Friday, April 1, 2011

Wow! It's Been a Whole Two Weeks Since I've Had a Parenthood Post!

I guess that's because Parenthood hasn't had a new episode in awhile. This week's Asperger's topic had to do with Adam and Kristina trying to decide whether they should mainstream Max, their son with Asperger's. Before his diagnosis, he was in a typical classroom setting, and it was a disaster! After his diagnosis, they moved him to a different school where he could get more specialized services. On the episode, the school officials felt that Max needed to be mainstreamed.

I was surprised that this was such a huge problem for Kristina. She liked that he was in a "safe" environment, free from bullies. Her husband, Adam, however, wanted Max to reach his full potential which he felt was only possible in a mainstream class.

Is mainstream the best? Is it the only way for a child to meet their full potential? I think that depends on the child. In my daughter's case, we only wanted her in a mainstream classroom. She was academically advanced, had little sensory issues, and her other OT issues were pretty minimal. The large class size did not cause any problems for her. She had to learn to deal with her typical peers and what better place to do that than in the typical classroom?

But is a mainstream classroom right for all kids? Just as autism presents itself differently among different kids, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. A long, long time ago, I did a research study on full inclusion programs for Congress. This was long before I was married and had a special needs daughter myself. In fact, I never dreamed I would one day have a daughter with autism.

This was back in, ahem, 1994. Some members of Congress were interested in learning how different school districts across the country handled full inclusion programs. They also wondered if the full inclusion model would replace the existing model of mainstreaming and/or separate classrooms and schools. Full inclusion meant that ALL students, regardless of their disability, would be mainstreamed into a typical classroom for the majority of the day. There would be no other educational models. To do this study, we shadowed students, observed classrooms, held round-table discussions with teacher and parents of both typical kids and kids with special needs. We went to five school districts across the country.

What we found was that full inclusion would be hard to implement. Students needed to be educated based on their needs. Some students would never do well in a typical classroom setting. I saw horrible things first hand when I visited schools. I saw students with special needs who were being totally ignored by the teachers who were supposed to help them. I met with teachers who told me they were ill-prepared to handle the challenges of five languages in the classroom in addition to students with special needs. The teachers said they had no training and no knowledge on how to help these students. Overall, full inclusion didn't see like a good idea.

That study was done almost 20 years ago. After I had spent 4 months on that assignment I didn't give another thought to the topic until a couple of years ago when my own daughter was diagnosed with autism. What I see around me is a more sophisticated understanding of serving students with special needs. Yes, the funding is low, and we have to fight tooth and nail to get services. But the education models are more sophisticated. Including children with special needs into a typical classroom isn't an all-or-nothing approach anymore. Students with special needs can have higher levels of support. Also, there are wonderful programs that may or may not have a mainstreaming component that meet the special needs of the student.

While the current system isn't perfect, I'm glad to see that full inclusion isn't really on the table anymore. Special needs are not a one-size-fits-all problem, they need a wide range of solutions.


  1. I agree, every child is a speical case, there is not "right or worng" here. Even with my son with ADHD, there are places he does well and other he does not. Where he needs help, he goes out for it, when he can be in his regular room he is. Depends on the school and the resources available, unfortunatley not all school districts have enough resources and sometimes parents don't have all the guidance they need to be able to decide.
    Have a great weekend!

  2. My son is in a self-contained Asperger program and I don't think he'd do well to be mainstreamed because he finds it so difficult right now. As time progresses maybe but I am prepared to accept that he'll always be in the self-contained setting until college.

  3. Good point Cheryl, it really does seem child dependent.

  4. i wanted to touch base with you today..and say thank you.. you my friend have taught me so much about autism and I have to say I really appreciate you....
    you have made me a better educator through this.... today// all of my boys wore their blue to signify austism awareness month...


  5. interesting. i don't think most teachers are prepared to deal with all these issues still-- 20 years later.

  6. So true. My daughter sounds so similar to yours and she is also in a regular 1st grade classroom and doing great. It helps to have an awesome, flexible, patient teacher. I know plenty of kids would not do as well in that same kind of environment. I agree that every kid should be put in the right class based on their needs. Inclusion would be a nightmare!!

  7. Parents are the best judges for their children. Children with special needs should have well trained, patience, loving and understanding teachers. I often see special needs students left on their own to fend for themselves in a regular classroom.

  8. As you know, we've had this question on the brain where our Billy is concerned lately. I wrote about our inclusion vs. special class issues here:

    Billy has been in an inclusion classroom for pre-K: half special needs (ALL kinds of physical and developmental needs) and half neurotypical 4-year-olds. It's been a great experience and there has been a very good teacher-to-student ratio with all the aides, volunteers, helpers that are available.

    Kindergarten, which Billy will enter in the fall, is a totally different ballgame. And ultimately, I think he's going to be better served in a part-mainstream, part-special ed class situation.

    He's very advanced academically on all the things he can memorize: reading, counting, etc. But he needs a little more one-on-one help in certain areas to be sure he's comprehending and not just memorizing subjects.

    Plus, to be honest, his non-stop stream of verbalizing -- whether he's singing, scripting or just narrating everything that's currently happening in the classroom -- is likely to be more than a little disruptive to other students and the teacher.

    Keep your fingers crossed for us, because we haven't got this one figured out by any means. And I have a feeling it's going to be a moving target for quite some time.

  9. I can't imagine 100% full inclusion. That doesn't seem realistic for alot of severely impacted kids. We struggle with this alot especially recently as we are making the decision to transition out of self-contained right now. For me it's so hard to make generalizations because it's so teacher and classroom dependent. It can sound great in theory and then a lousy teacher does it all in. And vice versa. Our iEP is yeah it's on my mind.

  10. I agree, supports need to be tailored to the needs of the child. My son's Asperger's is mild, but his ADHD is severe. He's in a typical class, but goes to the Resource room for extra support during the day. Full inclusion wouldn't work for him, or be fair to the teacher.

  11. I'm sure it depends upon each individual child and the degree of their autism. I would hate to see a child be deprived of the extra help they need by being in a 100% inclusion class, especially when state cut backs are creating large class size and less resource help and training for teachers.