The trickiest question for educationists and trainers in the field of education concerns the approaches and mechanisms to foster the learning abilities of students with mental disabilities. It is quite difficult to enhance collective learning for students with mental disabilities, especially when these students are incorporated in collective learning environments. One of the reasons why it is difficult to establish a highly inclusive learning environment in such situations is the great variation in the learning or the synthesis of concepts from the mental sense. Students with mental disabilities like autism seem to have difficulty in grasping concepts compared to normal students.
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Another variation aspect evident in the behavior of the students with mental disabilities is the variation in behavior and objectivity in learning. However, research in the academic field keeps pointing to the establishment of learning environments that enhance inclusion to increase the learning capabilities of the mentally challenged students. This paper explores the issue of the development of an inclusive learning environment for students with disabilities. In the paper, it is argued that inclusive learning environments are critical for pacifying the learning difficulties exhibited by students with disabilities through the development of adaptive learning mechanisms in general classrooms.
The paper begins by presenting an overview of mental disability, especially the aspects of development in students with such disabilities and how these disabilities impede their learning abilities. Following this is the explanation of how the aspects of inclusion are fostered in the collective learning environment. What is important in this section is the exploration of various learning intervention techniques that help in bridging the gap of learning between the disabled students and the normal students and how this favors the mentally disabled. The last part of the paper explores the challenges of fostering inclusion in the learning environment. Here, the paper focuses on individual differences between the normal student and the mentally incapacitated students and the weaknesses of some of the learning intervention mechanisms.
Understanding disability and inclusive learning
There is a wide range of conditions that cause mental and physical disability in people during development. Examples of the physical and mental impairments that constitute disability and difficulty in learning include deafness, dump, poor development of the limbs, autism, and Asperger syndrome. Students with mental and physical complexities are often disadvantaged when placed with normal students or students who do not portray any physical or mental deformities. This is the reason why the experts in the field of special education have, for a long time, emphasized the development of secluded learning environments for the mentally and physically challenged students. The students with disabilities, especially the mentally challenged, exhibit great differences in behavior when compared to the normal students. One aspect of variation that is perhaps critical in learning and development is communication.
In their interactions with other people, students with mental disabilities exhibit higher levels of asocial and antisocial forms of behavior. This does not happen because they are willing to do so, but because of the level of coordination that is exhibited in their brains. The mentally disabled students portray the difficulties in aligning with the normal forms of communication as the developmental problems in their minds make them portray repetitive and complex forms of communication (McCray & McHatton, 2011). Therefore, communication between these students and their peers can hardly be complete unless through the deployment of learning forms that embrace intervention.
Norwich (2002) suggested several learning models that can be used to foster inclusion when it comes to general classrooms. These include full non-separatist inclusion, participation in the same place, focus on individual needs, and elective inclusion. The most exciting among these suggested models are full non-separatist inclusion that advocates for the continued sustenance of students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms. However, the weakness of this model is that it pays less attention to critical factors like social policies and legislations. In a similar sense, this model can be desirable because it gives the trainers room to respond to the issues of learning as they come out in the learning environment. This model has social attributes of learning and aligns with most of the findings of researches in the field. These indicate the validity of peer-networks that are developed on social grounds. This is the core of inclusive learning.
Research shows that perception plays a vital role in determining the achievements of inclusive learning for students with mental disabilities. The issue of perception is multifaceted in the sense that it touches on the side of the instructors, as well as the side of the students who are to accommodate the students under the inclusive learning programs. However, perceptions are often generated from the social environment. This implies that it is equally easy to change the perceptions, particularly when certain programs of inclusive learning in the given social environment have been rolled out. Fear drawn from the perceived complexities in attaining a functional, inclusive learning environment for students with mental disabilities is a significant factor in shaping the instructors’ general perception. One the other hand, perception on the side of the students can only be shaped by the level of confidence and guidance that is exhibited by the trainers of teachers. The more the normal or mentally upright students interact with the mentally disabled students, the more they become accommodating. This promotes cohesion and learning goals and objectives for the mentally disabled students (McCray & McHatton, 2011).
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Meyer and Rose (2000) reiterate the importance of comprehending the learner differences in the three brain systems. Attraction, motivation, and engagement of individuals are critical to the synthesis and release of response. This helps in the picturing of the issue of disability because disability is seen as something that falls along the continuum of differences rather than an issue that requires separate learning environments, methods, and materials. Therefore, flexibility in inclusive learning can be easily attained through an intense comprehension of the mechanisms of brain functioning and how they are reflected in the learners’ behavioral differences and differences in response to stimuli (Meyer & Rose 2000).
