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Autism at School: Smaller Classrooms for Autistic Children

Posted Jul 04 2009 9:14pm
Neuroscientists at a meeting of the InternationalMultisensory Research Forum held held at The City College of New York ( CCNY ) have argued that children with autism require smaller class sizes because of sensory integration dysfunction. I agree with the learned neuroscientists although I would add that some autistic children also have IntellectualDisabilities and serious lack of understanding and communication skills. Some require ABA based instruction to learn. For all these reasons the larger mainstream classroom is not appropriate for some autistic children. I have stated that position many times on this blog site, in the Wayne MacKay review of inclusive education here in New Brunswick and in other public meetings with education officials.

My son, at our request, receives his academic instruction in a small room with a teacher assistant. He visits common areas of the school such as the gym, kitchen, library, pool etc where he is around other children. Several children say hi to Conor when they see him. One of these students who lives nearby even visits him at our home now and plays with water balloons on the step with Conor. Prior to being removed from the mainstream classroom Conor was coming home with bite marks on his hands the result of over stimulation in the classroom.

Science Daily quotes Dr. John J. Foxe, Professor of Neuroscience at CCNY:

“Sensory integration dysfunction has long been speculated to be a core component of autism spectrum disorder ( ASD ) but there has been precious little hard empirical evidence to support this notion. Viewing a speaker’s articulatory movements can greatly improve a listener’s ability to understand spoken words, and this is especially the case under noisy environmental conditions.”

“These results are the first of their kind to verify that children with autism have substantial difficulties in these situations, and this has major implications for how we go about teaching these children in the classroom,” he continued. “Children with autism may become distressed in large classroom settings simply because they are unable to understand basic speech if the environment is sufficiently noisy.

“We should start to pay attention to the need for smaller numbers in the classroom and we need to carefully control the levels of background noise that these kids are exposed to. Imagine how frustrating it must be to sit in a classroom without being able to properly understand what the teacher or your classmates are saying to you.

“Being able to detect speech in noise plays a vital role in how we communicate with each other because our listening environments are almost never quiet. Even the hum of air conditioners or fans that we can easily ignore may adversely impact these children’s ability to understand speech in the classroom.

“Our data show that the multisensory speech system develops relatively slowly across the childhood years and that considerable tuning of this system continues to occur even into early adolescence. Our data suggest that children with Autism lag almost 5 years behind typically developing children in this crucial multisensory ability.”

Actually this research simply confirms what many parents, including me, have observed directly for many years.

When your child comes home every day with bite marks on his hands it is evidence that can not be ignored by a parent.

When your child is moved to a quieter, less stressful environment and the biting ceases the conclusion to be drawn is obvious and all the feel good rhetoric of the mainstream classroom for all crowds such as we have here in New Brunswick will not cause you to change your mind.


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