Improvement Needed in Autism Inclusion Programs

Last year, autism rights activist Ari Ne’eman was appointed to the National Council on Disability as the first openly autistic presidential appointee in American history. Ne´eman points out that both the law and an overwhelming body of empirical evidence support the notion that children with autism benefit most from an inclusionary model of education:

"Research has repeatedly found that inclusion of autistic students in the general educational setting leads to significant gains in academic achievement and standardized test scores, adaptive behavior, communication, social relationships and interaction, and post-high school outcomes for those students.

In comparison, autistic students who are educated primarily in segregated or life-skills settings score lower on assessments, make less progress in reading and math, have fewer social interactions and positive peer relationships, communicate less, and have lower adult outcomes and more issues with generalizing skills and adaptive behaviors."

The law also dictates that when appropriate programs for children on the autism spectrum are not available, it’s incumbent upon that school district to adjust their programs rather than to send those children away to autism schools. In other words, the program must conform to the child rather than the child conforming to the program.

Given the fact that many schools are not up-to-par in regards to their autism inclusion programs, one wonders if this notion of building expensive and separate schools isn’t a cost-cutting move disguised as a gift horse. 

What lends more credence to this notion is a 2009 Supreme Court ruling decision (6-3), stated that parents can place their kids in private schools unilaterally and then ask public schools to pay. Parents used to be required to try out a program for their child first before seeking an out-of-school placement, but that is no longer the case.

Mr. Ne´eman prefers that money designated to build segregated schools should be used to offset cuts in special education and that a ¨race-to-the-top¨ should be ignited to see which schools can come up with the best inclusion programs that could serve as examples for other districts.

Controversies such as these invariably bring out some irate parents of neurotypical children who claim their children are suffering from having children with autism in their midst. 

Like nails on chalkboard, these voices of fear and disdain only prove the necessity of neurotypical and autism spectrum children growing in appreciation of one another through day-to-day interaction instead of opting for the segregation option that has been all-too-common in the past.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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