Autism and the Inclusion Mandate

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Daniel experiences the regular classroom



By ANN CHRISTY DYBVIK

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Winter 2004 / Vol. 4, No. 1

Daniel walks into his kindergarten classroom and drops his outerwear, backpack, and bus harness in a tangled heap in the middle of the floor. Daniel has a singular focus this morning: building a bridge and a house out of Lincoln Logs.

He does not notice as classmates step around or over him as he plays on the hard floor. If other children move into his space, he pushes them away. One or two children greet him, but he does not answer. Daniel keeps up a running dialogue as he plays, in jargon rarely understandable to anyone but himself.

Daniel’s educational aide approaches him and, using a handmade schedule book with symbolic pictures, shows Daniel that this is not the time for playing. The first picture on the schedule is a locker, indicating that Daniel is to hang up his coat and backpack. Transitions to new activities are very difficult for Daniel, and he begins to scream and kick. Other children watch quietly or walk away.

Daniel is autistic. He is charming, intelligent, creative, and full of energy, just like his 18 classmates. However, he is unable to use language to interact with others. His rare attempts at communication are through imitation and usually in only one or two words. Teachers and aides communicate with Daniel using a combination of picture symbols and words, since children with autism learn best visually. Like other children with autism, Daniel would not understand the activities of the day without his schedule book. When events change and the day does not correspond to his schedule, Daniel may lose control and throw a tantrum. He requires the support of an educational assistant every minute of the school day.

In the past–indeed, less than ten years ago–children like Daniel were rarely placed in mainstream classrooms to learn alongside their nondisabled peers. Children with autism and other severe disabilities were more likely to be found in separate classrooms with other children with disabilities, if not in a different school altogether. Daniel’s presence in a regular classroom, with the help of an educational aide, is the result of the “inclusion” movement among advocates for the disabled. The idea behind inclusion is that every child should be an equally valued member of the school culture. Children with disabilities benefit from learning in a regular classroom, while their peers benefit from being exposed to children with a diversity of talents and temperaments.

As a result of evolving legislation and educational initiatives, today more than 95 percent of students with physical, emotional, learning, cognitive, visual, and hearing disabilities receive some or all of their education in regular classrooms. As of 2000-01, the most recent year for which data are available, 47 percent of students with disabilities spent at least 80 percent of their school day in the general-education classroom, up from 31 percent in 1988-89.

These numbers have even greater significance for students with autism. Autism is the fastest-growing disability in the country. U.S. Department of Education statistics show the number of children diagnosed with autism being served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act growing more than fivefold during the 1990s (see Figure 1). The California Department of Developmental Services estimates that the number of diagnosed cases in that state grew 273 percent during the 1990s.

What accounts for the increase in autism? No one knows. In the past, autism was considered an extremely rare condition. Children and adults who demonstrated characteristics similar to what we now call autism were often labeled as emotionally or behaviorally disturbed, or cognitively disabled. Most lived in institutions when they became too difficult to manage at home. Many factors are cited for the increase in autism, including better diagnostic procedures; heightened awareness of the syndrome, leading to more accurate assessments; exposure to environmental toxins; reactions to childhood vaccinations; and a genuine increase in the condition’s prevalence.

As statistics on autism continue to rise, so does its impact on public schools (see Figure 2). Inclusion forces regular-classroom teachers to face challenges for which they were never properly trained. It demands a higher degree of coordination and planning among regular and special-education teachers, yet few school systems allot the time and resources to promote these exchanges. Many teachers worry that they are shortchanging their other students when they must cope with the meltdowns of a student like Daniel or must modify a lesson to reach students with learning disabilities. Disagreement remains over whether disabled students actually benefit from inclusive classrooms. The increase in the number of students with disabilities being schooled in mainstream classrooms has happened almost imperceptibly; teachers whisper their concerns for fear of seeming coldhearted. How did this quiet revolution come about, and what must be done to make it work?

The Press for Civil Rights

After a dark history of excluding students with disabilities from regular public schools, Congress in 1975 passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, guaranteeing all children, regardless of disability, the right to a “free and appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment.” The “special education” law, as it came to be known, is a civil-rights statute. As such, it enables students with disabilities and their parents or guardians to be deeply involved in the design of their educational program. Parents who disagree with school officials over how their children’s needs will be met can take their grievances through a process of mediation and, if necessary, to the courts. Over time, key court decisions, as well as later revisions to the federal law and regulations issued by federal agencies, have spelled out the rights of students and the obligations of school districts.

For most of the short history of special education, the common practice was to pull children with disabilities out of regular classrooms for some or even all of the school day. In what is called a “resource room,” they would receive instruction from teachers trained to modify their instructional techniques depending on the nature of the child’s disability. It seemed more efficient to provide specialized instruction in separate classrooms, where children with disabilities could receive individualized attention without having to alter the mainstream curriculum that their peers received.

However, the pull-out approach met with increasing criticism over the years. In 1986, Madeleine Will, then the assistant secretary of the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, proposed that greater efforts be made to educate children with mild or moderate disabilities in regular classrooms. Will felt that regular classroom teachers would not need to change their teaching methods drastically; accommodations or adaptations to the regular curriculum could reasonably be made. This concept, which provided a foundation for the inclusive classroom, was termed the Regular Education Initiative. During the past decade or so, students with mild disabilities have largely been included in the regular classroom, with their assignments modified to ensure their participation at some level. However, children with severe disabilities, like autism, continued to receive the major part of their education in separate classrooms, sometimes joining their classmates for art, music, or physical education, depending on the attitudes of the teachers and the severity of the child’s disability.