This observation finds justification in the research by Florian (2008), who observed that an important thing that distinguishes inclusive education from other forms of education is the acceptance of the differences that occur between the students and taking the differences as ordinary aspects of human development rather than shortfalls in the learning and interaction abilities of the students. The main differences between learners are found in learners’ responses to activities and tasks rather than the medical diagnosis that has often been used to categorize the mentally disabled students (Florian, 2008). Looking at this from the broader perspective of disability, it becomes evident that inclusive learning environments are quite complex in terms of the development of the physical attributes to capture the learning needs of the disabled and the psychological and social attributes. However, for students with mental disabilities, only the psychological and social attributes are given greater consideration.
Inclusion and learning abilities of the students with disabilities
According to Salend and Duhaney (1999), inclusion is a movement in the education sector that seeks to develop schools and other institutions within the social realms that are critical for meeting the needs of all learners. Here, the implication is that the learning environment that is created must have the capacity to accommodate students with varied learning abilities. Learning from each other’s differences is a key element when it comes to inclusion. Contrary to the embrace of special education and the separation of the learning environment between students with disabilities and those who are not disabled as witnessed in the 20th century, the 21st-century education sector views learning from a sociological point of view (Salend & Duhaney, 1999). McCray and McHatton (2011) observe that students with behavioral disorders can be effectively educated in regular classrooms provided that the other learners and the trainers accept and accommodate them. Thus, the development of the accommodative patterns of behavior can be seen as an intense psychological process. Accommodation here implies recognizing the bad aspects of behavior that the students portray and taking these behaviors as aspects of variation in terms of learning and socialization abilities rather than habits that cannot be changed.
Obiakor et al. (2012) observe that the rationale behind the establishment of an inclusive learning environment is that they enhance the learning capabilities of the student with mental disabilities through peer induced learning mechanisms. The justification of this attribute of learning lies in the quick pace at which the mentally disabled students grasp contents when placed in inclusive learning classes and classrooms compared to when they are isolated. Also, the placement of students with mental disabilities and the mentally upright students in general classrooms enhances the cognitive, social behaviors of the normal students in society (Salend & Duhaney, 1999).
One of the most difficult questions that are posed by researchers when it comes to the development of a learning environment that accommodates the mentally sound students and the students with mental disabilities concerns the level at which these students can learn from the differences that prevail between them (Salend & Duhaney, 1999). According to McCray and McHatton (2011), inclusive learning for students with mental disabilities is highly desirable because its benefits go far much beyond the classroom and the school setting. Backed by research findings, they argued that students who have special needs and who are incorporated in inclusive learning environments easily develop the positive aspects of socialization, especially with their peers beyond the school zone (McCray & McHatton, 2011).
When placed within inclusive learning classrooms and schools, the asocial and antisocial characters that are often exhibited by these students are often soaked up by the social aspects of behaviors that are exhibited by their peers. Therefore, the social relations from the school environment where inclusive learning is conducted often spill over to the social setup of the society. These students extend the kinds of interactive abilities that they develop from their peers in inclusive learning sessions in schools. Moreover, the level of understanding and acceptance of such students in the society is boosted as the perspectives of variation are breached due to continuous development of interaction patterns in general classrooms (McCray & McHatton, 2011).
Obiakor et al. (2012) ascertain the validity of inclusive learning environments when it comes to the promotion of social justice for the disabled students in the society. One critical aspect inherent in inclusive classrooms is the aspect of recognition and respect of the students with mental disability through the psychological constructs that are entrenched in the models of learning in the inclusive learning environment, like the peer-tutoring instructional method. Inclusion promotes a highly social environment within the realms of education. Still, it also promotes an ethical stance in the learning environment by instilling a considerate and caring behavior among the students. Therefore, it is evident that inclusive learning for disabled students goes far beyond the goals of enhancing students’ capacity to learn. It also attends to the goals and objectives of social interaction, which, in turn, extends students’ learning abilities (Obiakor et al., 2012).
What ought to be done to attain highly inclusive learning environments, which in turn promote the social course of learning in the society, is the embrace of proper placement. Proper placement, as brought about here, implies the instructors’ preparation to deal with specific cases of disability in inclusive learning sessions. For example, an inclusive learning session that includes students who are mentally disabled should have instructors who have intensive knowledge about the psychological attributes that can be used to bridge the differences in abilities to learn between the two strains of students and enabling one strain to learn from the other (Obiakor et al., 2012).
