Autism and Education: Does Inclusion Work?

Inclusion“Inclusion” – that education buzz word that every parent with an autistic child, most likely has at least some reservations about.  Children at the “severe” end of the spectrum usually attend special schools, as their needs or difficulties are great enough to interfere with education in a mainstream setting.  What about those at the “high-functioning” end of the spectrum?  They are intelligent, with at least an average IQ, they are verbal and can usually manage basic functions like the toilet and self-care to varying degrees that are considered acceptable enough, to be absorbed into mainstream education.  Does inclusion work for those children?  I strongly believe it doesn’t.

High-functioning autistic children probably wouldn’t get their academic needs met in a special school (and there would likely also be sensory difficulties from learning along side children with severe disabilities), so we need to have more schools specifically for these children, who have a very unique set of needs, being academically able but also needing the right amount of reasonable adjustments to make their experience accessible and their wellbeing ensured. Autism rates are rising so this issue can’t be ignored.

Autism awareness is shockingly low in the UK. We end up with lots of ASC children excluded, becoming “school refusers” or just suffering terribly with anxiety and behavioural issues, because mainstream inclusion isn’t working for them. But still, the tick-box mentality prevails and the Government wants to do their utmost to force autistic children into mainstream schools which demand, cajole and pressure them into an NT way of being – the square peg into a round hole.

I’m far from alone in believing inclusion doesn’t work, here are several articles about it:

  1. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/specialneeds-education-does-mainstream-inclusion-work-470960.html
  2. http://www.teachers.org.uk/files/active/0/costs_of_inclus-pt2.pdf
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/jan/11/comment.publicservices
  4. http://behaviourguru.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/when-everyones-special-no-one-is-how.html
  5. https://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/people/staff/galton/Costs_of_Inclusion_Final.pdf
  6. http://www.allfie.org.uk/pages/useful%20info/integration.html

There are organisations set up specifically for the purpose of assisting parents to communicate their child’s needs to their school.  Surely if inclusion worked, the schools would be prepared for autistic children, trained to support them and understanding of what reasonable adjustments they need?  It’s law after all, the Equality Act 2010 states that everyone with a disability is entitled to reasonable adjustments in accessing education and other sectors of society.  Hearts and Minds is one such organisation set up to help parents:  http://heartsandmindsphones.co.uk/advocacy/  They state:

“The research revealed that 67 per cent of parents worry that their child is not supported appropriately at school, with more than half admitting that their child has experienced negative comments, or bullying, as a result of their condition. Parents described mainstream schooling as a ‘lonely’, ‘scary’ and ‘very anxious environment’.

“With 69 per cent of parents stating that schools are not appropriately aware of their child’s condition and receive inadequate support and information from central Government on how to sufficiently teach them, it’s clear that something has to be done to address this growing problem.” – Ian McGrath, Founder of Hearts & Minds

In my personal experience, having moved my eldest child from one secondary school where she suffered terrible bullying which the school refused to acknowledge or support her with, and her next school seemingly wanting to do the right thing but needing a lot of badgering and still not “getting it” adequately, I have learned the hard way.  My younger daughter, being in an ASC unit from which she integrates for part of the day, I thought this would give the right support, but ironically (and shockingly) the unit staff seem to have extremely low autism awareness and both children struggle terribly socially.  I don’t feel mainstream staff have anywhere near enough training and they don’t understand the autistic child’s needs, let-alone have the time to support them.  The environment is often too busy, noisy, stressful and demanding for an ASC child, which they may be unable to communicate, instead melting down and disintegrating when they go home.

If an autistic child needs a statement to get by in mainstream school, doesn’t this tell the Government something?  I would also like to ask why autism training is not compulsory for all school staff?  How are they supposed to even try to support autistic children if they don’t understand them?

It seems to be pretty common that autistic children are punished at school for autism behaviours, in the belief that they are just being naughty.  Until there is understanding that the neurology of an autistic child is different to a neurotypical child, then things like this will keep on happening.

It’s hard enough trying to support an autistic child in a mainstream school, but then parents also often have to battle the LA to get a statement (now EHCP) for their child in addition.  There doesn’t seem to be much sympathy for the fact that high-functioning autistic are struggling hugely with anxiety or depression because they are academically able.  If the child is female it’s much worse, because females on the spectrum tend to internalise their difficulties and schools often fail to accept that the child is really in that much distress.

So my belief is that inclusion does not work, staff are untrained in autism, they don’t have the capacity to support the child to the level they need and what is needed is autism-specific schools that cater for the needs of high-functioning autistic children.  Those schools would be set up in such a way that they take into account sensory needs, are run in a way to reduce stress and pressure on the children so that they don’t feel the need to explode onto their families after school, they should allow the children time out when they need it and have on-site ASC trained counsellors who can help them reduce stress throughout the day.

These are the adults of tomorrow, if we don’t get things right now, we could be left with a much greater burden in years to come.

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