Proposed Study of Inclusion and Peer Acceptance of Students with Learning Disabilities

Table of Content

The mainstreaming movement began in 1975 with the passage of Public Law 94-142 (Education for All Handicapped Children Act). Since then, additional legislation has allowed for children with disabilities and special needs to be integrated into the regular education classroom setting through the concept of mainstreaming (Yell & Shriner, 1997). Though mainstreaming has been heralded as an effective way of improving the academic and social environment of children with learning disabilities, its success continues to raise questions concerning the quality of social interactions for children in the mainstreamed classroom (Helper, 1994).

One critical factor that has been identified across studies regardless of age and grade level is the importance of social skills for peer acceptance. It has been postulated that an inclusive environment in and of itself will not guarantee peer acceptance. For this to happen, students, disabled and non-disabled, must possess social skills (Buysee, et al., 2002) regardless of age and grade level, is the importance of social skills for peer acceptance. It has been postulated that an inclusive environment in and of itself will not guarantee peer acceptance. For this to happen, students, disabled and non-disabled, must possess social skills (Buysee, et al., 2002). As stated in The Child Health Foundations and Agencies Network (as cited in Buysee, et al., 2002), children who enter kindergarten without the requisite social and emotional skills often have difficulties with behavioral, academic, and social problems that can persist into adulthood. Likewise, a finding by Stiliadis and Wiener (1989) support the concept that the levels of social perception non-disabled students possess about disabled peers is directly related to the level of peer acceptance as it pertains to disabled peers. According to Guralnick and Groom (1988), the majority of children with disabilities with disabilities have significant peer-related social skill deficits that will hinder the development of meaningful friendships with non-disabled peers.

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            Proponents of inclusion have addressed not only the benefit of inclusion for a child with special needs, but also for genera l education students and teachers. Moore, Gilbreath, and Maiuri (1998) noted, “Inclusion, which is a philosophy of acceptance, belonging and community, also means that general education classes are structured to meet the needs of all the students in the class” (p.2). The authors express the necessity of meeting the needs of all students in the school system, not just those identified as having special needs. All students must have the support they need to succeed in school. Results of the study revealed that inclusion of students with disabilities had a positive effect on all parties involved, including non-disabled students, disabled students, and teachers (Moore, Gilbreath, & Maiuri, 1998).

            As inclusive education moves forward, educators and administrators are slowly changing their philosophical beliefs about the way we educate children with disabilities. Inclusion has promoted the need to reform the overall design of classrooms to welcome and provide a meaningful education to a range of diverse children (Shoho, Katims, & Wilks, 1997). The goal of inclusive schools is to mainstream students with exceptional needs in the general education classroom and reorganize the environment to meet the needs of all students.

            In order to fully understand and comprehend the impact of inclusion on peer acceptance, researchers must continue to investigate the relationship between the inclusive school environment and resultant peer relationships. Research thus far, as will be demonstrated in the review of related literature has been inconclusive as to the overall effect of inclusion on peer acceptance, with studies providing a mixture of findings. This research proposal will address the issue of inclusion and peer acceptance via mixed-methods study that utilizes peer acceptance inventories, naturalistic observations, and behavioral surveys.

Statement of the Problem
The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of inclusion on peer acceptance if children with learning disabilities.

Review of Literature

            Numerous studies exist pertaining to mainstreaming and its effect on the social interactions of disabled students and their non-disabled peers. The studies cited in this proposal contain data that either suggests negative findings of inclusion, mixed findings of inclusion, or support for inclusion. The literature reviewed for this study contains historical information relating to the success or failure of the inclusion (mainstreaming) movement. The focus of our literature review is how inclusion impacts peers acceptance of children with learning disabilities.

            Prior to Public Law 94-142, students with severe disabilities typically attended special schools or remained home. Students with mild disabilities attended general education classes without special education support. Today more than six million students with disabilities are educated in the United States according to the U.S. Commission on Special Education. Inclusion has become a topic of much debate among educators. According to Banjeri and Dailey (1995), the concept of inclusive educational programming is based on the premise that children with exceptional abilities and backgrounds be included in the general education classroom. Children with disabilities, when included with normally achieving students, may benefit both academically and socially from an integrated learning environment. Educators and administrators are slowly changing their philosophical beliefs regarding the way we educate children with disabilities as inclusive education moves forward.

Negative Findings of Inclusion
The debate over the advantages and disadvantages of inclusion of children with disabilities has been long and does not appear to be approaching an end. Both components and supporters of inclusion can find data to support their positions (Hines, 2001). Opponents of inclusion may argue that placing a disabled child in a regular education classroom causes further alienation and feelings of inferiority. Research based on a sixth grade student population in a full inclusion setting indicated that students classified as learning disabled rated themselves as being significantly lonelier than their non-disabled students were less likely to be included in the popular group when compared to non-disabled students. There was no significant difference, however between how the learning disabled students and the non-disabled students perceived their social competence.

            Larrivee and Home (1991) found similar differences in relation to peer acceptance. Students ranging from first grade through sixth grade were identified as mainstreamed students, low achievers, average achievers, or high achievers. Peer acceptance was measured using the Perception of Social Closeness Scales (PSCS) with each child “rating” every other child in his or her classroom. Results of the study indicated that the most accepted students were the high achievers, average achievers, low achievers, and then mainstreamed students, respectively. There was not a significant difference in peer acceptance between the groups designated as mainstreamed and low achievers or between the groups designated as mainstreamed and low achievers, or between the high achievers and average achievers. There was, however, a significant difference in peer acceptance between the mainstreamed and low achiever groups versus the high and average achiever groups.

            Guralnick and Groom (1988) lend further support to the notion that inclusion alone is not significant to bridge the social gap between disabled children and their non-disabled peers. The research was conducted with a group of 59 children enrolled in a preschool program, of which seven were classified as having a disability. Results indicated that younger children interacted with disabled peers more often than older children. As children became older and more familiar with their classmates, the normally developing children became more likely to spend time in social interactions with peers. The engagement of social interactions of students with disabilities did not change over the school year. Research also indicated that children with disabilities participated less often in social settings than their normally developing peers. Typically developing students tended to want to interact with other students who were developing in the same manner and shared the same social setting.

            The effects of social setting of friendship formation was further studied by Buysee and Bailey (1993) with a sample of preschool children (with or without disabilities), enrolled in an inclusive preschool program. Research discovered that although children with disabilities may benefit socially from an inclusive placement, they are also at a relatively high risk for peer rejection. The review concluded that typically developing preschoolers preferred to form friendships with typically developing peers.

            A study conducted in 2001 (Cutts & Sigafoos) focused specifically on nine adolescents with intellectual disabilities attending a regular high school. The study demonstrates the relationship between social competences and the amount and type of peer interaction of adolescents in an inclusive setting. Children with intellectual disabilities had a tendency to interact more frequently with peers who also had intellectual disabilities. Despite the deficits in social skills demonstrated by adolescents with intellectual disabilities, the children had positive interactions with peers approximately half the time. The results did not suggest that social competence significantly influenced the quantity and quality of peer interaction.

Mixed Findings of Inclusion
In contrast to the study conducted by Pavri and Liftig (2000), Vaughn, Elbaum, and Schumm (1996) found that learning disabled students did not show a significant increase in the loneliness rating as compared to other groups. The study was conducted with 64 students from the second, third, and fourth grades. The students were classified as either learning disabled, low achievers, or average/high achievers. While overall peer acceptance ratings were lower for the learning disabled and low achiever students, students with learning disabilities doubled the number of reciprocal friendships from fall to spring, and those friendships included students from all three categories. It was concluded that students with learning disabilities in the inclusive setting did better socially than students from previous studies in resource room settings; the loneliness rating did not increase and the number of reciprocal friendships did increase. However, the findings were somewhat mixed due to an increase from fall to spring in the number of learning disabled students that were rated as being “not liked” by peers.

            Research conducted by Cook and Semmel (1999) also resulted in somewhat mixed findings. Their study focused on students in second through sixth grade in an inclusive setting. Of the 29 students identified as moderately disabled, 26 were identified as having Specific Learning Disabilities. Peers were nominated on three scales: Work With nominations, Play With nominations, and Everyday Playmate nominations. Results indicated that learning disabled students had significantly lower Work With nomination scores than their non-disable peers. However, students with learning disabilities that were part of an inclusive setting were better accepted by their peers on both Play With nominations and Everyday Playmate nominations than were their counterparts who were not part of an inclusive setting. As in the previous study by Vaughn et. Al. (1996), these findings appear indicative of improved social acceptance in an inclusive environment.

Support of Inclusion
Putnam and Markovchick (1996) had strong positive results with inclusion and peer acceptance. The study consisted of 41 special education students, two-thirds of whom were classified as learning disabled, and 417 regular education students. There were three classroom conditions: cooperative teaching (inclusion) and two separate competitive teaching classrooms. The conclusion of the study reflected a significant positive change in the desire to work with a special education classmate in the inclusive setting, with 27% of the special education students being perceived differently from fall to spring. There was also a significant increase (38%) of special education students being ranked more positively. Data indicated that more than 50% of special education students involved in the study believed they learned more in the inclusive setting that classmates treated them well, and that regular education students had been friendlier than in previous years. They also reported making new friends that were regular education students and believed their own behavior improved during the year. Teachers reported that inclusion appeared to improve the relationships between regular education students and special education students, as well.

As evidenced in the literature review, a great deal of study has been done on mainstreaming and its effect on peer interactions. To summarize the review of literature on inclusive education, results are mixed as to the benefit of inclusion on peer relations. Although studies exist to support the concept of inclusion, there are also studies that indicate mixed findings, and even negate the positive aspects of inclusion. At best, studies can be termed as inconclusive in their findings. The purpose of this study is to lend further credence to previous findings, either success or failure, of inclusion as it relates to peer acceptance of disabled students by non-disabled peers.


Non-directional Hypothesis
The researcher believes than an inclusive classroom environment will have an effect on peer relationships of students with learning disabilities.


Behaviors will be recorded on a piece of paper with the date and time of the observation noted. Researchers anticipate this approach will allow for a broader range of behaviors and interactions to be identified in a format that allows for a much more vivid description of the behaviors.


            Information necessary for the study will be gathered over an eight-and-half month period, from mid August until April. The school year begins in August and ends in May. The researcher believes allowing the students two weeks to settle back into a school routine and learn who their classmates are will result in more valid findings. By ending study in April, the researcher will have a month to analyze date before the end of the school year. The teachers and students who are participating in the study will still be available if clarification is needed on information obtained.

            The Peer Attitudes Toward the Handicapped Scales will be administered to all participating students at two different times during the school year. The scale will be given in September to create a baseline of student opinion and given again in April to capture student opinion after eight months in an inclusive classroom environment. Results from the two administrators of the scale will be statistically scored and analyzed. Of interest is any significant change in student opinions regarding the degree or extent to which disabled peers should be included in school groups. An individual who has been thoroughly trained in testing concepts and is extremely knowledgeable of this particular measure will administer the test. Guidelines set forth in the testing and scoring manuals will be adhered to at all time.

            Information will also be gathered from the participating teachers during the September through April time period. However, instead of using the School Social Behavior Scales only twice during the period of the study, teachers will be asked to complete the measure for each identified learning disabled student once every two weeks. All of the participating teachers will receive orientation on the test and given clear and detailed directions as to its proper use. The researchers will collect completed scales on a weekly basis. Members of the researcher team will be available at all times if a teacher has a question regarding the measurement or its administration. At the end of the study, data from the scale will be statistically computed and analyzed. The results will then be used in conjunction with the data from the student scales to measure the disparity or similarity between teachers and students pertaining to peer acceptance. The researchers agree to use the test for its intended purpose and comply with the procedures prescribed in the testing and scoring manuals.

The research team will conduct naturalistic observations over the eight-month period. Research team members will observe in the school setting twice a week, with one team member per class. Team members will observe in the school setting twice a week, with one team member per class. Team members will rotate class assignments and times in order to minimize possible observer bias. Social interactions of students with learning disabilities will be observed at 15-minute intervals for a time span of one hour and recorded on a standard form. The form would contain headings for social behaviors of particular interest including interactions such as friendly greetings, derogatory statements, yelling, smiling, cooperativeness, pushing, hitting, and etcetera. These behaviors would be classified as being verbal, nonverbal, positive, and/or negative in nature. Information gathered through the naturalistic observation process will be organized according to type of contact (verbal and nonverbal), nature of contact (positive or negative), and frequency. The data will then be used in union with the aforementioned measures to report the findings of the study.


            This proposed study on inclusion and peer acceptance could provide beneficial information on the understanding of how disabled students develop meaningful relationships with their non-disable peers. One of the possible limitations of this study would be lack of teacher participation due to time constraints related to completing the measure. Yet, another limitation may be that the teachers do not have a complete understanding of how to use the identified measure. This is a possible limitation even though steps have been identified in the procedures to attempt to minimize this from occurring. Funding and time constraints are other possible areas concern. Inability to secure the desired number of observation within the school due to various reasons (i.e., school holiday, state required testing, emergency storm days, etc.) may also affect the strength of any conclusions that were developed using research findings due to an insufficient amount of data.


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