Causton-Theoharis and Theoharis (2009) observe that clustering many students with disabilities in inclusive learning sessions does not meet the real philosophy behind the idea of inclusion and learning through direct and indirect peer intervention. There is a need for the distribution of the mentally disabled students within the collective learning environment so that the mentally sound students can shape their learning abilities. This is necessary for positioning the learning environment to attain the learning goals as it appertains to the students with mental challenges in an inclusive learning environment. Evidence-supported research is important in ascertaining the desirable ratios in the inclusive learning environment by paying attention to the issues of age and the psychological constructs that are important for adaptive learning through peer support.
Cowley (2011) argues that the theoretical concepts are important in learning and should be captured in an inclusive learning environment. This environment seems to be practically oriented, particularly when it comes to mentally challenged students to grasp and re-synthesize content for continued learning. Therefore, a lot of emphasis has to be placed on content delivery to students with mental and learning disabilities. This cannot be achieved unless the programs designed to enhance inclusion in the learning environment intensify the learning program to broaden the conception of learning within inclusive classrooms. Such an exercise requires a higher deployment of innovation and creativity from the social, mental, and psychological sense. The prospects in the field of special education point to the elimination of exclusive learning by focusing on the attributes of learning for the disabled students that can effectively integrate with the learning abilities of the normal students for the sake of promoting learning potential for the mentally disabled students (Cowley, 2011).
Walton and Lloyd (2012) observe that inclusive learning should attain the attribute of inclusion where there is no separation of the learning content for the students. In this case, it is easy to assess the achievements attained by the mentally disabled students. The rationale behind this observation is that inclusion is meant to attain integration. Thus, aspects of isolation through the curriculum are highly undesirable. In this case, special education contents are supposed to be incorporated in the curriculum for regular education and not to exist side-by-side with the regular class curriculum. Feedback should also be encouraged in inclusive learning. Through feedback, the restructuring of the instructional methods is done to suppress the differences shown by students with mental disabilities (Kavale & Forness, 2000).
Challenges of embracing inclusion for a student with mental disabilities in a general learning environment
According to Hernández (n.d.), the challenges of placing children with mental disability in a collective learning environment range from policy to social constructs in the society and the real problems of the unpredictability of behavior within inclusive classrooms. Hornby (1999) observes that one of the challenges inherent in special education is the development of learning environments that accommodate students with different mental disabilities. The observation comes from the fact that educational policies in most countries in the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom, back the principle of inclusion. Students with special and educational needs are given priority in most policy areas in the education sector (Hornby, 1999).
According to Hernández (n.d.), inclusion requires a broader vision and the development of specific competencies for the instructors. Attending to learners with diverse needs in the same environment is an extremely complex exercise on the trainers’ side, irrespective of the learning interventions adopted by the trainers. It requires the intense deployment of learning, guidance, as well as the skills of assessing the students because of the fact that the students in such an environment exhibit a wide variation in terms of socialization and synthesis and comprehension of concepts (Hernández, n.d.). It takes a lot of time to design functional, inclusive learning classrooms because of the stress and strain that go into pairing the cognitive behaviors of the two sets of students in general classrooms. The complexity of learning on the side of trainers in a collective learning environment is expounded in the figure below.
From the figure, it is evident that the trainer in the inclusive learning environment is charged with the extra task of deploying innovation, as well as a high level of problem-solving skills in making necessary adjustments to the learning programs. This is done in a bid to cater to the needs of the regular students. These needs emanate from the incorporation of the mentally disabled students, besides catering for aspects of peer learning on the side of the mentally disabled students. This is one of the difficulties of structuring inclusive learning environments.
Norwich (2002) argues that inclusion as an aspect of learning in a learning environment that embraces diversity faces many challenges from the social and individual values that play out in the learning sector in most parts of the world. The implication here is that the attainment of higher levels of inclusion and efficiency in the bridging of differences in schools where students with disabilities are placed in similar classes with the mentally sound students. An example that can be given here in the cases of rejection and incompatibility is the greater variation in character and learning needs.
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The learning abilities of students with disabilities can be largely shaped by the acceptance and commitment to bridge the differences by placing them in regular or general classrooms. From the research conducted in the paper, it is evident that inclusive learning instills positive aspects of learning and interaction for students with mental disabilities. Through peer interactions, the differences in behavior and interaction are swallowed with the aspects of behavior that dominate the learning environment. The interactive abilities of the disabled students who are placed in the regular classroom also grow due to the extension of socialization with the normal students beyond the school environment. From the argument that is presented in the paper, it is worthwhile to say that the inclusion of students with disabilities in the regular school environment largely begins with the mindset of the people who are implementing such programs. There is a lot of optimism for the inclusive learning programs, although there are several hitches. Most of the hitches revolve around perception, unpredictability, and strains of attending to individual differences. This is largely seen as a perfect replacement for the special education classes.
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