Inclusive education may not be the best way forward for all special needs children

Countries who institute inclusive education for children with special needs to be put in the same classroom as their typically developing peers often do so with the best of intentions.

They might harbour the vague hope that simply putting these special needs children in a similar learning environment as their typically developing peers would help spur the educational progress of these special needs children, who would somehow passively “absorb” the skills and lessons being taught just by being physically there.

Unfortunately, for certain special needs children, especially those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), these well-intentioned measures usually do not work out as intended.

Firstly, these children with ASD has language and behavioural problems that affect their learning ability, as they may, for example, lack the skills to vocally and/or physically imitate their teachers and peers when learning words and/or movements. Some of these ASD children may also display behaviour like being lost and withdrawn in their own world, or stimming (repeating certain meaningless movements continually like swinging their arms) or tantruming when made to follow instructions. These fundamental language and behavioural issues need to addressed first before even starting to teach them academic skills.

Secondly, most public schools lack the resources and skilled personnel to handle the many unique challenging behaviours of children with ASD. As they need to attend to their other students as well, they could only dedicate just a certain percentage of their attention to those students with ASD. Normally, these educators or teachers also lack the skills to engage these children and resolve their behavioural and learning problems. What may happen, as in the linked article with Brian Adams, these teachers may choose to passively or actively put these kids on the sidelines, keeping them otherwise occupied so they would not disrupt the class for the other students.

In Brian Adam’s case, he was made to sit in class colouring while the rest of the class went on with the lesson. This resulted in him graduating high school with just kindergarten-level reading skills.

We therefore advise parents of children with ASD who think that inclusive education is a good idea to reconsider their stand.

Children with ASD often need intensive intervention on a regular basis that directly addresses their behavioural and language problems. In particular, applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapy is the most effective form of intervention for these children and the only one endorsed by the US Surgeon General. In ABA therapy, these children get the attention they need to acquire the skills they require for learning in sessions that usually take place one-on-one with the therapist or in small groups that facilities social communication and interaction.

Only when these children acquire skills like vocal imitation and physical imitation could they use these skills as a foundation to learn other skills that are taught in typical schools, for example, learning new words in language classes or learning how to play a sport in physical education classes.

In their hope that their children do not fall far behind their typically developing in education, parents of children with ASD must also remember not to neglect the basics first and take action to directly address their children’s language and behavioural issues before putting them in a learning environment that is entirely focused on academics.



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Autism Recovery Network Singapore (in Indonesia)