"Inclusion is a process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging."
Early Childhood Forum (2003)
The approach of educational inclusion for children with autism has a wide range appeal to educators and parents. It gives children with special needs the opportunity to learn in natural, stimulating environments. Inclusion makes it possible for friendships to occur with non-disabled peers, provides positive role models, and may lead to greater acceptance in the community. The benefits are not solely for the child with autism. Children without disabilities will, in most cases, learn about differences between people and become more accepting to those who are different from themselves, it also gives the non-disabled learner an opportunity to assist others and learn compassion for their peers. Teachers may benefit as well by achieving a broader appreciation of differences and by learning new techniques for instruction, which in turn, has the underlying capacity of benefitting all learners in the classroom.
The following was written by a student in MNPS when asked to describe her learning in the classroom and autism and published with the permission of her parent:
How Autism Affects My Learning
O. B., 6th Grade
Autism affects my learning because I don’t like loud noises and distractions. Loud noises like, a chair moving across the floor, books dropping on the floor, or a lot of people talking at the same time, makes it very hard for me to concentrate. Things that other people don’t notice like, a knee bouncing or waving a pen are very distracting to me. When I get distracted with things going on around me, I get upset and have a hard time concentrating on my work. I get overwhelmed when I get behind in my work and don’t know what I am supposed to be working on, or when I am working on something that is different than what my classmates are working on. I need help from adults to calm down and re-focus on my class work.
Inclusion is not “one size fits all”. The goal is to continue to allow for the individualized needs of all learners while giving everyone an opportunity to access the general curriculum and have exposure to the general education classroom. Therefore, inclusion may look very different for each learner. Individualization is the key.
Officials from TEACCH (UNC Chapel Hill) explain their philosophy:
|TEACCH's position on inclusion of children with autism can be stated as follows:
- The TEACCH program recognizes the important value of preparing all persons with autism for successful functioning within society. Each person with autism should be taught with the goal of successful functioning with as few restrictions as is possible.
- Decisions about including children with autism into fully integrated settings must be made consistent with the principle of the "least restrictive environment" as a guiding principle. No person with autism should be unnecessarily or inappropriately denied access to meaningful educational activities. However, it should be noted that the concept of least restrictive environment requires that appropriate learning take place. Placement decisions also require that students be capable of meaningful learning and functioning within the setting selected.
- Activities which are inclusive for children with autism should be offered based on an individual assessment of the child's skills and abilities to function and participate in the setting. Inclusion activities are appropriate only when preceded by adequate assessment and pre-placement preparations including appropriate training. Inclusion activities typically need to be supported by professionals trained in autism who can provide assistance and objective evaluation of the appropriateness of the activity.
- Inclusion should never replace a full continuum of service delivery, with different students with autism falling across the full spectrum. Full inclusion should be offered to all persons with autism who are capable of success in fully integrated settings. Partial inclusion is expected to be appropriate for other clients with autism. And special classes and schools should be retained as an option for those students with autism for whom these settings are the most meaningful and appropriate.
MNPS encourages thoughtful inclusion for all students and offers a variety of trainings to help bridge the gap between the general education curriculum and the needs of learners with autism.Inclusion must be carefully planned and thoughtfully considered for all to acquire the benefits of the inclusive setting. The following is a letter from a parent of a child with autism who is being educated in an inclusive setting in MNPS, used with her permission:
I received the news that my daughter had Asperger's at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, and I'll always believe that it was a moment of divine intervention. As I exited the hospital that day, I saw very ill children in wheelchairs and walkers -- their little bodies ravaged by disease or chemo or cancer. Each sweet little child was different, and yet each one appeared to be fighting a battle for their own existence. In that moment, I realized how lucky we were that O. had Asperger's, and not some other horrible life-threatening disease. I said a prayer of thanks, and I prayed for the children and their families who appeared to me to be fighting a much tougher battle then we were entering. When O. and I are having a particularly difficult day or moment, I remind both of us how lucky we are that she was not one of the children I saw that day at the hospital.
Not to say that having a child with autism is easy, but there are blessings in every day. O. is smart, creative, and funny. Her mind is wide open and she thinks in sometimes completely different terms than the rest of us, and in that way, has opened my mind too. I think that some day she will do something really wonderful with all of her intelligence that will truly help mankind, like finding a cure for cancer. She has taught us all to be more patient, kind and understanding and though she struggles with social issues that many of us don't struggle with, in the end, I feel that she will contribute to society and will live a long, happy and productive life.
Before coming to MNPS, O. bounced from private school to private school. Each one ill-equipped to teach a child out of the cookie-cutter method that they used successfully to teach non-autistic children. She was unhappy, struggled with behavior and tried to conform to teaching methods that were impossible for her. There was a true lack of understanding and empathy toward her condition. One teacher at a local private school said that she thought O.'s behavior problems stemmed from the fact that she didn't pray enough. I knew then that we needed to find another school for her.
O.'s experiences in MNPS have been very positive. She has struggled consistently with conforming her behavior to the classroom, but with a lot of patience from her teachers, staff, principal, and her autism team, she is making progress. For the first time since O. has been in school, I feel like she is in an environment where she is truly cared for and there is a willingness to try whatever method works to help her succeed in school. She still has good days and challenging days, but she seems to have fewer challenging days than she used to. I am eternally grateful for all of the assistance, guidance, patience, love and kindness that O. receives every day at her school and from the Autism Team at MNPS. Thanks to them, O. is and will continue to be, an MNPS "success story."
Thank you for reading our series for Autism Awareness Month! We hope that these articles have helped you with a better understanding of autism. You can read previous articles by clicking the links below.
An Introduction to Our Team
What is Autism? A parent- & teacher-friendly definition
Autism Around Us