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As part of a larger study, authors of relevant literature were asked to submit their definition of school inclusion. The content of these definitions was analyzed using qualitative methodology, and 7 themes emerged:

  1. placement in natural typical settings;
  2. all students together for instruction and learning;
  3. supports and modifications within general education to meet appropriate learner outcomes;
  4. belongingness, equal membership, acceptance, and being valued;
  5. collaborative integrated services by education teams;
  6. systemic philosophy or belief system;
  7. meshing general and special education into one unified system.
People walking in a field
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D

Unless services for students with significant disabilities reflect all of the first 5 themes, those services cannot be defined as reflecting school inclusion.

A major underpinning of the idea of inclusion is that Everyone Belongs. The continuum and least restrictive environment concepts, by their nature, encourage all kinds of assumptions about the "placement needs" of students with various types of challenges.

Inclusion starts with the assumption that all children belong in the general  classroom with their age peers in the school where they would typically go if they were not disabled. As Doug Biklen has pointed out, it is important to presume competence in all students. Never assume, for instance, a student who is not able to speak is unable to understand and learn. As Jeff and Cindy Strully said about their daughter Shawntell:

We just don't know what people are thinking when they have no reliable and consistent communication system. One day maybe Shawntell will have a communication system/method which will allow her to tell us what she is thinking. Until that time, we want everyone to talk to her and act as if she understands even though we may not know for sure. This is the high road to take on behalf of Shawntell.

As confirmed by Doug Biklen, Jeff Strully and Cindy Strully, the least dangerous assumption is to presume competence in all students.

Child in a classroom
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden