The future that we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people's children.
- Marian Wright Edelman
As we get closer to Alanna's inevitable transition from IBI into the school system (a transition I anticipate with much dread), I am forced to contemplate the whole idea of inclusion and what it really means.
Most educators seem to press for "inclusion" - that is, for a child with special needs to be part of a regular classroom with their peers, with support, if necessary. Our local school board (similar to American school districts) even has this as a policy statement:
The Thames Valley District School Board believes most exceptional children should have their needs met, using a variety of strategies, techniques and resource support in regular classes in their home school.
I don't grasp this philosophy at all. Placement should be dictated by the needs of the student. For children with autism, it should be based on the child's ability to tolerate a regular classroom, how self-directed they are, their adaptive behaviour level, and most important, their ability to do grade level work or benefit from social interaction with children close to their own age.
Some educators will simply say that grade level can have modified expectations and then a child can remain in a regular class. Some modifications might be appropriate, but not many. Take for example a class of grade one students who are learning about addition. If a child is in that class and does not understand how to count and the meaning of "more", "less", or "fewer", the whole concept of "modification" becomes meaningless. You can't teach addition without a basic mathematical foundation, and if you can't count, you'll find addition pretty hard.
Is the modification to teach the student to count while the rest of the class is learning how to add? If so, who is teaching the student how to count? If that is an EA, then why even bother have the student in the class if they are being taught different curriculum? Worse, if the teacher is expected to do this themselves, what is the child doing when the teacher is working with the majority of the class? The child is likely to become bored because the work is too hard and then we might see behaviours occurring.
On the social level, I can see great benefit from a child with autism being with typical peers, but only if they are "close enough" socially to benefit. A six year old child who still can't play co-operatively is going to struggle... the typical children will play in a much more complex manner and probably use language that is too difficult for a child at this developmental level to follow or reciprocate.
This all seems like common sense to me. If a child is doing something different than the rest of the class then why bother put them in a regular class? Withdraw them to a proper segregated class with a very small teacher to student ratio where they can get individualized instruction with "inclusion" where appropriate (recess, gym, other activities where skill levels are appropriate). This will benefit the children in the mainstream class as well - they do not have to "slow down" for the special needs child, or have to tolerate behaviour that is being generated by frustration on the part of that child trying to learn.
The irony is that inclusion is a smokescreen for "ways to save money". It is cheaper to put a child in a regular class with as minimal EA support as the school can get away with versus a fully staffed special education class.
Sometimes exclusion is the fair and right thing for everyone. Pretending "inclusion" is fair for every child is nonsense.