"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.