In 1997, the reauthorization of the federal special-education law, now renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, affirmed the federal commitment to inclusion. IDEA required that children with disabilities be educated “to the maximum extent possible” in the “least restrictive environment.” While the word “inclusion” cannot be found in the text of IDEA, the law reflected a set of beliefs and aspirations signaling that the “least restrictive environment” is the general-education classroom–for all children, regardless of disability. The individual needs of each child with a disability must be considered when the individual education plan (IEP) is written, and the IEP team needs to consider the general classroom as the starting point. If the child’s needs cannot be met there, a full explanation must be provided in the IEP, a legal document. Proponents of “full inclusion,” a stronger view of the law, consider placement in the general-education classroom as the only point. Advocates of full inclusion believe that all services needed by children should be provided in the general-education classroom. Congress is currently debating another reauthorization of IDEA, but no major changes to the inclusion mandates are being considered.

Of all the public education initiatives over the past decade, inclusion may be the most value-laden and belief-driven. It has challenged and changed basic assumptions and practice. Regular-classroom teachers are now being asked to plan for a wider range of needs and abilities among their students. Responsibility for the education of children with disabilities is supposed to be shared between regular and special-education teachers, and teachers are increasingly working in teams rather than running their own classrooms. Many more specialists are working with children–in classrooms that once were the almost private domains of individual teachers. The reality is that teachers who were never trained to deal with children like Daniel are being told that they must comply or leave. Overwhelming? To many teachers it is.

Classroom Challenges

In many ways, inclusion is a noble endeavor. Proponents of inclusion rightly stress the importance of all children, their value as members of the human community, and their right to belong and to be included, no matter what their individual differences and abilities may be. Inclusion’s supporters believe that the values taught to students in an inclusive classroom are of vital importance in the education of all students. They insist that the acceptance and understanding of one another as diverse individuals with differing abilities is one of the primary goals of education. “Inclusion is consistent with multicultural educations, and [with] a world in which many more people have opportunities to know, play, and work with one another,” writes Mara Sapon-Shevin, a professor of education at the University of Rochester and an advocate for inclusive education.

At the same time, parents long for their disabled children to have friendships with classmates and to participate in all the normal social activities of childhood: playing together, talking and joking, dreaming of the future, and developing lasting relationships.

The fiercely emotional nature of these arguments renders it difficult to criticize the practice of inclusion. Those who make the attempt often find their fundamental beliefs regarding tolerance and diversity coming under fire. But those harboring doubts about inclusion do not generally question the values behind it, only whether the practice is effective. Special education came about for a reason, they claim. Some children cannot learn by traditional teaching methods or through a standard curriculum. They need individualized instruction designed for their specific learning styles. Certified special-education teachers receive their professional training in methods designed to meet these unique needs. Since the regular classroom is geared toward the norm, they argue, it is not the appropriate place for children with special learning needs.

Indeed, the regular classroom is becoming even more standardized as schools adjust to meet the testing and accountability mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Yet the inclusion movement has placed children with wide-ranging abilities and needs in the same classroom. This leads many teachers and educators to ask how a standardized curriculum can be adapted to meet every child’s needs–without harming their school’s all-important test scores. They also wonder whether the educational needs of many students are taking a back seat to the broader social goals of inclusion.

To see how these challenges and tensions are playing out in classrooms across the nation, let’s take another look at Daniel. By following Daniel through his day, we can map his program against the best practices for inclusion and see how his small Wisconsin school district measures up.

Daniel has a full-time educational aide, known as a “paraprofessional,” to support him during the school day. He also receives help from a speech and language therapist, an occupational therapist, and an adaptive physical education teacher. Daniel’s kindergarten teacher, who is in her second year of teaching, has a class of 19 students. Two of her students have significant special needs, while one other is learning English as a second language. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education and is certified to teach kindergarten through 5th grade. During her training, she took one class on teaching students with disabilities. Her district has provided nothing more. Daniel’s teacher is enthusiastic and creative in her teaching, but she knows nothing about how to adapt a curriculum to the learning style of a child with disabilities.

Daniel’s regular classroom teacher is supposed to collaborate with the school’s special-education teacher to design an appropriate program. Yet the special-education teacher herself has had no extra training in autism or in curriculum adaptation. Furthermore, she does not work with Daniel, but merely assigns the paraprofessional, named Jon, to carry out his program. She has four years until retirement and does not intend to invest any more time or money in learning how to work with autistic children. She states this openly. The school district’s director of special education knows this but does nothing.

How much training has Daniel’s paraprofessional had? Again, none. Jon is a former art major, now working as a special-education aide in the public schools. He too is willing, creative, and caring. But he knows little about how to handle a child with autism. He deals with Daniel’s tantrums as he would those of his own son. He does not understand the characteristics of autism or know which teaching methods would be effective. Even so, he is in charge of Daniel’s entire educational program. Jon decides when Daniel stays in the regular classroom and how discipline is administered. Jon tries to get Daniel to comply in a classroom that is not designed for a child with Daniel’s needs. As any teacher trained in autism knows, children with autism need structure. But Daniel’s teacher is not trained in autism and does not have the collaboration and support of the special-education teacher. She does not understand how important consistency and structure are to his overall learning needs. So Jon does what he can. He has a large responsibility and a paraprofessional’s paycheck.

Daniel’s team of teachers meets once every two weeks for half an hour. During this time they discuss not only Daniel but also the 18 other children they are responsible for. Teachers are given no extra planning time during the day, so this half hour is all the time together most of them can manage. In fact, the district has cut back on the amount of time allowed for school aides to work. Thus the people who work most closely with the children are not able to attend collaboration meetings unless they do so on their own time.

Daniel’s teachers were not asked or permitted to participate in shared planning before the implementation of inclusion. It came as a directive from the administration, a top-down model that many feel was driven by budget constraints rather than altruistic or visionary motives. A one-page position paper on inclusion was written and distributed by the district’s director of special education two years ago. It remains buried on most educators’ desks.

The problem is, while many administrators feel that inclusion will save money, in reality the opposite is true. Well-implemented inclusion usually costs more than separate special-education classrooms. Why? When children with special educational needs are included in the regular classroom, they need extra support. Paraprofessionals and teachers must provide this support across many classrooms. Administrators may need to reduce the number of children in a class to adjust for the added physical and instructional accommodations needed for a child with a disability. The cost of personnel rises, along with the costs of materials, adaptive equipment and technology, and training for staff.

Inclusion is supposed to promote socialization and acceptance. This presents a great challenge for Daniel. Daniel has autism, a disorder of social communication. As a result, he does not play with his classmates, eat with them at lunch, or go to their homes after school. He may want friends, but his disorder prevents him from knowing what to say or do with them. The other children accept Daniel in their class, but on a different level. They jump in and help Daniel with his work. So, instead of learning independence and group skills from his peers, Daniel learns dependence. The other children have also witnessed Daniel’s screaming and tantrums and kicking. They are not entirely sure why he acts this way, so they often keep their distance. Do they understand Daniel or call him at home to play? No. Time will tell if this will change.

Making Inclusion Work

Daniel’s program is clearly an example of inclusion implemented badly. It demonstrates what Diane Twachtman-Cullen, a speech pathologist at the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Consultation Center in Cromwell, Connecticut, calls the “worst practices in inclusion.” These include:

• Insisting on inclusion at all costs.

• Settling for a mere physical presence in the classroom.

• Giving priority to the inclusive education model over the individual needs of children.

• Providing little or no training to staff.

• Keeping the paraprofessional out of the loop.

• Teaching rote information so that the student can pass mandated tests instead of teaching needed skills.

• Watering down curriculum.

• Failing to teach peers about the nature of disabilities and how to interact with peers who have a disability.

These ineffective implementation practices, writes Greg Conderman, associate professor of special education at the University of Wisconsin, “contaminate a potentially powerful tool” for educating a child with special needs. Conderman argues that supporters of inclusion have pursued “equal treatment instead of equal opportunity,” resulting in a lack of access to a continuum of services based on disabled students’ individual needs. Conderman believes that parents must pay greater attention to the implementation of inclusion policies. Since inclusion means different things to different people, there are few if any mandated guidelines for what inclusion should look like. He argues that by pushing for equal treatment, advocates may have successfully obtained placement in general-education classrooms for children with disabilities, but at the same time have unintentionally denied them the right to individualized education programs. The concept of “place” has taken priority over “how” children are taught. A “one option” approach cannot work for children with diverse needs; a variety of service delivery options must exist so that programs can be written to meet the needs of each child. If inclusion becomes a program unto itself, then that is just as coercive as trying to place all children with disabilities in separate schools or classrooms.

Perhaps shoddy implementation is the reason why the evidence on inclusion’s effectiveness is so mixed. James Kauffman, a professor of special education at the University of Virginia, argued in a 1995 interview that “there is no credible research showing that the regular education classroom can actually provide superior services for kids with disabilities.” He added, “There are children who are dumped into classrooms in the name of inclusion, when in fact nothing is in place to make that an inclusive classroom except that they put a child with significant disabilities in it.”

The first step toward implementing inclusion properly is to improve the training of teachers. Teacher-training programs for regular and special-education teachers often coexist within colleges of education, but rarely are classes jointly taught by regular and special-education professors. These programs must begin to cross boundaries and integrate instruction, just as the public schools are being asked to do. Classes need to focus on a variety of teaching strategies designed to address the range and abilities of the students with whom these future teachers will work. In other words, the university setting must mirror the classrooms the teachers will eventually lead.

Moreover, the goals–and effectiveness–of inclusion must be determined by each child’s individual education plan, or IEP, the outline of their educational program that schools are mandated to create. Children who qualify for special education are evaluated by a team of highly trained professionals. This team discusses its results in collaboration with the parents and identifies the strengths and areas of need for that particular child. They then develop goals, which are written and reviewed annually.

The program developed for each student depends on his or her unique needs. Every program should look different. A goal for Daniel may be to increase his functional communication skills so that he can participate in social activities with his peers. He may learn to ask a friend to play, or to request help from a teacher, or to tell the class what he did over the weekend. By contrast, a goal for children with cerebral palsy, a brain disorder that typically manifests itself in difficulty with speech and physical coordination, may be to work on correct hand, arm, or seating positions that will allow them to use an augmentative communication system. A child with a learning disability may have goals in the areas of improving reading and math skills. The problem with trying to measure the effectiveness of inclusion lies with the diversity of our children. What needs to be determined is whether inclusion helps each individual child reach the goals outlined in the IEP.

It is crucial to recognize that inclusion means different things to different people. To the parents of a child with a cognitive disability, it may mean learning to say “hello” or “Can I play with you?” to nondisabled peers. To the parents of a child with a learning disability, it may mean that their child will receive accommodations to the general curriculum and will have an opportunity to go to college. And to parents of a child like Daniel, inclusion may simply mean that he learns to adjust to the many daily changes of a busy classroom and develops the ability to play with his classmates.

Ann Christy Dybvik is a speech and language pathologist and autism resource consultant in western Wisconsin. She has been working on behalf of students with disabilities and their families for 20 years.




