Questioning “Mainstreaming”

Parents of children with disabilities are increasingly facing off against disability rights organizations when it comes to education, the Wall Street Journal reports. While advocacy organizations for the disabled continue to push "mainstreaming," or having disabled kids spend most of their school day in integrated classrooms, parents of kids with autism, Down syndrome, and other learning disabilities say their children are happier, more social, and learn more when they attend special classes and schools. In New Jersey, where only 41 percent of disabled kids are fully integrated, an unlikely alliance has developed between disability rights groups and tax cutters, who see mainstreaming as a cheaper way to educate high-need kids. On the other side are parents like Mary Kaplowitz, whose son Zachary is autistic:

She says his preschool classmates rarely played with him and he came home from summer camp asking why the nondisabled children laughed at him. On a visit, she saw them drawing away from her son.

"They shunned him and it broke my heart," says Ms. Kaplowitz. Earlier this year, she and other parents fought successfully to preserve separate special-education classes in Kingston like the one Zachary, now 9 years old, attends at a local elementary school.

The Journal article contains more powerful personal stories like this one, but it doesn’t distinguish between physical disabilities and learning disabilities. Integration remains a good option for some physically disabled kids who are just as able to learn and socialize as their "mainstream" peers. The bottom line is that special programs for the disabled shouldn’t be cut because of budget concerns: Families and educators should have many options when it comes to educating children with special needs.

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