In New Brunswick proponents of an extreme version of mainstream classroom inclusion have dominated our education system for the past 30 years. The mainstream classroom inclusion for all approach is based on an inflexible and erroneous belief that all children, regardless of their personal condition, regardless of whether they have serious learning disabilities or neurological disorders, benefit from total mainstream classroom inclusion. Change has happened over the last 5-6 years as some autistic children, including my son Conor, have been permitted to learn in an area more suitable for them personally but still be included in a neighborhood school.
On Friday I met with Conor's resource team at Nashwaaksis Middle School to review the past year and plan for next year. It has been a terrific year for Conor on many fronts. He does receive his primary instruction including ABA in a small room with an autism trained ( UNB - CEL Autism Intervention Training Program) teacher assistant. But he also visits common areas of the school such as the library, the lunch room, the gym and the pool. He is recognized by other students some of whom have approached him on several occasions to say hello as he arrives at school with Mom or Dad.
On the side bar of this blog site are video clips from last year and this year showing Conor in the gym doing activities with the teacher assistant Brad Daniels. There are many other kids in the gym (I took care not to record the other children) but you can hear them in some of the videos. In these clips Conor is still not involved directly with the other students but he is around them.
Friday one of the resource team members who has been at the pool with Conor mentioned that he joins with the other kids in the pool on occasion. Conor will get up on one of the water rafts with the other kids pulling it around the shallow end, an activity we also do with him when we visit the pool. (She also gave me a snapshot she took of Conor preparing to leave the diving board, above)
Real school inclusion should be flexible as it has been for Conor the past few years. If an autistic child needs a quieter setting in which to learn, for ABA instruction, to avoid over stimulation, then they should be educated in a setting that accommodates that need. This does not mean that the child has to be isolated all day. The hallways and common areas can still be visited for identified purposes within the abilities of that child at that time. And the visits should be observed carefully to make sure the child is not overstressed.
For Conor a flexible approach to school inclusion, not mainstream classroom inclusion, has been very successful and beneficial for him.