What is Mainstreaming in Special Education?

If you are new to the world of special education, you may have heard the term "mainstreaming" tossed around. But what does it mean?

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Published By Ruben Kesherim
December 5, 2023

What is Mainstreaming in Special Education?

Mainstreaming in Special Education

Mainstreaming in special education is an approach that aims to provide students with disabilities the opportunity to learn alongside their typically developing peers in a general education setting. This practice promotes inclusion, socialization, and academic growth for students with special needs. Understanding the concept and definition of mainstreaming is essential for parents and educators advocating for their child's education.

Understanding the Concept of Mainstreaming

Mainstreaming refers to the integration of students with disabilities into regular classrooms, allowing them to participate in the same educational activities as their non-disabled peers to the fullest extent possible. The focus is on creating an inclusive environment that fosters acceptance, understanding, and equal opportunities for all students.

The goal of mainstreaming is to provide students with special needs access to the general education curriculum, while also addressing their individualized educational goals and accommodations. By being part of a diverse classroom, students with disabilities have the chance to interact with their peers, develop social skills, and build relationships that can positively impact their overall development.

The Definition of Mainstreaming in Special Education

The definition of mainstreaming in special education encompasses the practice of placing students with disabilities in regular classrooms for a significant portion of their school day. However, it is important to note that mainstreaming does not imply a one-size-fits-all approach. The specific implementation of mainstreaming can vary based on the unique needs and abilities of each student.

To ensure the success of mainstreaming, it is crucial to consider several factors, such as the individual needs and abilities of the student, the availability of support services and accommodations, and collaboration between general education and special education professionals. These factors play a vital role in creating an inclusive and supportive environment that promotes the academic and social growth of students with disabilities.

By embracing the concept and definition of mainstreaming, parents, educators, and advocates can work together to ensure a successful and inclusive educational experience for students with disabilities. Emphasizing the benefits of mainstreaming, such as improved socialization, academic growth, and self-esteem, can further encourage the implementation of this approach.

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Benefits of Mainstreaming

Mainstreaming in special education offers numerous benefits for students with disabilities. By being included in general education classrooms, these students have the opportunity to experience the following advantages:

Inclusion and Socialization

One of the primary benefits of mainstreaming is the promotion of inclusion and socialization. When students with disabilities are included in the same classroom as their typically developing peers, it fosters a sense of belonging and acceptance. They have the opportunity to interact and form meaningful relationships with their peers, building social skills and enhancing their overall social development.

In a mainstream setting, students with disabilities are more likely to be exposed to a diverse range of individuals, allowing them to learn from different perspectives and develop empathy. This inclusive environment can also help break down stereotypes and promote a more inclusive society as a whole.

Academic Growth and Achievement

Mainstreaming can also have a positive impact on the academic growth and achievement of students with disabilities. When placed in general education classrooms, they have access to the same curriculum as their peers, which can enhance their academic skills and knowledge.

In this inclusive setting, students with disabilities have the opportunity to learn from highly qualified general education teachers who are skilled in adapting instruction to meet the diverse needs of their students. They can benefit from differentiated instruction, modifications, and accommodations that are tailored to their individual learning styles and abilities. Research has shown that students who are mainstreamed often make significant academic progress and achieve higher levels of academic success.

Self-Esteem and Emotional Development

Mainstreaming can positively impact the self-esteem and emotional development of students with disabilities. Being included in general education classrooms allows them to experience success, build confidence, and develop a positive self-image. They can see themselves as capable learners who can contribute to the classroom community.

Furthermore, being exposed to age-appropriate social interactions and having positive relationships with their peers can enhance their overall emotional well-being. Students with disabilities can develop a sense of belonging and acceptance, which positively impacts their self-esteem and overall emotional development.

By considering these benefits, parents and educators can make informed decisions about mainstreaming as an option for students with disabilities. It is important to remember that the effectiveness of mainstreaming may vary depending on the individual needs and abilities of each student.

Different Approaches to Mainstreaming

Mainstreaming in special education encompasses various approaches that aim to provide students with disabilities the opportunity to learn alongside their typically developing peers. Let's explore three common approaches to mainstreaming: full inclusion, partial inclusion, and resource rooms.

Full Inclusion

Full inclusion is an approach that promotes the integration of students with disabilities into general education classrooms to the maximum extent possible. In this model, students with special needs spend the majority of their school day alongside their typically developing peers. The goal is to provide a supportive environment where students can actively engage in the general curriculum while receiving any necessary accommodations or support services.

Advantages Challenges
Promotes socialization and acceptance May require additional support and resources
Fosters a sense of belonging and community Potential challenges in meeting individual needs
Provides access to a broader range of academic opportunities Strain on general education teachers

Partial Inclusion

Partial inclusion, also known as mainstreaming with pull-out services, combines elements of both inclusive and specialized education. In this approach, students with disabilities spend part of their school day in a general education classroom and receive specialized instruction or support services in a separate setting. The amount of time spent in each setting may vary based on the individual needs of the student.

