Why Autistic Students Should be Educated in Inclusive Classrooms

Meet Ella. Ella is an eight year old girl
with Autism. Let’s take a brief look into Ella’s inclusive classroom in the local
public school. Hi I’m Ella, and this is my class. Walking
into the classroom can be quite difficult. My legs don’t often walk the way I want
them to, and sometimes my hands can fly up to my face when I’m excited to see my friends.
I also use my iPad to talk. But my friends are pretty awesome, and they help me out a
lot. My helper Ann is pretty cool too. According to the Institute of Education Science,
in 2011 while 95% of children with autism were educated in the general education setting,
only 39% spent 80% or more of their day in inclusive classrooms. Because of this, parents,
teachers and caretakers struggle with the important decision of whether or not to educate
autistic children in an inclusive or self-contained classroom. But first, let’s be clear about what inclusion
really is. It can be making friends, working alongside peers, academic achievement, equal
opportunities, teaching about disability, having an aide in the classroom, or even increasing
acceptance. Why should we include autistic students in
a mainstream classroom? Autistic students should be included in the general education
environment because of academic and social benefits that facilitate rich and meaningful
peer connections. But even if inclusion is a good idea philosophically,
is it too impractical and idealistic? Inclusion advocates often field objections to inclusive
classrooms, but the reality is that many of these objections are flawed. A 2004 study found that 48% of students with
learning disabilities in a self-contained school reported being bullied by outside peers.
In contrast, only 4% of students in inclusive classrooms reported being bullied. Bullying
can happen anywhere, but in inclusive classrooms, friends and peer mentors can help stand-up
for autistic children. In fact, a 1997 study found that included students had more friends
and higher levels of social support. Typically-developing children often worked with their autistic
classmates, giving an opportunity for both children to better understand each other. Actually, many services and accommodations
for autistic children can also aid the entire class. For example, inclusion classrooms tend
to have lower student-to-teacher ratios and thus encourage greater student engagement.
Additionally, various studies have found major social benefits, including increased acceptance
of others, increased responsibility, and realistic perceptions of peers. This acceptance and
tolerance will benefit them throughout their life. Actually, teachers already have to differentiate
instruction because all children in the class are different. Additionally, not all the responsibility
falls on the teacher. An entire team works with the child and teacher to ensure social
and academic success. Finally, training programs are available for professional development.
For more information about these programs, see our video description box below. A 2015 study showed that minimally verbal’
or ‘nonverbal’ school-aged autistic children are often underestimated in terms of their
cognitive potential. Presuming competence is an integral part of inclusion so that autistic
students are given the opportunity to fully demonstrate their academic abilities. Additionally,
the Individuals with Disabilities Act, a federal law requiring schools to serve the educational
needs of children with disabilities, states that the degree of modification of the curriculum
that a student needs is not a reason to keep them out of a general education class. Also,
autistic students in general education classrooms tend to do much better academically than autistic
children in self-contained classrooms. According to a 2010 study, autistic children in inclusive
classrooms outperformed their self-contained and IQ-matched peers in reading, writing,
and math skills. Ella was told in her previous self-contained
classroom that there is no reason for her to be taking calculus and chemistry, because
she will never be a scientist. But then again, neither will most of her classmates. Inclusion isn’t only about the science she
will learn in class. It’s about the relationships she will form, her acceptance in the community,
and having the same academic opportunities as her peers. Besides, who’s to say she
won’t be a scientist?

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