Mainstreaming is the original term used for the requirement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that children with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Under IDEA, states must assure that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children ages three to twenty-one who have disabilities have access to the general education curriculum and are educated with children without disabilities (for infants and toddlers, early intervention services must be provided in natural environments where age peers are typically found).
The term "mainstreaming" commonly refers to the integration of a child with a disability in regular education settings for part of the school day. As legal and social interpretations of IDEA have evolved, the term "mainstreaming" has been superceded by the term "inclusion," reflecting a new understanding of LRE that presumes full participation of children with disabilities in regular education settings while ensuring continuum of participation options based on a child's educational and social needs.
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Turnbull, H. Rutherford III, and Ann P. Turnbull. "Least Restrictive Appropriate Educational Placement." In Free Appropriate Public Education: The Law and Children with Disabilities. Denver: Love Publishing, 2000.
Donna M. Noyes-Grosser