter and Hughes 180). Mainstreaming increases the opportunity for both groups to improve on their interactions.

Another benefit that comes with mainstreaming when it is utilized to its full potential is friendship. Friendship benefits students with disabilities by giving them a sense of belonging. This feeling then "increases cognitive growth and social development" (Bunch and Valeo 62). Also, when placed in classes or environments with their peers, students who have disabilities can learn what is acceptable and what is not. When surrounded only by other students who do not know how to act in society, a student will never learn how to behave. "Many behaviors are learned quickly through observation and imitation of others. Typical peers provide these students with positive role models" (Bunch and Valeo 62).




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