The Journey from Psychiatric Facilities to Autistic Children’s Schools
The etiology of Autism:
The hypothesis proposed by Leo Kanner, which attempted to give an insight into the congenital determinants of autism (based on Freudian psychology) indicated that poor parenting played a key role in determining the susceptibility of a child towards autism — particularly ‘frigid’ mothers who were uncaring towards their children. This view prevails even today. Autistic children, in those times would be sent to ‘resource rooms’ or ‘psychiatric centers’; in contrast, today there are dedicated autistic children’s schools which are solely focused on children that are on the spectrum.
About autistic children’s schools:
4 to 5 cases of autism were reported among 10,000 individuals in 1960. Thirty years later, this value increased to 5 to 31 individuals per 10,000.
The number of students who received special education under IDEA (Autism was categorized under IDEA in 1990) in the 1991–92 academic year was over 5,000 and the same number increased to over 65,000 in the academic year of 1999–2000.
As the prevalence grew, so did the number of autistic children’s schools.
These schools are very different than the old psychiatric facilities for children with autism and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
Specialized schools for children with neurodevelopmental delays and disorders have a modified curriculum for delivery of special education, which can accommodate the individual needs and capabilities of each child.
Autistic children tend to show inept social behaviors which have to be addressed during a child’s early years in order to optimally develop the necessary social and verbal communication skills within them.
Not all schools are capable and equipped to take care of and educate special children. The sensory sensitivity, social inactivity, lack of verbal communication, stimming (self-stimulatory behavior), over anxiousness and difficulties in adapting to changes in the routine are some of the factors which are effectively addressed in autistic children’s schools.
Traditional classroom practices do not suffice when it comes to special education for children on the spectrum. A holistic educational approach, which primarily focuses on a concept every child with autism or ASD can relate to and understand is adopted in most autistic children’s schools.
Many schools for autistic children have structured programs for implementation of this concept. One of them is the DIR (Developmental, Individual-difference, Relationship-based) model which also includes Floortime Therapy. These structured models have been developed by a renowned child psychiatrist, Dr. Stanley Greenspan.
The general atmosphere in the classroom may be inclusive, where children with and without any special needs receive education jointly, in a common physical space and in the presence of at least two teachers (A regular teacher and a special education teacher).
There are full-time autistic children’s schools which exclusively serve children with autism and ASD.
The best school for an autistic child might not be the one which uses fancy gadgets and modern methods to educate the child; a welcoming place where the child finds acceptance, calmness and happiness is definitely a better choice for most autistic children.