Traditional School Curriculum vs. Rising Autism Rates(2)
Within the last decade, the number of children diagnosed as Autistic has rapidly increased. Autism is categorized as a developmental disorder where there is impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, impairment of the ability to communicate with others, and by repetitive patterns (Merriam-Webster, 1944). As opposed to a “normally developed” and socialized child who uses words and physical gestures to communicate their needs, an autistic child may act out or have to use specialized communicative tools to express the same sentiments as their peers. Historically, children with special needs who require specialized classroom instruction, have been removed from the group class setting altogether, and have been placed in special classes where other students have both similar and varying developmental disabilities. With the national average of autistic children steadily increasing, should the way we’ve been teaching grade school students be altered to accommodate the changing current of the kind of developmental impaired children now needing to be serviced?
When we turn our kids over to the education system, we do so with the hope and faith that we are placing them in institutions where they can strive academically and socially; taught by educators who care, and who are experts in their respective fields. This notion does not vary based on whether or not one’s child has developmental issues. Parents want the best for their child, period. This push for inclusion for autistic children in the classroom affects all students, not just those disabled, and should be on the forefront of all parent’s minds.
There are many benefits to including autistic children in classrooms with their non-autistic peers. One main benefit is that autistic children are naturally encouraged to socialize with their peers using traditional communicative techniques. While this may not make a non-verbal autistic child speak, he or she is visibly exposed to how others communicate; this can be an important tool as many autistic children are visual learners. This is in stark contrast to being in a separate class setting where his or her peers are also nonverbal, or communicate using less effective means. There is not much for an autistic child to learn from in an environment that is not conducive to their growth and development.
Another benefit of including autistic children in a traditional classroom setting is that their peers benefit from being exposed to children with a diversity of talents and temperaments (Dybrik, 2004). Children are social creatures, and without having developed mature critical thinking skills, are looking to place themselves, as well as their peers, in the narrow social boxes our culture has constructed. These boxes, and whether one fits into them or not, has a lot to do with how children treat their peers. Using the inclusion method exposes children early to people who are different than them, and encourages equal treatment and equal opportunities for these children as they continue to grow.
While there are many benefits to the inclusion of autistic children in a traditional classroom setting, it is just as imperative to address the disadvantages associated with inclusion in order to come to a collective consensus that benefits both the autistic student, as well as the non-autistic student. In addressing the disadvantages, it is important to note that these disadvantages also exist in the current, specialized classroom setting structure. The main disadvantage across the board seems to be the inexperience and lack of sufficient training when working with autistic children. Historically, most special education has been tailored to disorders like Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, health issues like epilepsy, or mental issues like bipolar disorder (Samuels, 2016). Autism is a relatively new “disease” that has grown 165% between 2005–2015 (Smith, 2008). Such rapid growth has left educators ill prepared on how to best instruct this new generation of special need children, and not many educational services have been developed yet to adequately underscore the specialized needs that must be addressed for these individuals to strive in both school and the society as a whole.
Another disadvantage presented is that inclusion demands coordination on the part of the few special-education teachers that exist, and regular teachers, who are often times already overworked and underpaid, and do not have the extra resources to devote to autistic children. Also prevalent is the problem of funding; while there has been an increase in the amount of money spent nationally to support special needs children, not much has been allocated solely to autism to provide the necessary training to instruct such individuals.
In order to begin to address inclusion and its benefits, we have to remove the laws in place that have already set the education system up for failure. The No Child Left Behind Act, a tool to measure a student’s success implemented by President Bush, is predicated on school’s accumulative standardized test scores. The problem lies when introducing inclusion to that mix of a standardized practice. There is nothing standard about the “normal” student, let alone the autistic one. Teachers and educators ask how a standard curriculum can be adapted to meet the needs of each and every differing child, without affecting test scores, which directly affects school funding received from the government. This is something we’re going to have to address from the bottom-up, beginning with our local governments, in order to maximize the success of the inclusion experience.
· Autism. (1944) In Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2016 Ed.) New York, NY: Merriam-Webster.
- Dybvik, Ann Christy. “Autism and the Inclusion Mandate.” Education Next, President & Fellows of Harvard College, 2004, Winter, educationnext.org/autismandtheinclusionmandate/.
- Smith, Fran. “Educators Deal with the Growing Problem of Autism.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation , 19 Mar. 2008, www.edutopia.org/autism-school-special-needs.
- Samuels , Christina A. “Number of U.S Students in Special Education Ticks Upward.” Education Week, 2017 Editorial Projects in Education, 19 Mar. 2008, www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/04/20/number-of-us-students-in-special-education.html.