Inclusion of children with special needs can be skin deep. Schools may have convincing policies in place, but social integration of children with disabilities can be extremely difficult to achieve.
When five deaf and 41 hearing children in two Year 56 classes in an inner-London school were asked about their friendships and interactions, the elusiveness of inclusion was striking. While the deaf children were rated as neither more nor less popular than any others in the class, interviews with the hearing children unearthed the extent of their social acceptability. Deaf children with good speech skills who spent more time in the mainstream classroom were preferred to those whose speech was more difficult to understand and who spent more time in a special unit.
Though they considered the daf children friends, the hearing children didn't choose to play with them or invite them home. Although they referred to them as "the same as normal people", the hearing children said it was difficult to interact with the deaf children because "they can't hear". For their part, the deaf children tended to stay within their own peer group. But they insisted that communication and comprehension problems they had in and out of the classroom were not serious.
The researchers recommend that schools develop communication methods such as signing, and reduce class sizes to make it easier for deaf and hearing children to interact more.
Experiences of Deaf Children in an Inner London Mainstream School by Jenny Olsson, Ursula Pretzlik and Terezinha Nunes, Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL.