What is Mainstreaming in Special Education?

If you're a parent of a special needs child, you may have heard of the term "mainstreaming". But what exactly is mainstreaming in special education? In this article, we'll dive into what mainstreaming is, how it works, and its benefits.

Alan Hollander
December 15, 2023

What is Mainstreaming in Special Education?

If you're a parent of a special needs child, you may have heard of the term "mainstreaming". But what exactly is mainstreaming in special education? In this article, we'll dive into what mainstreaming is, how it works, and its benefits.

Mainstreaming in Special Education

In the field of special education, mainstreaming plays a vital role in providing inclusive educational opportunities for individuals with special needs. This section will delve into the concept of mainstreaming and the broader concept of inclusion.

Understanding Mainstreaming

Mainstreaming refers to the practice of integrating students with special needs into general education classrooms. It involves placing students with disabilities alongside their typically developing peers for at least part of their school day. The goal of mainstreaming is to provide students with disabilities access to the same educational experiences and opportunities as their peers, fostering a sense of belonging and promoting academic and social growth.

Mainstreaming allows students with special needs to receive instruction in a general education setting while receiving necessary support and accommodations. It encourages a collaborative approach between general education and special education teachers, facilitating the sharing of resources and strategies to meet the diverse needs of all students. By being exposed to a variety of teaching styles and peer interactions, students with disabilities can benefit from a more inclusive and well-rounded education.

The Concept of Inclusion

Inclusion is a broader concept that encompasses mainstreaming. It goes beyond mere placement in a general education setting and focuses on creating a supportive and accepting environment for all students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Inclusion emphasizes the belief that all students have the right to be educated together, and that diversity should be celebrated and valued.

In an inclusive education system, students with special needs are not only placed in regular classrooms but are actively engaged in the learning process. Teachers and support staff work collaboratively to provide necessary accommodations, modifications, and individualized instruction to meet each student's unique needs. Inclusion promotes a sense of belonging, fosters positive relationships, and encourages the development of empathy and understanding among all students.

While mainstreaming and inclusion share similar objectives, it's important to note that they are not synonymous. Mainstreaming focuses on placing students with disabilities in general education classrooms, whereas inclusion encompasses a broader philosophy and approach to education that values and supports the diversity of all students.

Understanding the concept of mainstreaming and the broader concept of inclusion is essential for parents and educators alike. By promoting an inclusive educational environment, we can create a more equitable and enriching educational experience for all students.

Free Teacher Asking a Question to the Class Stock Photo

Evolution of Special Education

Historical Perspective

To understand mainstreaming in special education, it is important to examine its historical roots. Special education has come a long way, evolving from a time when students with disabilities were often isolated and excluded from the general education system.

In the past, students with disabilities were commonly educated separately in specialized institutions or classrooms. This approach was based on the belief that individuals with disabilities required a different educational environment and instructional methods. However, this segregation often led to limited opportunities for social interaction and restricted access to a comprehensive education.

Shift Towards Inclusion

Over time, there has been a notable shift towards inclusion in special education. The concept of inclusion emphasizes the importance of providing students with disabilities the opportunity to learn alongside their non-disabled peers in general education classrooms. This shift recognizes the benefits of diverse learning environments, both academically and socially.

Inclusive education promotes the idea that students with disabilities can succeed when provided with appropriate support and accommodations within the general education setting. This approach focuses on individualized learning plans, modifications, and adaptations to ensure that all students can actively participate and thrive.

The shift towards inclusion has been driven by a growing body of research and a deeper understanding of the benefits of inclusion for students with disabilities. Studies have shown that inclusive education can lead to improved academic outcomes, increased socialization, and enhanced self-esteem for students with disabilities.

While the journey towards full inclusion is ongoing, the evolution of special education has brought about important changes in the way students with disabilities are educated. The shift towards mainstreaming acknowledges the rights of individuals with disabilities to access quality education alongside their peers, fostering a more inclusive and equitable society.

It is essential for parents and educators to understand the concept of mainstreaming in special education and work together to create supportive environments that promote the success and well-being of all students.

Benefits of Mainstreaming

Mainstreaming in special education offers various benefits for students with special needs. By being part of a general education classroom, these students have the opportunity to experience both academic and social-emotional benefits.

Academic Benefits

One of the key academic benefits of mainstreaming is the exposure to a curriculum that aligns with grade-level expectations. Students with special needs can engage in the same educational content as their peers, fostering academic growth and development. This inclusion in a general education setting provides access to a wider range of subjects, specialized teachers, and resources that may not be available in self-contained special education classrooms.

Furthermore, mainstreaming facilitates peer learning and collaboration. Students with special needs can learn from their typically developing peers, benefiting from their strengths and knowledge. This interaction promotes a supportive learning environment where students can exchange ideas, ask questions, and engage in group activities. Research has shown that peer interaction positively impacts the academic performance of students with special needs, leading to improved learning outcomes and increased motivation to succeed.

Social and Emotional Benefits

In addition to academic growth, mainstreaming also offers significant social and emotional benefits for students with special needs. By being part of a general education classroom, these students have the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with their typically developing peers. Interacting with a diverse group of students fosters social skills, empathy, and understanding, promoting a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Mainstreaming also helps to reduce the stigma associated with special needs. When students with special needs are included in the general education setting, it normalizes their presence and promotes acceptance among their peers. This inclusive environment encourages positive attitudes towards diversity and promotes a culture of inclusivity and respect.

Furthermore, being part of a mainstream classroom allows students with special needs to develop important life skills, such as self-advocacy, independence, and problem-solving. The exposure to different social situations and experiences helps them build resilience and adaptability, preparing them for future challenges.

It is important to note that while mainstreaming provides numerous benefits, it is essential to ensure that appropriate support structures and resources are in place to meet the individual needs of students with special needs. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) play a crucial role in tailoring the educational experience to meet the unique requirements of each student. Collaborative efforts between parents, educators, and support professionals are vital in creating an environment that maximizes the benefits of mainstreaming in special education.

Challenges and Considerations

While mainstreaming in special education offers numerous benefits, it is not without its challenges and considerations. In order to ensure the success of the mainstreaming process, it is important to address individualized education plans (IEPs) and provide the necessary support structures and resources.

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) play a crucial role in supporting students with special needs in mainstream classrooms. These plans are personalized documents that outline the specific educational goals, accommodations, and modifications required to meet the unique needs of each student.

IEPs are developed through a collaborative effort involving parents, educators, and other professionals. It is essential to regularly review and update these plans to ensure they accurately reflect the student's progress and evolving needs. By tailoring the education to the individual, IEPs help create an inclusive environment that promotes learning and growth.

Support Structures and Resources

To facilitate successful mainstreaming in special education, it is important to have proper support structures and resources in place. This includes ensuring that teachers and school staff are adequately trained and equipped to meet the diverse needs of students with special needs.

Support can take various forms, such as additional teacher assistants or aides in the classroom, specialized training for teachers in inclusive education strategies, and accessible learning materials. Schools should also consider providing assistive technologies and adaptive equipment to enhance the learning experience for students with special needs.

Collaboration and communication between parents, educators, and support professionals are vital in identifying and addressing the specific needs of each student. By working together, they can create an environment that fosters inclusivity and provides the necessary support for students to thrive.

By recognizing the importance of individualized education plans (IEPs) and implementing effective support structures and resources, the challenges associated with mainstreaming in special education can be overcome. It is through these efforts that students with special needs can fully participate in mainstream classrooms, benefiting from both academic and social experiences.

Collaboration between Parents and Educators

Collaboration between parents and educators plays a crucial role in ensuring the success of mainstreaming in special education. By working together, they can create a supportive and inclusive environment that meets the unique needs of students with special needs. Two key aspects of this collaboration are effective communication and advocacy, as well as building a supportive network.

Communication and Advocacy

Open and effective communication between parents and educators is essential for the success of mainstreaming in special education. Regular communication helps establish a partnership where both parties can share valuable insights and information about the student, their progress, and any concerns that may arise.

Some strategies for fostering effective communication include:

  • Regular Meetings: Scheduling regular meetings, such as parent-teacher conferences or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, to discuss the student's progress, goals, and any necessary modifications or accommodations.
  • Clear Channels of Communication: Establishing clear channels of communication, such as email, phone calls, or a communication notebook, to facilitate ongoing communication between parents and educators.
  • Active Listening: Actively listening to each other's perspectives, concerns, and suggestions, creating a collaborative atmosphere that values the input of both parents and educators.

Advocacy is another crucial aspect of collaboration. Parents and educators must work together to advocate for the needs of the student, ensuring that appropriate services, accommodations, and resources are provided. This can include advocating for necessary supports in the classroom, specialized instruction, or additional resources to enhance the student's learning experience.

Building a Supportive Network

Building a supportive network is vital for parents and educators involved in mainstreaming in special education. By connecting with other parents and professionals in the field, they can share experiences, gain insights, and access valuable resources.

Some ways to build a supportive network include:

  • Parent Support Groups: Joining parent support groups or online communities where parents can connect with others who have similar experiences and share knowledge and advice.
  • Professional Networks: Educators can join professional networks or organizations dedicated to special education, attending conferences or workshops to learn from experts and collaborate with colleagues.

By collaborating and building a supportive network, parents and educators can create a strong foundation for effective mainstreaming in special education. This collaboration helps ensure that students with special needs receive the individualized support and resources they require to thrive in inclusive educational settings.

Making Mainstreaming Successful

To ensure the success of mainstreaming in special education, individualized approaches and ongoing evaluation and support are essential.

Individualized Approaches

One of the key factors in making mainstreaming successful is adopting individualized approaches for students with special needs. Each student has unique abilities, challenges, and learning styles, and it's crucial to tailor the education plan to meet their specific needs.

Teachers and educators should collaborate with parents, special education professionals, and other relevant stakeholders to develop Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students. These plans outline specific goals, accommodations, and modifications that will help the student thrive in the mainstream classroom. By taking into account the student's strengths, weaknesses, and learning preferences, teachers can provide appropriate support and adaptations to facilitate their academic progress.

Additionally, implementing strategies such as differentiated instruction, assistive technology, and specialized teaching techniques can further enhance the individualized approach. These strategies can help address the unique learning needs of students with special needs, ensuring that they receive the necessary support to succeed academically and socially.

Ongoing Evaluation and Support

Ongoing evaluation and support are crucial components of successful mainstreaming in special education. Regular assessment and monitoring of the student's progress allow educators to identify areas of strength and areas that may require additional support or intervention. This evaluation should be done using multiple assessment methods to provide a comprehensive understanding of the student's abilities and progress.

Collaboration between parents, educators, and special education professionals is vital in providing ongoing support to students. Open and frequent communication helps to address any concerns or challenges that may arise. By sharing information and insights, parents and educators can work together to ensure consistency in support strategies and interventions both at school and home.

Furthermore, providing a supportive network for students is essential. This network may include school counselors, therapists, and other professionals who can provide additional guidance and assistance. Creating a positive and inclusive classroom environment where all students feel valued and accepted is also crucial for the success of mainstreaming.

By embracing individualized approaches and providing ongoing evaluation and support, the mainstreaming experience can be more effective and beneficial for students with special needs. It requires a collaborative effort from parents, educators, and the broader support network to ensure that every student receives the necessary resources and accommodations to thrive in the mainstream classroom.


What types of disabilities are included in mainstreaming?

Mainstreaming can include students with a wide range of disabilities, including physical disabilities, learning disabilities, and developmental disabilities.

How do teachers ensure that students with disabilities are receiving the support they need?

Special education teachers and aides work closely with general education teachers to ensure that students with disabilities are receiving the support they need. This may include modifications to the curriculum, additional classroom accommodations, and individualized instruction.

Is mainstreaming always the best option for students with disabilities?

Mainstreaming is not always the best option for every student with a disability. Each student's needs must be carefully considered when making decisions about their education. In some cases, a more specialized setting may be necessary to meet a student's unique needs.

What if my child is struggling in a mainstream classroom?

If your child is struggling in a mainstream classroom, it's important to communicate with their teachers and school administrators. Additional supports or accommodations may be necessary to help your child succeed in the classroom.

Are there any potential challenges or drawbacks to mainstreaming?

While there are many benefits to mainstreaming, there can also be potential challenges or drawbacks. Some students may require more individualized attention than can be provided in a general education classroom. Additionally, some non-disabled students may struggle to understand and accept their disabled peers. It's important for schools to address these issues as they arise and provide ongoing support for all students involved in the mainstreaming process.


Mainstreaming in special education can be a powerful tool for improving academic and social outcomes for students with disabilities. By providing students with disabilities with access to the same curriculum and social opportunities as their non-disabled peers, mainstreaming can help students with disabilities develop important skills and knowledge, build social networks, and develop a positive self-image. If you're considering mainstreaming for your child, be sure to talk to your child's school to learn more about how mainstreaming works and how it can benefit your child.