Comment on this article
  • Phyllis Ware says:

    What are the statistics on the number of students with autism spectrum disorder in D.C. middle schools?

  • Faith says:

    THank you for this wonderful article. I am struggling with this very problem here in north carolina. They want to include my son who has pdd-nos-aspergers but in my opinion its to the detriment of all. He rarely makes it through a whole day and the stress is bearing down. At what point are we including TOO MUCH?

  • Althea Fenty says:

    I like this article a lot, because like Daniel, my 14 year son is going through the same thing, by tring to socialize with the regular kids but don’t know how to. Some time he comes home cring because the kids make fun of him and they don’t want to be his friend. It is heart breaking to see.

  • Rachael Smith says:

    Observing and working with teachers and students in the general education classrooms, as well as special education classrooms, I have experienced inclusion many times. There is always positives and negatives to every situation that occurs. What makes it successful is how the teacher handles the situation in which they are placed. Having students with autism and other disabilities mainstreamed is not always a bad decision. Many students with autism benefit from the time they spend around typically developing peers. They can learn from one another so many life lessons that schools cannot teach. Granted, for the academic side of it, many teachers do not have the training or expertise in dealing with these children, but the responsibility then falls back onto the administration and preparing their teachers to give every student in their classroom the best education. Even if that means providing modifications and accommodations to their lessons, as mentioned in the article. On the other side of things, not all students cope well with the general education. These students may benefit from having PE or art with typically developing peers to start out or, in some cases, no time spent in the general education setting. Overall, every decision that is made about education and mainstreaming needs to be made on an individual basis depending on the child and their specific needs.

  • Lynn says:

    Inclusion does NOT work and is in fact dangerous. Why would you make an autistic person (child) try to “adapt” to a normal, noisy classroom atmosphere? The cafeteria and pep assemblies are TORTURE to them!!! I have seen it take over an hour to get an autistic teenager crouched in a fetal position in the school gym because of the cheering in a pep assembly. The key here is “an APPROPRIATE” EDUCATION which means geared to the disability–a quiet, structured atmosphere. Yes, a separate classroom in a special school with appropriate therapies. A therapeutic school with teachers, paraprofessionals and therapists. Is there anything good for the typical student to hear screaming and yelling, dodging violent students in the hallway as several staff members drag an autistic kid down the hall who is totally out of control? Is it good for them to see violent (almost always male) students kicking, beating, biting women staff at the school? Enough is enough! I am going to quit after this year and I do not want my kids in a public school witnessing this kind of behavior. They won’t be!

  • Rhonda says:

    Lynn,
    Please use the correct child -first wording!!! If you are really trying to get your point across to a person that may have a child with autism then you might want to word it correctly so you don’t offend anyone. You would say the child with autism rather than that autistic child. Just so you know for next time. I agree that not all children can be included on a mainstream campus but I do think that there are some that might benefit from it and I think some mainstream children benefit form the diversity of knowing a child with autism as well.

  • Fiona says:

    Rhonda, I think you are well meaning but wrong in your insistence that the term ‘autistic’ offends and that the correct term is a ‘child/person with autism’. Many people on the spectrum prefer the former to the latter. Secondly, although it may always feel hurtful to hear the parents of neurotypical children voice anything negative about autistic children in mainstream schools – you have to look at the situation the person is describing. Lynn’s children have witnessed a situation where no-one is gaining anything, particularly the autistic children themselves who may be greatly damaged by this kind of badly thought out/badly implemented inclusion in mainstream. I live in Scotland where there is a presumption of mainstreaming and my lovely daughter has not flourished as well as she could have with at least some access to a more specialized environment. Academically she struggles to learn as well as she could in a busy cacaphony of sound and sights with constant interruptions. There have been no proper social interventions and her social deficit is huge. She is too strung out after a day coping at school to manage anything other than obsessing and stimming and she has had huge anxiety issues relating to being left friendless in the playground that have led to visits to the psychologist . Glasgow city council education department have now recommended that she attends a very large, violent local secondary school with vague additional support for learning alongside other children with entirely different needs as diverse as dyslexia and english as a second language. The nearest mainstream with an autism unit is hugely oversuscribed and boys with more aggressive behaviour are understandably prioritised. I am sad that three major driving forces, the often laudable drive for inclusion, the psychological need for parents to feel hope (my child is at mainstream so things can’t be too bad), and cost cutting in educational budgets worldwide seem to have created an educational hell for some children.

  • Lisa says:

    Our son is now 17 years old and in a public school autism inclusion program. He is high functioning and can be an A student yet also still has tantrums and meltdowns. Because of a meltdown and an attempt by a facilitator to restrain him, our son is now facing assault charges in the adult court system. I agree with “Inclusion is supposed to promote socialization and acceptance. This presents a great challenge for (our son) (He) has autism, a disorder of social communication. As a result, he does not play with his classmates, eat with them at lunch, or go to their homes after school. He may want friends, but his disorder prevents him from knowing what to say or do with them.” At this point putting our son in an inclusion program resulted in criminal charges not understanding and acceptance. As a parent we are at a loss as to what to do but feel the inclusion program has failed our son.

  • Jane says:

    I do not agree with the inclusion law. Seeing inclusion from working in an inclusive elementary mainstream classroom and also in a “disabled” classroom, I would have to say inclusion does not work very well — not for those with autism or Down syndrome, not for the mainstream students, and not for the teachers.

    Mainstream children often shun or pity the “included.” That’s hardly a positive experience for either side. The ones being “included” don’t seem to benefit: regular classroom noise is often unpleasant for autistic children, as are any schedule changes, as are most of the tasks. Also, what standards do you hold them to if they are mainstreamed? The standards of the rest of the class? That seems unfair both ways. Friendships that the disabled children’s parents hope for are rarely made. For teachers it’s incredibly difficult to manage special needs children on top of everything else they do.

    I understand parents’ desire to want to mainstream, but it is not right if it is a burden to the child. The mainstreaming I witnessed last week was heartbreaking, that of a medium-high level autistic kindergartener being mainstreamed. He spent a lot of time covering his ears during group songs, etc. rocking and saying “I don’t like it!” The rest of the time he spent roaming around trying to get to the computer to play video games. At one point, he came out of the bathroom with his pants and underwear down to his ankles causing his classmates to scream. (And him to ask ,”What’s going on?”) In addition, he gets docked many behavior points because of whatever system is in place. Clearly, he is not in the right environment. I would not want my child to have to either experience that or witness that on a daily basis.

    If the students can’t perform to grade level without assistance, they need to be in a separate class. I know that’s not the popular sentiment, but it seems to be what works best and provides the most successful growth. Inclusion is nice in theory, but its practical application is a disservice to those with special needs and a confusing burden to those without.

  • Melissa says:

    I can understand what Lynn has to say. If I had a choice I wouldn’t send my child to public school at all. He has severe to moderate autism, and functions at the level of a two year old. He needs therapy were he can also learn things, and at this point he is not ready for a structured setting. He also has eating problems, and requires pureed food. I’m worried about putting him in public school because we are being blamed for the behaviors, and it is causing my other two children to be at risk of being taken away. I don’t think this is right to have kids that can’t control their behaviors to be in a public school in the first place. It is sad to read that a woman’s son is being charged for an assault when he can’t stop or understand why he is doing it. What needs to happen is he needs care in a special school, and shouldn’t be in a school with people that are not trained to deal with this. I urge everyone who reads this to please demand something more is done, or better yet run for school board yourselves. It is real easy for lawmakers to get away with this when they don’t live through the pain of seeing their kids injure themselves over something they can’t control, and the sadness of knowing your child can’t even tell you what is wrong. Autism is growing more each day when will something be done when it is one out of ten kids affected. People need to realize this will affect everyone as this keeps growing. Awareness is not the answer the answer is to do something about it.

  • janice brychta says:

    I believe that inclusion does work. The decision for full inclusion should be a team decision. Inclusion is not putting a child with a disability in a class with typically developing children. Careful consideration on what the child will need in to successfully access the curriculum is a must. As a teacher I have had students that are very difficult to work with, and at times I have felt it takes away from my teaching of other students. If the proper supports are in place, and the child is showing growth, it is the best place for any child with a disability. I have an eight year old grandson that is now in 3rd grade. He has a one-0n-0ne paraprofessional and this has enabled him to be successful. Kindergarten was his toughest year, however as he continued into first grade and the teacher had the same expectations for him as the other students, he did great. Was everyday great..no.. did he have melt downs..yes, but they are becoming less and he is now playing with his friends, we modify work for him, so he is successful. He loves math and comprehension is hard, however we teach strategies for him to find the answers. Higher level thinking or abstract ideas are impossible for him, but that is okay.. That is a part of his autism. I know he is more successful in an inclusive setting, then he would be in a classroom. that has all students with autism. HOWEVER, I am not saying this is the best placement for all students with autism.

  • Lisa says:

    It’s definitely individual. I have seen inclusion work extremely well and have done well with it myself (with moderately delayed but still verbal children), but I am now in a situation where it may not be very effective.

    I am a teacher in a northern isolated community. I have a generalist Elementary Degree. I am getting a child with severe autism in my grade one classroom this next year. We do not have the supports (Speech Language Pathologist, OT, etc.) in place or the education to know how to work with and help him accomplish all he can. He has never had a structured situation (either at home or school) and somehow I’ve got to implement one so I can teach the rest of my classroom. His mother demands that he be included in the classroom full time, but yet she herself does nothing with him at home…not because she doesn’t want to, but because she has no idea how to and there are no supports for such children in our community. We are doing a disservice to such children and end up simply managing behaviours and trying to minimize outbursts/tantrums, so we can teach the remainder of the classroom. He is known to be aggressive and head butts others/floor/wall when he doesn’t get what he wants.

    I have been reading and learning all I can to prep myself to work with him and provide him the best environment I can, but I lack the education and supports to help him. Plus, with a classroom full of ESL learners/cognitive delays/speech delays/extreme behaviours/etc., I already have my hands full individualizing my teaching to the rest of the class (20 other children). His aid has a grade 12 education with a basic teacher’s aid qualification. Not only that, but she’s off for the first few weeks of school and the sub is a 20 year old high school graduate, who’s never worked with children in a school setting. No one else would take the position.

    This child is going to end up left behind. There is an effort to include him and provide him the best situation possible, but the supports aren’t there. Plus, every year our education budgets keep getting cut and last year we lost our Special Ed teacher in my school. In addition, we have no Special Education person for the division at head office.

    With a large class of grade one’s who all have their own special needs, I don’t know how I am going to address his as well. But, somehow I have to, in order to teach the rest of my class effectively.

    It’s possible for him to learn and succeed in his own way in school and I want to help him do that. I just hope I can with the research and such I’ve been doing on my own. I really don’t know what will happen this year.

  • jennifer mcmahon says:

    My daughter recently graduated from college with a major in psych & minor in human services. The only job she was able to obtain without a mastor’s degree was a paraprofessional in a special ed class in a highschool working one-on-one with a 15yr old male who is severly autistic. She was given no instruction & already after 1 wk he has been aggressive towards her. She really wants to do the best she can but has no instruction & has not been included in any meetings with teachers,staff & parents. Any suggestions? I can’t believe this is acceptable.

