article: Social Participation of Students with Special Needs in Regular Primary Education in the Netherlands

This 2010 article describes a study done on the ‘social participation of students’ with impairments ‘in regular primary education in the Netherlands,’ and raises a number of relevant points for our consideration from an SRV perspective. (Note: I am not a statistician nor an academic scientific researcher, so I may be missing key points and questions. I welcome your comments, examples and further thoughts on the article, my post, and this issue.) A few points I want to highlight:

A) The authors lay out a number of characteristics which they propose as foundational to good social participation in school, including:

As a point of reference, Wolfensberger taught and wrote about personal social integration and valued social and societal participation as requiring: ‘(a) valued participation, (b) with valued people (c) in valued activities that (d) take place in valued settings’ (Wolfensberger, A brief introduction to Social Role Valorization, 3rd (rev) ed., p. 123). Wolfensberger and Thomas in the 2007 PASSING manual briefly describe integration as: ‘The valued participation by people in the culturally normative and valued activities and settings of their society, in culturally normative amounts, and with ordinary and valued people’ (p. 33). Further, in Social Role Valorization thinking and application, ‘integration and participation’ are necessarily linked with valued social roles, and thus are tied in with potentially greater access to the ‘good things of life.’ See the article by Lemay for example on ‘Social Role Valorization insights into the integration conundrum’ (Mental Retardation: February 2006, Vol. 44, No. 1, pp. 1-12).

One fruitful question might be to compare these two understandings above for similarities as well as differences.


B) The article authors point out some of the wounds and negative treatment associated with social devaluation, specifically in schools, that children with impairments likely face, such as:

• ‘A comparison between the acceptance scores of students with and without special needs revealed that the former were significantly less accepted’

• ‘The analyses revealed that the average number of friends of students with special needs … was significantly lower than that of typical students’

• ‘Students with special needs initiated fewer interactions with classmates … than students without special needs’

• ‘Students with special needs received fewer interactions … than their typical classmates’

• ‘Students with special needs had, on average, fewer friends and belonged less often to a group of friends’

The above points seem quite relevant to the wound of rejection and likely of relationship loss, particularly as students get older and interpersonal/social pressures increase (e.g., in teenage years).


C) Another relevant point from the article:

‘… students with special needs had fewer interactions with their classmates but more interactions with the teacher. This latter finding can be viewed negatively because interactions with the teacher might be at the expense of interactions with classmates.’

Interaction with a good teacher is obviously helpful for learning, so one question is how to balance necessary interaction with the teacher with interaction with other students.


D) The authors also warn of (translated into SRV language) long-term heightened vulnerability and likely long-term consequences of wounding:

‘the consequences of negative social experiences in school can be far-reaching, given that they might lead to maladjustment later in life’

Maladjustment would not be the way I would likely describe it but the larger point stands; Wolfensberger lays out many of the common negative ways that wounded people react to and express their own woundedness (SRV monograph, 3rd (rev.) ed., pp. 22-24), such as alienation, anger, insecurity. (Not that reactions are always negative of course but it is an understandable response to devaluation and wounding.)


E) The authors point to the universality of personal and social devaluation: we all have the capacity to devalue; whether we are students, teachers, devalued people themselves, or whomever:

‘For instance, Mand (2007) found that a large proportion of students with behavioural disorders have a negative social position in the classroom and are not liked by peers, not only in regular classes but also in special-education settings. These students are rejected to a comparable degree in both education systems (inclusive classrooms and special schools). Hence, in special education too, there is a real chance that students experience difficulties in their social participation.’


F) A final point I want to highlight from the article:

‘In previous years, interventions tended to be aimed solely at the student with special needs (Barrett & Randall, 2004), but from an educational and pedagogical perspective interventions involving other actors seem to be more important.’

If valued social roles are key to personal social integration and valued social participation, as SRV posits, then it makes so much sense to look more broadly at all the people potentially involved, not just the students with impairments, as well as the relevant elements in the physical and social environment (2007 PASSING manual, p. 33). Roles are social, not solitary. They are carried out in particular physical and social settings. And so on. We would do well therefore to consider the range of factors explicated for example in leadership-level SRV workshops, in the SRV monograph by Wolfensberger (3rd (rev.) ed., pp. 122-124), and in PASSING workshops (e.g., including many of the ratings under the rubric 11, 12, 21, 22, etc.).


Please share your own insights, stories and examples related to this point about personal social integration and valued societal participation in schools.

Marc Tumeinski

3 Responses

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  1. Written by Mike
    on March 25, 2012 at 4:25 pm
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    In this article, it talked about a practice that took place in the Netherlands involving social participation of students with special needs in a regular primary education setting. In my special education class that I am enrolled in this semester, we discuss heavily on how we, as teachers, can approach and create an inclusive environment for all students to partake in. I believe this type of environment is beneficial to both students and teachers. When we can include students with disabilities into a regular classroom, this will help create a more inclusive classroom. This will help students learn about diversity and will make them more well rounded in character. This will help make the individual with a disability feel like they are socially accepted when they are included in a regular class. This will provide them with the same opportunities to make friends with fellow classmates and interact in classroom activities just like the other kids that attend school. As a result, the individual will feel confident and comfortable in learning within the classroom and will increase human growth and development. Segregation is painful wound and could impact an individual for the rest of their life. That is why it is important, as teachers, to take the appropriate steps in creating an inclusive classroom for all students to feel comfortable in learning and interacting.

  2. Written by Lauren
    on April 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm
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    Before even reading the article I knew that it was going to be something I would find interesting because special education students have wounds present when it comes to participating in regular education classes. The article talks about how certain aspects must be present for special education to succeed in a regular education course such as, acceptance of them by their classmates, the presence of positive social contact/integration between them and their classmates, and social relationships/friendships between them and their classmates. All of these issues will take time to develop and you do not want to force them either. Inclusion is import to create for the diversity of a classroom and for the students to also help each other succeed. One thing that really stuck out to me in this article was that the special education students spend more time with their teachers then interacting with other classmates. Yes, special education teachers are needed but so are friends. You need the balance to be equal so special education students get the same amount of free time all the other students get. diversity in the classroom is very important because special education is needed for some students, but that does not meant that they should be excluded from others. A special relationship needs to be created between the students and everything else will fall into place.

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