Sunday, August 26, 2007

Autism Education; The Inclusion Illusion In New Zealand

In New Zealand schools, parents and students are wrestling with the realities of inclusive education for autistic school children. reports in Schools failing disabled that many students are being sent home from school early in the day or being told to stay home when there is no teacher aide.

A mother of an autistic 12 year old boy tells of him being sent home regularly, and being placed on shortened school days, for disruptive behavior, including hitting. Parents now tend to enroll their children in special education units. Teachers and parents talk about the need for more resources.

Here in New Brunswick, Canada, the inclusion lobby has been very powerful, and successful, at pushing the philosophy that all children benefit from mainstream classroom education. This mainstream classroom education benefits all philosophy is not supported by evidence and is not supported by the experience of some autistic children including my 11 year old son Conor.

Conor was being educated in a mainstream classroom and was frustrated each day, coming home with self inflicted bite marks on his hands and wrists. He was removed from the classroom to a quieter location where he receives instruction with the assistance of a teacher aide. He visits the mainstream classroom for visits with his peers, for defined periods of time and for activities within his range of abilities. Sometimes they visit him in his area for reading buddies and other similar activities.

The point is not that what works for Conor would work for all autistic children. The point is that it is necessary to take an evidence based approach to determine what works for each child. Some autistic children can function well in the mainstream classroom; some do not. Some require one to one ABA based instruction or other types of individualized instruction in a quieter area where they are not overwhelmed by their environment.

The belief that mainstream classroom inclusion works for all, including all autistic children, is an illusion. It is not supported by evidence. Look at what works for each child and educate the child accordingly.


Suzanne said...

I have nothing to add except to say that I agree.

Anonymous said...

Hi Harold,

This is a big issue. We all want our children "included" but "inclusion" as an educational model for ALL service delivery can, at times, miss the unique learning needs of specific children. Blinders are put on and the individual child's needs become secondary to the "dogma" and rhetoric of the "inclusionists". It is very frustrating. The needs of the child should drive the educational approach and strategy.

When "inclusion" fails many professional educators pronounce that the child was not "school ready" or has "behavioral issues"? Rather then looking to the model used (ie "inclusion" and general education) and skill sets of specific educators (and how to develop those resources)... the child is "blamed" and exited from the general classroom with even more inapproapriate resources put in place.


Maya M said...

Paralelly with the worldwide decline in educational standards, a tendency emerges to regard the school as an institution aimed at socializing, integrating, inclusion, keeping children off the dangerous streets and, by the way, also teaching when possible.
So, people think it is normal when children unable to learn effectively in the ordinary classroom (due to disability or linguistic barrier) are kept in this classroom. They are being integrated. They are sitting by their peers and looking exactly like them, so it's OK. They may not learn, but who cares?
I know a family who one autumn years ago emigrated to Canada. Their three children were immediately put into the age-appropriate grade, without anyone checking their academic and linguistic background. The youngest was 7, had been a month or two in 1st grade (children in Bulgaria begin school at 7) and didn't speak any English or French. Nevertheless, she was directly catapulted to 2nd grade, skipping 1st grade because she was considered too old for it.
My opinion is that school is to teach, period. I don't know how this function can be performed in all cases, but it is no solution to keep a child "included" if he actually doesn't learn.