Dorothy Lepkowska reports from the annual American Educational Research Association conference in San Diego
Children with special needs who are being taught in mainstream schools will interact better with their classmates if they are given specialised help, according to research.
Classroom assistants who receive training in "bridge-building" are up to 25 times more likely to help youngsters with disabilities to play and work effectively with their peers, than support staff who are unfamiliar with such strategies.
A study from the University of Wisconsin found that "without proper training, paraprofessionals can behave in ways that unwittingly isolate and segregate the students whom they support".
It added that "the mere placement of students with disabilities in the classroom is not sufficient to foster meaningful levels of interaction between students with and without disabilities".
Researchers Julie Causton-Theoharis and Kimber Malmgren found that when classroom assistants were taught how to encourage children to play with other pupils in the classroom and work with partners, other classmates joined in and the special needs child became gradually assimilated into the group.
The training included the use of strategies like seating the child with special needs closer to their classmates, actively involving them in lessons and moving away from the pupil when appropriate to allow them to mix with their classmates.
"A lack of adequate training has serious implications for the lives of students with disabilities since interaction is essential to establish feelings of belonging, self-esteem and improved academic success," the report concluded.