As the mother of a developmentally challenged child, I am fully aware there is two sides to this debate, however, I strongly believe in mainstreaming. Admittedly my stance is completely biased, and I realize the burden this classroom may be for the school. However, the benefits of being among age appropriate peers has done wonders, for both my child and me.
I was lucky enough to deliver a beautiful, healthy baby boy, with no apparent issues at birth. It was not until age two, that we began to realize there were some developmental issues. For the first two years I enjoyed being in the mom's club, bursting with pride as he hit every milestone on target, or even before! Once the language issue, consequently behavior issues, surfaced, I was out of the club. I made some poor choices, beginning with isolating him. By giving into the instinct to protect him from being judged, I did him a disservice; it took a long time for him to learn to socialize with other children.
Thankfully I did start him in a mainstreamed four year old program, and on the road to success among his age group. Based on testing (and this being my first child) I assumed that my child was severely delayed, developmentally far below age level. If you ever visit any preschool program, the range of ability among the children is staggering. It took me a while, but I finally realized that among children there is a broad spectrum of ability. It was eye opening for me to see that even though he never at the top of the class, he was not inappropriate!
It was equally important for me to see that children are unbelievably accepting and forgiving. With a good model (teacher, parent, etc.) a child will accept differences, and deal with conflict beautifully. My son learned more from his peers than he did from any teacher, therapist, and yes, even me!
Making friends is an issue, and usually the only socialization these children get will be at school. While another child might demand after school play dates, etc., my child was happy sharing lunch and recess with his friends at school. Being at school allowed him social time to learn how to play with other children, without my input, since he was never able to successfully socilize with other children unsupervised.
He was able to achieve independence in the mainstream classroom, independence he may have never learned in another environment. When the expectation was for the class to learn a skill, he went for it! Sometimes he met with success, sometimes not, but I believe the opportunity for him to learn certain skills never would have presented itself in another setting. Just having the bar raised to a higher level produced great results, far more than we had hoped.
I sincerely believe mainstreaming has helped my child's progress enormously. It made him a part of a community. Conversely, I strongly believe that his presence in the community benefitted his peers as well. Children eventually grow up and leave school, whether they graduate or just age out. Learning together from an early age teaches the community how to co-exist, regardless of our differences.