  • Susan says:

    This is a great article and so relevant for the situations I have seen in education inthe UK. Children need appropriate education and I have worked in schools specialising in autism and in mainstream integrating a child with autism. I have seen teaching staff struggling to ‘discipline’ a child with autism, reluctant to allow the child to have time away from a noisy, chaotic free flow class environment. The teachers I have observed seem to think that letting the child escape from stress is somehow rewarding them, and that they should only be allowed out of the class if they have been’good’.

    This highlights the lack of training for teachers in handling autistic children in a mainstream setting.

    I have also encountered ignorance regarding the use of restraint. With appropriate training and the use of methods such as team teach I believe most injuries and innapropriate use of restraint can be avoided.

    It has been a joy to watch our autistic student integrate with her class mates and I hope with sensitive care our team can balance the needs of all our students.

    It is a great relief to know other people are experiencing similar issues and that I am not unique in feeling frustrated in trying to provide a productive inclusive stress free environment for our autistic student and our staff.

  • Cathy says:

    My son was in a special needs class when he was 3 and 4. He learned bad behavior from another child. Now he is in a regular class. He does great at school but not going to school. Other than that he is not acting bad.

  • Tammy says:

    I have a 5 year old with autism. She can barely handle the sensory input of an outing much less a classroom. She only recently has been able to answer questions when we are outside because the wind and birds singing dominate her senses. For a child like mine, putting her in a typical classroom full time now would be a disaster. In fact I have friends who pushed for total inclusion or more time in typical classes and had to back pedal when it failed. There are kids with autism who have severe attention and filtering problems and those who don’t. There is a difference and that is where the “special classrooms” could be helpful. I have chosen to hold her back a year and homeschool for K this year, but may put her in next year because she has matured a lot this year and is showing an interest in other children. I will try to push for inclusion in the typical classroom in some academic areas where it makes sense, but I will not shun the autistic support classroom. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fumbling-Thru-Autism/102482513246303

  • Bill Gates says:

    The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights should be more active in demanding an increase in staffing to accommodate the needs of the IEP. Dedicated paraprofessionals for students is a job creation program that supports the right to a fair and equal education. Likewise it is another adult supporting the efforts of the instructor.

  • Amber Caruso says:

    I’m at a loss for words at the prejudice and hate that many people have voiced in response to this article. As an educator, as well as a mother of a five year old with Autism, it hurts my heart to know that my child has to face obstacles like you in his lifetime, as if he didn’t have enough to overcome. How do you expected children with disabilities to learn from children with disabilities? Children are our greatest teachers. Many of you need to educate yourselves on autism and the spectrum before you make inappropriate and uneducated comments. I recommend the text, “ten things a child with austism wish you knew.”

  • Mike says:

    I had to enroll my child in a private school after he was bit by a student mainstreamed with autism. I observerved the classroom one afternoon only to discover the student in question moving from table to table frequently. He would grab and push other children sometimes spitting and sticking his tongue out at others. My child has trouble learning in this environment and I refuseto let it continue? Do noct tell me the educational environment does not suffer. Where are my rights?

  • Angela says:

    IDEA never mentions inclusion. The “least restrictive environment” does not mean a child with autism is required to be in a mainstream classroom. The least restrictive environment is somewhere the child will gain concept mastery.

    Attention Educators
    Stop blaming parents for a child’s actions at school. Ask yourselves what is happening at school to make a child act a certain way at school. How can a parent be blamed for a child’s behavior if the child is in the hands of the government for 10 hours a day including bus time?

    Public Education forces parents of children with autism to lose their jobs, go on welfare, or into homeschooling.

    PARENTS
    Get Independent Evaluations Early although any time is better than relying on the school psychologist. If you can, stay proactive and hire a special education advocate. Homeschooling is the best option if you can do it!!!

  • CHERYL PEARSON says:

    MY SON HAS ASBERGERS IS 14 AND IN MS, MY HEART BREAKS WHEN THEY TELL ME HE HAS GOOD GRADES AND THEY MAINSTREAM HIM ONLY TO HAVE HIM FALL APART WHEN HE GETS HOME. HE HAS BEEN A VICTIM OF BULLYING, HIS BOOKBAG THROWN INTO A TOILET, SLAPPED IN THE FACE AND THEY ALWAYS SAY HE WAS THE CATALYST. I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. INCLUSION IS NOT THE ANSWER!!! NOW THEY TOLD ME B/C HE IS SO SMART AND GETS GOOD GRADES THEY WANT TO JUST GIVE HIM A RESOURCE ROOM, HE WILL DROWN.

  • Deb k says:

    My feelings as a mom with 14 yr old very strong autistic daughter. I feel the school system is at blame the children need more aba or pbs at home and school setting. Government and schools doing minimal. I am hiring a lawyer! She is going into high school soon. Very upsetting world for the children it’s getting worse!!much less help available nobody cares!!!!!!’ May God help us!!!!!

  • Danielle S says:

    Amber Caruso, read some of the other comments. Children with Autism are being bullied, abused, and left behind in mainstream. It has been studied that children with Autism will not merely “model” their typically developing peers. I FOR ONE CHOOSE MY FRIENDS BASED ON SIMILARITIES! I don’t think it is fair to force our children into a classroom where they ARE different from everyone else. Do you truly think that they will develop REAL friendships with children in mainstream classrooms? NO! I run a preschool program, afterschool program, Saturday groups, and Friday night high school groups. They all have made friends with eachother. They support eachother and embrace their disability. One day your child will grow older and wonder why he is different and resent you and himself for not understanding it and learning to deal with it at a young age. I have highschoolers who have tried to commit suicide because they have been pushed in mainstream classrooms and shielded from knowledge of their own disability. TALK ABOUT RIGHTS, THEY HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW WHO THEY ARE!

