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.