Advantages Challenges
Allows for targeted instruction and support services Potential feelings of segregation or exclusion
Balances individualized attention with socialization opportunities Requires effective coordination between general and special education teachers
Provides flexibility to meet diverse needs May result in fragmented learning experiences

Resource Rooms

Resource rooms are specialized classrooms or designated spaces where students with disabilities receive instruction and support from special education teachers. In this approach, students spend the majority of their school day in a general education classroom but may periodically visit the resource room for targeted instruction, assistance with specific skills, or additional support.

Advantages Challenges
Provides individualized instruction and support Potential limited exposure to general education peers
Offers a structured and supportive environment Requires effective coordination between general and special education teachers
Allows for focused skill development May unintentionally create a sense of segregation

The choice of approach depends on various factors such as the student's individual needs, the availability of support services, and the level of collaboration between general education and special education teams. Successful mainstreaming in special education requires a comprehensive understanding of each student's abilities, the implementation of appropriate accommodations and modifications, and ongoing collaboration among all stakeholders involved.

Factors to Consider

When it comes to mainstreaming in special education, several factors need to be carefully considered to ensure the best possible educational experience for individuals with special needs. These factors include individual needs and abilities, support services and accommodations, and collaboration between general education and special education.

Individual Needs and Abilities

Each student with special needs has unique strengths, challenges, and learning styles. It is crucial to consider their individual needs and abilities when determining the appropriate level of mainstreaming. This involves assessing their academic, social, and emotional capabilities to determine the appropriate level of support and accommodations required to facilitate their inclusion in general education classrooms.

By understanding the individual needs and abilities of students, educators can tailor their approach to instruction, providing necessary modifications or specialized interventions to ensure optimal learning outcomes. It is important to remember that individual needs may evolve over time, necessitating ongoing assessment and adjustment of the mainstreaming approach.

Support Services and Accommodations

To facilitate successful mainstreaming, the provision of appropriate support services and accommodations is essential. These services can include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, special education teaching assistants, or other related services. Support services are designed to address the individualized needs of students and provide additional assistance to ensure their academic success and social integration.

Accommodations, on the other hand, are modifications made to the learning environment or curriculum to meet the specific needs of students. These accommodations can include extended time for assignments or tests, preferential seating, assistive technology, or visual aids. By implementing these supports and accommodations, students can fully engage in the general education setting and access the curriculum on an equal basis with their peers.

Collaboration Between General Education and Special Education

Collaboration between general education teachers and special education professionals is vital for effective mainstreaming. By working together, these educators can ensure that the needs of students with special needs are met while promoting a positive and inclusive classroom environment.

Collaboration involves open communication, sharing of information, and joint planning and decision-making. General education teachers can provide valuable insights into the curriculum and classroom dynamics, while special education professionals can offer expertise on individualized instruction and strategies to support students with exceptionalities.

Regular collaboration meetings, co-teaching opportunities, and professional development sessions can enhance the collaboration between these two groups of educators. By fostering a collaborative environment, the strengths and expertise of each educator can be leveraged to create an inclusive and supportive educational experience.

By considering these factors, educators and stakeholders can develop a comprehensive approach to mainstreaming in special education that supports the diverse needs of students and promotes their academic growth, socialization, and overall well-being.

Challenges and Considerations

While mainstreaming in special education offers numerous benefits, it is important to acknowledge the challenges and considerations that come with implementing this approach. Some key areas to consider include individualized education plans (IEPs), teacher training and support, and transition planning.

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) play a crucial role in the success of mainstreaming students with special needs. An IEP is a written document that outlines the specific goals, accommodations, and support services required to meet the individual needs of a student with disabilities.

Creating effective IEPs requires collaboration between parents, teachers, and other professionals involved in the student's education. These plans must be tailored to address the unique challenges and strengths of each student. Regular IEP meetings and reviews are essential to ensure that the plan remains relevant and effective over time.

Teacher Training and Support

For successful mainstreaming, it is essential to provide teachers with the necessary training and support. Teachers need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms.

Training should focus on strategies for differentiated instruction, behavior management techniques, and adapting curriculum materials to accommodate various learning styles. Ongoing professional development opportunities and access to resources such as assistive technology can further enhance teachers' ability to provide quality education to all students.

Transition Planning

Transition planning is another critical aspect of mainstreaming in special education. As students progress through different grade levels or prepare to enter post-secondary education or employment, careful planning is required to ensure a smooth transition.

Transition plans should include goals and strategies that support students' successful integration into various settings. This may involve collaboration with vocational counselors, community agencies, and parents to identify appropriate resources, services, and opportunities. By focusing on transition planning, students can develop the necessary skills and confidence to navigate the next phase of their education or career.

By addressing these challenges and considerations, mainstreaming in special education can be implemented effectively, promoting the educational and social growth of students with disabilities.


Mainstreaming is a complex and nuanced topic, but it is an important one to understand if you work in the field of special education. By providing students with special needs access to a regular education classroom, we can help them develop important social skills, increase their self-esteem, and achieve academic success. While there are challenges to mainstreaming, with proper support and resources, we can create a more inclusive learning environment for all students.