Well Being

Why Inclusion Does Not Always—Often—Work

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George and Sam: Two Boys, One Family, and Autism
Inclusion, while not exactly a fighting word like “cure” or prenatal genetic testing in autism circles, can certainly arouse strong emotions and opinions in parents. When Charlie was just starting out in his ABA program over seven years ago, “full inclusion” was a goal. When he was seven, he attended some “specials”—-music and library—with his same-age peers and an aide, and many “disruptive” behavior problems. In retrospect, I think that better training of the aide and better planning with supports built in like a token system might have made these experiences more successful. At this time, Charlie is in a self-contained autism classroom (in a public school in our town) and has never done better at school, and, at least for this time, mainstreaming does not seem like the educational option that will best help him learn.

This is not, of course, the case for many autistic children: If there is one way in which an autistic child's education needs to be “individualized,” it is on this issue, among a host of others. Charlotte Moore, mother of George and Sam and author of George and Sam: Two Boys, One Family, and Autism writes that

Arguably, the whole concept of school is wrong for children on the spectrum. Any school, even the most specialized, involves some degree of social cooperation and space sharing. One of the motivations behind home education programs, such as ABA, is the impossibility of finding any school environment in which an autistic child can thrive. (p. 214)

Moore is not at all arguing that inclusion is “always wrong”; she notes, very realistically, that “the cases where it works well are heavily outnumbered by the cases where it fails” (p. 209). Her position is based on her understanding of autism:

One argument often put forward to support the inclusion policy is that ASD children will benefit from the example of mainstream behavior. Well, if these children could learn by example, they wouldn't be autistic. When autistic children imitate others, they do so only in the most superficial and transient ways. They don't relate behavior to the underlying social structure. George's time in mainstream was far more successful than Sam's, but he still never learned in any meaningful way from the play of the other children. This isn't surprising—if you think about it, most autistic children have had a “mainstream” home life, and they haven't learned from that. (p. 208)

(I can't exactly say that Charlie has had a “‘mainstream' home life at this point—ABA, VB, and who knows what other educational methodologies have gotten wound into our home life for the past years.)

For Charlie, what is most challenging for him to learn in a mainstream setting are academic subjects, like reading and writing; sensory over- and under-stimulation set in, as do his auditory and visual processing problems. Add the social aspects of school—like staying in his seat, raising one's hand to ask a question, lining up (to name so quite basic ones)—and mainstream school, for Charlie, becomes a manifold bundle of challenges. Charlie was doing some peer modeling with other students in his speech therapy to practice “who” and “what” questions; this has had to be discontinued to address his articulation issues. Even though he is no longer doing any formal educational activities with the other children in his school, he is not at all hidden from them: He walks the halls, uses the gym and playground, is a part of the school community (though more can always be done in this area).

I suppose inclusion is not exactly on everyone's mind right now with the holidays—though it is precisely the disruptions to the usual orderly routine at school that come with the holidays that are having some not-sp-happy effects on Charlie: The hyperness among all the children in the building, in the anticipation of vacation and celebrations and parties, and all the singing and pine trees and cookies and treats and…… I leave you with twostatement from Moore about why an overall “policy of inclusion” is simply “wrong”:

Such a policy is “wrong as in misguided, and in some cases wrong as in immoral.” (p. 198)

The current inclusion policy [in England] dooms many children to failure, and in the long run, failure is expensive. (p. 216)