Sunday, June 07, 2009

Autistic Disorder and School Inclusion for Conor

In New Brunswick proponents of an extreme version of mainstream classroom inclusion have dominated our education system for the past 30 years. The mainstream classroom inclusion for all approach is based on an inflexible and erroneous belief that all children, regardless of their personal condition, regardless of whether they have serious learning disabilities or neurological disorders, benefit from total mainstream classroom inclusion. Change has happened over the last 5-6 years as some autistic children, including my son Conor, have been permitted to learn in an area more suitable for them personally but still be included in a neighborhood school.

On Friday I met with Conor's resource team at Nashwaaksis Middle School to review the past year and plan for next year. It has been a terrific year for Conor on many fronts. He does receive his primary instruction including ABA in a small room with an autism trained (UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training Program) teacher assistant. But he also visits common areas of the school such as the library, the lunch room, the gym and the pool. He is recognized by other students some of whom have approached him on several occasions to say hello as he arrives at school with Mom or Dad.

On the side bar of this blog site are video clips from last year and this year showing Conor in the gym doing activities with the teacher assistant Brad Daniels. There are many other kids in the gym (I took care not to record the other children) but you can hear them in some of the videos. In these clips Conor is still not involved directly with the other students but he is around them.

Friday one of the resource team members who has been at the pool with Conor mentioned that he joins with the other kids in the pool on occasion. Conor will get up on one of the water rafts with the other kids pulling it around the shallow end, an activity we also do with him when we visit the pool. (She also gave me a snapshot she took of Conor preparing to leave the diving board, above)

Real school inclusion should be flexible as it has been for Conor the past few years. If an autistic child needs a quieter setting in which to learn, for ABA instruction, to avoid over stimulation, then they should be educated in a setting that accommodates that need. This does not mean that the child has to be isolated all day. The hallways and common areas can still be visited for identified purposes within the abilities of that child at that time. And the visits should be observed carefully to make sure the child is not overstressed.

For Conor a flexible approach to school inclusion, not mainstream classroom inclusion, has been very successful and beneficial for him.

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farmwifetwo said...

We are in a regular class. Eldest was mainstreamed... what a mess... Gr 4 has been the best year FINALLY!! Teacher has finally learned to use OT and PDD resources - sensory, token program, social skills etc - and he's just doing amazing.

Little boy is integrated and will be the EA respite child next year. The school is high behavioural and everyone wants him to work with so he'll get all 4. His teacher is the same as this past year and is AMAZING... wish I'd known about her with the eldest (hindesight and all that good stuff). But he's easy going, sensory is being dealt with - ball chair arrived last week for him - he has full time support, and he's having a great time in school.

The social part of his IEP is now teaching parallel play. He wants to play with them and doesn't know how... it'll take a long time... and his teacher is even skipping some of her lunch hour to play with him in the school yard and helping with it.

I was just floored last week at the IEP meeting. Little boys teacher was telling me story after story about the amazing year little boy had had... Last year we were blindsided about how horrible their years had gone - and I threatened to go over heads to the school board (and would have and they know it) which is why this year was much better.

I don't want little boy in a self contained PDD classroom - HIGH behavioural disasters IMO - and am afraid that will happen against my consent in h/s... but it's still 6yrs away so we'll see what happens.


Wade Rankin said...

Whether we're talking about treatment and/or therapy options, or about school inclusion, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Kudos to Conor's school for working with you instead of dictating to you.

Marni Wachs said...

You got me thinkin'...

I agree with you and have yet to face many of these questions as my son Trey is only 4. I would definitely want my son to be part of a classroom of students to the point that the other kids really recognized that Trey is as much a part of the class as everyone else. He could go to another room to receive resource training at times during the day when he was least able to benefit from the regular classroom activities. I saw this happening with the kids who needed resource assistance back in the mid to late 1970's when I was in school, and we knew that a particular child in the class would be out of the class for a half an hour or hour here and there, and it didn't matter, they were still 100% "in" the class.