  • Teresa Cortez says:

    Wow. These comments are depressing. My six year old son will be assessed by a Catholic private school tomorrow to determine if he’s ready for a part time mainstream (almost typed “Painstream”) education. If he attends there, he’ll be in a special class for math, language arts and writing. Homeroom, recess, music, lunch, social studies and science will be with typical students and a paraprofessional.

    He attended a Catholic preschool from age 18 months until he was three. His autism was apparent then. We placed him in a special school for children with autism which made a HUGE difference. His autistic symptoms eased up because the classrooms were so small, lighting softer (no fluorescence). He’s progressed significantly.

    His diagnosis is PDD-NOS. He doesn’t have big sensory issues. He’s a sensory “seeker” so noise/touch doesn’t bother him. Certain noises bother him, but volume isn’t the thing. It’s a pitch thing. Anyway, he loves other children. He does have pretend play so this is a plus. His language is decent. He leaves out articles, confuses his “he” and “she” sometimes, and his articulation is still a work in progress. He’s been in speech therapy for four years, OT as well. Every year he improves.

    His stim is repeating scenes from his favorite movies and videos. He gets lost in this which gets in the way of learning. so his iPad and TV time are very limited now. It seems to be working.

    I showed the Catholic school the work he’s doing in Kindergarten at the special school. It’s age appropriate, Kindergarten curriculum. They feel he’s ready for first grade next year. They feel he will benefit from a mainstreaming environment. I guess it’s up to him now. BUT, from a class of 8 to a class (half time) of 18? I don’t know. I really don’t. One day of assessments might not give us the answer either.

    But I have to give it a try, or I’ll always wonder What If? We can always go back to the special school. That will always be an option. I think they’re holding their breath. They want what’s best for my son just as I do. We all want to see our children thrive in the “real world”. But it’s up to the individual.

    I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow. And for those with the very negative comments, please Google Carly Fleischman (?). She has severe autism, was thought to be mentally retarded. She had lots of severe behavior. But guess what? Her mind was as clear and typical as your most typical human’s. Once she learned to type, she explained these things to the general public. Her book, co-written with her father, “Carly Speaks”, is excellent and a MUST READ.

    Don’t assume these kids aren’t perceiving what you’re feeling. Moms of kids on the spectrum — ever notice how their behavior changes when you have PMS? Yup. They’re in there. Turn down the volume of the world and listen with your whole being. Let them surprise you.

    The best teachers are those who LOVE these kids. I think that quality is more important than the teaching degree. Unfortunately, the public school system is a killjoy.

    Wish us luck tomorrow. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay too. It’s all about the kids. Peace.

  • Brenda Bradshaw says:

    I appreciate this article. I am sending it to my daughter’s special education case manager, who loves my daughter and wants the school to be more responsive to her needs. If you take the “worst inclusion practices” listed in the article and turn them into positive statements, they are like a checklist for what needs to be in place if inclusion is to work. My daughter’s school has only two of them, and that is not watering down the curriculum and not teaching her rote knowledge to pass tests. She is in an IB middle school, which is very inclusive and flexible, but they are not prepared to deal with autistic children. The two biggest issues are lack of training of staff (everyone in the school should have training in autism and also know who the autistic kids are) and training of the students in how to interact with autistic children. My daughter has been bullied, blamed, and suspended twice now. I have an attorney and a consultant from MPACT (Missouri Parents ACT) and we are working to get her into a cross-categorical situation (which worked well in elementary school). The biggest pitfall in my opinion is that too many placement decisions are made strictly on their academic level, not their medical diagnosis. Autistic kids are very bright and can do the academic work in regular ed, but it is a SOCIAL IMPAIRMENT, which means they don’t function and learn well in social environments.

  • Marielle says:

    Teresa Cortez I am dying to know what happened to your child in the catholic school. Hope you can share with us his experience very soon. I have been hired one week ago to work with a child with autism in kindergarten mainstream classroom. His mother wanted a special education teacher and here I am, enjoying every moment of it. This child is not aggressive, he plays with the other children during the break, he has lunch with a table of 24 children and he seems to enjoy school. He stims like any other child with autism and needs to be prompted 3 out of 5 times when writing or doing a math activity. He can write, recognizes all the letters and numbers.The general ed teacher is complaining and saying that this child should be in another setting, etc. I think this setting is good for him and that he is benefiting from it as well as the other children in the classroom who treat him with respect and care. I am strong advocate for inclusion when the child is fit for it.

  • Jan Russell says:

    I Am the mother of a son with a mild form of PDD-NOS. He loves to socialize and his reading skills are on target. his weakness is in math and motor skills. He has no sensory issues. In my son’s case integration works. My daughter is normal and is in class with a student with autism. This child is disruptive and agressive. My daughter became so frightened of his outbursts that she Threw up from stress. In a case like this the child should not be integrated. Keep in mine my daughter is used to her brothers behavior. If this poor child is scaring the heck out of her just imagine what the other students are thinking! They do not play with him and often avoid him. The parents have done all they can. My conclusion? Mild forums of autism: yes. Moderate: maybe. Severe and/or agressive: no way!

