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New Brunswick Autism Education: Everyone in the Mainstream Classroom Inclusion Model Continues to Hold Back Progress

Posted Jun 28 2010 3:19am
I have been a frequent promoter of the progress made in New Brunswick in the education of autistic students. Recent developments though show the extent to which that progress has been uneven with ultimate implementation of changes being left to the School District level and with a bilingual and bifurcated Education department in New Brunswick resulting in some francophone districts preferring to go it alone or to follow models from outside New Brunswick.

Two developments have spurred the  progress that has been made. One is  the training of 4-500 teacher assistants at the excellent UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program. The program has received high marks on external review by Dr. Eric Larsson and has included knowledgeable guest speakers like David Celiberti of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.  The UNB-CEL AIT program has emphasized both quality and integrity with course entry requirements, substantial practicum and examination requirements. Unfortunately the program has been imposed by some in the Department of Education who felt that the program, which resulted from political-parent consultation, represented a loss of departmental influence. The Department is now moving back to what it has wanted all along ...  an in house training program with all the inherent conflicts of interest, quality and integrity issues that in house training brings with it. Some school districts have also refused to enroll teacher assistants in the program particularly in New Brunswick's francophone school districts which have tended to go their own direction in New Brunswick's bilingual and bifurcated education system.

Progress has also been made in modernizing inclusion in New Brunswick schools.  For years the dominant "everybody in the mainstream classroom" approach of the New Brunswick Association for Community Living and by Gordon Porter,  the former chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission,  has held total sway in New Brunswick for decades.  This approach does not reflect the research literature, or the experience of families like ours, which says that not ALL students with autism belong in the mainstream classroom.  I have presented legal reviews and research literature reviews to the MacKay Inclusion Review, (and Professor MacKay is one of the worst offenders, and I use the term offender intentionally, when it comes to promoting the "everybody in the mainstream classroom model).

My son used to come home with bite marks on his hands and wrists from his days in a mainstream classroom where he was overstimulated, and learning a different subject matter, using different methods than the other children in his class. Once removed from the class his self injury ceased and his school career has been a true joy as I have indicated many, many times on this blog. Conor has not been sent to a prison like, isolation room.  He has been educated in a small side room with an autism trained teacher assistant. The room is decorated with the usual learning tools and is not in the least restrictive. Conor visists the school gym, pool, kitchen and library.  He is around other children there and in the halls.  I have seen children greet him at school many, many times.  Conor's classroom is the school and he is not alone in such accommodations which have been made for other students in District 18.

The concept of the whole school as a classroom or learning environment is not mine. I am not a professional educator and I did not come up with it. The person who did relay that concept to me was Alex Dingwall the Superintendent of School District 18.  The use of the whole school environment. to provide alternative learning locations and accommodation for autistic children who can not function in the mainstream classroom is not mine. It may or may not be Superintendent Dingwall's but it was he who relayed it to me during a settlement conference for a Human Rights complaint I had filed on behalf of my son and which I ultimately withdrew because he has been accommodated in our neighborhood schools here in Fredericton.

I caught some of the CBC coverage of the Moncton child placed in a jail like time out room. I heard Krista Carr of the NBACL offering her commentary without acknowledging that the system in place in that school district is the total inclusion, everybody in the mainstream classroom, model which does not recognize that the classroom is not right for all children and does not put any emphasis on providing alternate learning locations outside the mainstream classroom. The total inclusion model pushed by the NBACL, by the former chair of the NB Human Rights Commission and by Professor Wayne Mackay has failed and harmed some New Brunswick autistic students, including, for a brief period of time, my own son. Thankfully Conor has,  long since his failed mainstream classroom experience, had access to an alternate learning location in our neighborhood schools. The credit for that accommodation does not belong to me, or to Professor Wayne MacKay,  former Human Rights Commissioner Gordon Porter or NBACL official Krista Carr. The credit belongs to educators at School District 18 who have accommodated my son's disability.

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