Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Some Autistic Students Do Well In The Mainstream Classroom and Some Do Not

KESQ.com in Palm Springs, California reports that an increasing amount of autistic students are leaving special education classes and integrating into mainstream classrooms. Educators in the area provide the support necessary and they recognize that the mainstream classroom does not work for ALL students with autism. They look at what works best for each student:

"In the past we had children undiagnosed in general education, coping or diagnosed incorrectly without the support needed," says Palm Springs Unified Schools District's Autism Specialist Sally Talala.

Entering into a traditional classroom isn't for every child with autism. Specialists say it takes a team approach to find out what is best for each individual.

The assistance team is growing. Parents, schools and specialists work together to place each child in the right class for their specific needs. They take a look at social skills, communication and behavior, integrating those with more mild cases.

Here in New Brunswick, in recent years, much has been done to further the education and well being of autistic students. Teacher assistants and resource teachers have been receiving autism specific training through the University of New Brunswick College of Extended Learning Autism Intervention Training Program. The autism specific training has helped provide many autistic students receive a real education. Some autistic students can receive their education in the classroom for all or part of the day.

Some of our schools have also begun to accommodate the needs of those autistic children, like my son Conor, for whom education in the general classroom for most of the day is an overwhelming, counterproductive and even harmful experience. They are taught in smaller, quieter, less busy areas where they can receive one on one instruction, by autism appropriate learning methods and with a curriculum suitable to their development level. They are also brought into the mainstream classroom for brief periods for activities within their individual ability ranges.

Despite this progress there are those in New Brunswick who insist that the mainstream classroom is the right place for all students. Their intentions are noble but their understanding of autistic children is lacking. Their beliefs are part of a philosophy of total classroom inclusion for all students that has dominated the New Brunswick education system for the past thirty years. The recent efforts to accommodate the needs of autistic students has been met with determined resistance by the total inclusion advocates who include the current Chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission who was instrumental in promoting New Brunswick's total inclusion philosophy, the Executive Director and other representatives of the New Brunswick Association for Community Living, and some senior Education Department officials.

Despite the efforts of these very influential, well connected advocates of total mainstream inclusion progress has been made. There are people in government, in the Department of Education, school districts and schools who have made decisions in the best interests of autistic children notwithstanding pressure from the total inclusion advocates.

Hopefully those autistic children who can learn in the mainstream classroom will continue to be educated there while those autistic children for whom the mainstream classroom is not appropriate will continue to be accommodated in learning environments suitable for them in light of their autistic conditions.

Hopefully the best interests of autistic children will continue to prevail over the rigid philosophical beliefs of the total mainstream classroom inclusion advocates.


Julie L. said...

Before I gave birth to a child with ASD I thought Mainstreaming was a wonderful idea. Now, I realize that education should be tailored to the individual need of the child. My son spends half a day in special ed and half in the general ed classroom. He doesn't like to be part of the MiCi class, but he really needs the extra help--especiallly in math.

There is a mom from Canada in my area that is very pro inclusion. Her daughter is nonverbal, but the nine year old gets invited to birthday parties by her NT classmates and has friends.

My guy has switched schools in our our district so often (to go to the age appropriate special ed teacher) that making friends is really hard. No birthday party invitations have come our way from his Nt classmates, but I'm happy with the quality of education he is getting.

Marni Wachs said...

I totally agree with your post, Harold.

One who is bent on pro-inclusion philosophy will run into a brick wall when they meet up with me, if the practical extensions of such a philosophy are not in the best interests of my ASD son's education.

Education of special needs children needs to be tailored to the individual child's best interests, not someone's Master's or Doctoral thesis on some naive idea of a "classroom utopia".

Anonymous said...

Adapting the learning environment works for the student, and some strides have been in this approach for ASD students over the years. However, at the high school level it becomes even more challenging, because in their smaller isolated environments they cannot get the "teaching" components of their academic subjects unless they are in the mainstream classrooms. The teaching assistants are helpful, but often cannot do the "teaching components of the educations. Our kids miss out.

farmwifetwo said...

Inclusion done properly works with a child that has minimal sensory issues and can handle transitions like my boys can. Inclusion done properly includes modification of school work. When the other's do Language Arts, my son does L/A but at his developmental level. Language is his weakest strength and needs to be worked on separately. PEC's are used still if needed to answer questions, help with comprehension of words. His reading, spelling, and math skills are age appropriate. And yes... he's still "non-verbal", he mands but doesn't initiate conversation. He is a full member of the class and is expected to take part in all of the classroom programming with as much or as little support is required to complete the task.

He is doing amazing in a regular classroom, with full EA support. He also just started piano lessons and still goes to gymnastics - regular program, no support.

His older bro was mainstreamed... That I do not recommend. No EA support until now at Gr 4. He too is doing amazing, the psychometric testing actually puts him average (except language which is delayed 1.5 grades) with his class... BUT.. he's had private speech therapy, homeschooling and tutoring and he has NLD w/ S/L delay.

Inclusion and mainstreaming are very different ways of teaching a child with special needs. I don't recommend mainstreaming having... been there... done that.

And you know just how much I detest IBI... having been there... done that too.