I would want that because I feel like learning at the table (matching, labeling, etc) is only one type of learning that occurs throughout the school years, and I would want Trey to receive what I deem to be a balanced school experience, even it it did sacrifice a bit of concentrated table learning. I suppose this is the point of splitting hairs and where parental input is key - where are the family's priorities.

Also, I feel there is a valid societal message to making honest *yet reasonable* inclusive efforts in that it shows all in the school that Trey and all special needs people are here and they are part of this world, and deserve full rich lives just like everyone else. They are not non-persons who should be kept a form of school-sanctioned MINI-INSTITUTIONALIZATION. I worry about THAT mindset and feel that is the message internalized when we do miniature versions of this model. With more and more kids with special needs, society needs to adapt and function to this new reality.

I see that you've achieved a comfort level with Conor and I can see how well he's doing and he sure seems to have a happy disposition - I am happy for your family, and kudos to you for being exemplary parent advocates. As stated I am in agreement with you that ideologically-driven full-on mainstreaming lacking any practical considerations is ridiculous and frustrating not only for the child with the disability and his/her family, but to the other children in the class and their families. I see the long-term value of inclusion as a direction, or a pull towards an ideal, as beneficial to the child with autism, and to improving / adapting the mindset of the average Jane/Joe that:

We're here so get used to it!

When those in the system interpret the philosophy of inclusion literally and to the extreme and sacrifice all else to fit into this ideal while sacrificing all else, THAT'S THE PROBLEM. We need parental control and please how about some:

wait for it...

simple common sense.

Unknown said...

Hi Marni

Conor learns in different environments in the school but he is not on the same intellectual level as his chronological peers, he learns a different curriculum by a different method of instruction, and the mainstream classroom environment is overwhelming.

Before removing him from that environment where he learned nothing, he used to come home with bite marks on his hands and wrists. Now he is the boy who got the perfect attendance certificate you see on the sidebar of this blog. This year, because of flu, he will not get that but he gets up every day anxious for school.

He sees lots of other kids, and they him, in the gym, pool, library, cafeteria etc. And he is received well by them.

I understand why you want classroom inclusion if possible. It will vary from one student to the next. Some autistic children do well in the mainstream classroom, there is no debate about that. Some others will not.

My only recommendation is to pay attention once your son is in school to make sure that whatever his learning arrangements might be that they work for him and be prepared to seek modification of those environments if it is in his best interests to do so.

Stephanie said...

"Full inclusion" is a joke. I can't even attend a "regular" classroom although I am usually capable of the work; luckily earning a degree online/taking online courses is pretty normal now. As I child I attended a Catholic School where EVERYONE was in the same class, regardless of whatever. Which meant that whatever was wrong with me (or others) went unnoticed and untreated and was tolerated.

I remember on the 8th day of Kindergarten I pissed on the floor. It didn't even occur to me o ask someone to go to the bathroom and, being completely unaware of others, I thought no one would notice. Someone did notice, two arms lifted me away and before I knew it was placed back on the floor next to two other students. They were playing with trains; I was lining up blocks on the floor. But nothing was ever done to help me.

As a result I was often sent out of class, somewhere else, wandered away, etc...I should write about my school experiences one day...

Anonymous said...

Stephanie, I would love to hear about your school experiences and how things were for you back then.

My daughter is in a self-contained classroom; she is six and still does not have the skills to pick up a pencil and write her name and is completely nonverbal. She does use PECS to some degree at school and will vocalize and use her hands to show you what she needs (i.e. things like taking a lid off a water bottle to have a drink). Her fine motor skills are still so poor she cannot do academics and because she cannot speak we cannot test her IQ. I wonder sometimes how much she actually knows; I suspect she is very smart but just cannot express to us everything that she does know. I am trying to teach her to use the mouse on our computer to play simple games; she gets that if you move it and click on the button that you can select stuff, but she still lacks the coordination to really sit and use it.

She is nowhere near being mainstreamed but obviously self-contained classrooms have their drawbacks as you run the risk of your child picking up on bad behavior of the other children there. I do worry about that.