  • Laura says:

    Thank you for this fabulous article! I am an SLP working in the public schools, and I am looking for ways to improve the inclusion mindset at our school. The key is making each child’s plan individualized, and we have to be sure our teachers are prepared and supported in order for it to work. Your article will be a foundational tool as I prepare to help my staff! Thank you.

  • James Stewart says:

    Let me just say I have been a paraprofessional for two years now. I have worked with clients with severe autism, moderate autism, and severe oppositional defient disorder. My current client who I have been working with for just over a year now is a very sweet 11 year old middle school boy with severe autism. He has aggressive behaviors, however they are easily managed and avoided because I am trained to deal with them and I have gained enough experience working with my client to understand his wants and needs and manage those behaviors effectively. In the past year he has only had violent outbursts/tantrums twice, which is down from several from the previous year. So he has definitely made substantial progress not just with behavior, but his functional skills, ability to socialize as well as verbalize his wants and needs has all improved noticably since I began to work with him. This year we have transitioned from elementary to middle school and he has adapted well. My client has homeroom with his gen ed peers and eats his lunch in the cafeteria with the rest of the students. His academics are done in the resource room. For my client this balance seems to work very well for him. Let me just say firstly, I take issue with some previous comments making broad generalizations about autism spectrum disorder and its nature. My client does not need a visual schedule or visual aids as a previous post insinuated all autistics would benefit from. Although his autism is severe he is very different from previous autistic clients I have had. Some however, undoubtedly do require visual aids and benefit from that approach. Each individual with autism will benefit from an individual approach and it seems as though a lot of these posts are from parents assuming that all autistic individuals are similar to their child. I.e. have similar qualities, challenges, or modes of behavior, which I have experienced personally is not true at all. I work for a home health care company that is privately contracted to work with the special ed teachers and alongside the Department of Education (DOE) education assistants, faculty, and staff. We are, in my opinion, trained very well by our agency, we receive monthly training sessions in a wide variety of aspects of specialized education including managing and teaching specifically for students with autism. We also are mandated to attend 8 additional trainings per year that cover other aspects of special education. all of our trainings are mandatory according to the contract between my agency and the Department of Education. In my experience, my fellow paraprofessionals and BISS’s that work for my agency are highly trained, highly competant and effective special educators whom are positive and truly care about what they do and about their clients. I’m sure some are not always as passionate as others, bearing in mind our pay stinks and we are totally at the bottom of the totem pole in the DOE hierarchy. Sadly paraprofessionals are often given no input and simply told what to do even though from my experience in most cases they usually know what is best for the client and what environment is at appropriate level to address the clients needs. my experience with my fellow DOE staff in the classroom has not always been that way however. many of the EA’s (education assistants) I have or currently work with HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO TRAINING REGARDING AUTISM and have very little idea of how to deal with autistic students like my client. I try my best to provide them with advice and insight that was taught to me by my trainings but because of the hierarchy of the DOE, some EA’s and other DOE faculty seem tenitive to take my advice, or perhaps think they know better (eventhough I have seen EA’s use arcane and outdated approaches that I know do not work, I have seen the often exacerbation of behaviors that result.) Occasionally, as is the case with one particular individual at present, the attitude and approach of some DOE staff is downright unprofessional. you have to understand I have worked for many schools across my district and there is an extremely wide variance of the competence, efficiency, professionalism and support infrastructure of special education departments. some I have worked in are excellent, however many, including the one I currently work in, are not. they are either underfunded, understaffed, or untrained in dealing with children with special needs, sometimes all three. I can relate to much of what has been discussed here and let me finish by saying that there is no substitute for experience when working directly with students with special needs. I have seen paraprofessionals with no more than a high school diploma who are excellent at what they do, absolutely the best and I really mean that. I know first hand that one’s level of schooling has very little to do with how effective they can be as a special educators and everything to do with how much and what kind of training they have received in the field as well as their experience working with disabled students. I hope someone reading this finds my comments helpful. There is no doubt our DOE is dysfunctional, but within that are many educators who truly care and are passionate about what they do and they do a lot of good even when surrounded by educators whom you might call “bad apples” in the classroom. Also, some special education classrooms are excellent environments full of passionate caring individuals.
    I don’t agree that all students with special needs should be fully integrated with gen ed. To make it work as it would ideally, significant time would need to be taken to educate the other students about tolerance and acceptance of individuals with special needs. DOE staff would require way more training than they currently have which seems completely unrealistic considering that fiscally, DOE budgets are currently going in the other direction and cutting budgets and staff, not adding additional staff, trainings or resources. Even still, it is hard to force a non-special needs student to develop a true bond of friendship in a public school atmosphere and culture that is permiated by a lack of understand of the nature of disabilities such as autism. It is completely understandable that gen ed students would be hesitant to form that kind of bond with a student that they have observed having a violent outburst or totally socially unacceptable tantrum before. it is also totally understandable for a parent to be nervous, apprehensive, or hostile to integration when their child has been injured by a special needs student (e.g. bitten, kicked, punched in the face, or headbutted). And yes, I have seen it before personally. I have in my time as a parapro seen in an integrated classroom a special needs child punch another non-special needs student in the face resulting in a black eye. I have had one of my own previous clients with autism bite me in fear in a gen ed classroom (triggered by anxiety from the noise and commotion of his environment at that moment) and the reaction of fear and lack of understanding by the other students in witnessing my client exhibiting that behavior. I think honestly that with the proper support, training, an education of the other non special needs students integrated classrooms might work, but those things are just not realistically present at the moment and without that level of funding and support I would not want my current client or any other with moderate to severe autism spectrum disorder in a gen ed environment as it would do more harm than good.

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